“the problem with the peace process may be much greater than has yet been realised”

The Irish Times’ Frank Millar does the kind of nit-picking analysis that gives journalism a good name even if, as he says, some self-interested parties regard it “as decidedly unhelpful. It is as if ignoring the issue – or taking the parties to mean other than what they say – would make resolution easier.” In today’s Times he asks – “Does Gerry Adams think to lead his republican constituency to a new position on policing by lying to it?”He expects some to rebuke the asking of the question.

Some would also doubtless rebuke this correspondent for insisting on asking this question, instead of taking Mr Adams at face value. After all, there are plenty of instances of him turning republican policy on its head – most spectacularly when he accepted a Northern Ireland Assembly as part of the Good Friday accord just days after vowing there would be “no return to Stormont”.

Yet the reality is that – while the British, Irish and American governments might know something not yet shared with the rest of us – it is difficult to find evidence of the Sinn Féin leadership saying one thing in public and a different thing in private on this, the most neuralgic issue for republicans.

It is many years now since Mitchel Reiss’s predecessor as American envoy, Richard Haass, thought the policing issue was done and dusted. Time and again in the intervening period, critical negotiations have been attended by the assurance that republicans “know what they have to do and are going to do it”.

Was support for the post-Patten police not actually implicit in the Belfast Agreement? Certainly it was, or appeared to be, in the abortive negotiation which finally finished David Trimble in 2003.

Yet somehow we never quite get there, the issue always remaining among the final difficult hurdles to be overcome.

Yet hope springs eternal. So earlier this year a speech by Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly was widely interpreted as signalling a dramatic shift in position when, on any reading, it amounted to a restatement of the party’s long-established terms for supporting “civic policing” as part of a political settlement in Northern Ireland.

Likewise, after the St Andrews Agreement, some in government and elsewhere behaved as if Sinn Féin has already crossed the Rubicon – when more accurately it might be said that it appears on the brink of some decision, but with plenty of road marked out for possible retreat in any “blame game”.

There are also the instances where futuring was employed and it’s worth remembering some of the manoeuvrings on policing in September, ahead of St Andrews

Frank Millar goes back to look at the SF response to the St Andrews Agreement

Some ministers and officials regard such nit-picking analysis as decidedly unhelpful. It is as if ignoring the issue – or taking the parties to mean other than what they say – would make resolution easier. Hence, even now, the divergence between the DUP and the Northern Ireland Office over whether a pledge supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland is necessary to ensure the designation of First and Deputy First Ministers on November 24th is described as an unfortunate misunderstanding.

In reality, this gaping hole in the road to devolution is matched only by the conditions and caveats writ large in the Sinn Féin ardchomhairle’s grudging acknowledgment that the St Andrews text “has the potential” to deliver a return to powersharing government at Stormont.

Not the least important of these might be Sinn Féin’s insistence that St Andrews bring about “the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement”.

British legislation to be published tomorrow will contain a new pledge of office to be sworn by ministers joining the proposed Executive next March.

And it is possible to imagine Sinn Féin ministers taking a pledge couched in the distinctly aspirational terms of paragraph six of the St Andrews text.

However, it is equally likely that Sinn Féin might regard a pledge requiring explicit prior endorsement of the PSNI as a “precondition” falling outside the terms of the Belfast Agreement; with the party regarding as beside the point that the same can be said of its demand for prior agreement on the modality and timetable for the devolution of policing and justice powers.

And he notes that the response included an explicit rejection of Annex E

Moreover, far from signalling a U-turn, the party’s ruling executive appears to have raised the stakes by explicitly opposing a key element of the St Andrews text – that dealing with the British government’s proposals for the role of MI5 in new “national security” arrangements.

“Sinn Féin is committed to bring an end to decades of repressive and sectarian policing,” said the ardchomhairle: “We reject any role for MI5 in Ireland or in civic policing. We want to see democratically accountable civic policing and we will continue to work until we achieve that.”

Maybe Mr Adams is bluffing, for surely even he would not think to deny MI5’s legitimate interest in monitoring any al-Qaeda or any other terrorist threat manifesting itself in Northern Ireland?

However, some expert observers suspect his opposition to any role for the “spooks” working with the PSNI signals that Sinn Féin might not be ready or willing finally to resolve the issue. As asked on this page last Saturday, why pick a fight you know you cannot win?

He spots a possible area of fudge ahead

Against that, Mr Adams’s speech in Belfast on the eve of the St Andrews gathering appeared to hold open the possibility of Sinn Féin moving to membership of the policing board as a possible first step. The British and Irish governments would doubtless herald such a development as another “seismic” shift pointing to but one inevitable, happy outcome.

The unionist reaction, on the other hand, would be to regard it as a classic example of republicans bowling it short.

Before asking a much more fundamental question of the entire Process ™

But why would Sinn Féin again bowl short if they know they will have no unionist partner without final endorsement of the police?

Before travelling to Scotland, some senior British sources suggested that demanding it “upfront” was the problem, because “this would mean they are accepting the legitimacy of the state”. But if that is the case, the problem with the peace process may be much greater than has yet been realised.

  • Aaron McDaid

    From the article: Maybe Mr Adams is bluffing, for surely even he would not think to deny MI5’s legitimate interest in monitoring any al-Qaeda or any other terrorist threat manifesting itself in Northern Ireland?

    What ‘legitimate interest’? Does he mean every country in the world should be allowed to run its agents throughout Ireland? Then there’s the question mark over whether MI5 is even competent to do that job and its track record. An All-Ireland security service should have responsibility and cooperate where appropriate – i.e. keeping tabs on people targetting civilians but not helping the U.S. fly innocent people to torture camps.

  • páid

    perceptive article, as per usual.

    But if Gerry Adams did not think to deny and to thwart a new MI5 HQ in Belfast I’m a Dutchman.

    Don’t forget that we were told by Peter Brooke that Britain has no selfish or strategic interest in Ireland.

    Ho hum.

  • Greenflag

    The ‘problem’ with the peace process is that it’s in pieces. It’s been going on for so long now that it’s a given like cornflakes for breakfast.

    It has delivered a kind of peace without reconciliation or trust . Thus it should be more properly termed the ‘next conflict’ process 🙁
    It’s a farce -a fudge – a charade and the real issues have been once again glossed over as both Governments try berate the DUP and SF into a forced undemocratic coalition .

  • spook

    Aaron, Aaron, Aaron


    Stop me if I’m going too quickly for you.

    1. MI5 is the internal secyrity service for the United Kingdon

    2. last time I checked NI was in the United Kingdom

    3. MI5 has therefore a legitamate operational role in that part of the United Kingdom

    4. Ireland, not being in the United Kingdom last time I checked, may be riddled with agents but any British ones will probably be run by MI6 (I am of course open to correction)

    Meanwhile back in the real world…

  • Patrique

    There are still some people who have not caught on, the “Peace Process” was carefully planned some 16 years ago, and successfully implemented thus far.

    It is a play, a drama, with politicians playing a role. Put it this way, you don’t really think David Trimbles advisers were daft enough to think they could outdo the DUP in the “not an inch stakes?” Certainly not, they had a role to play, to ensure they played their part so that the only outcome could be a Sinn Fein/DUP co-alition/power sharing.

    That way all political dissidents are wiped out, on both sides. And as even the Provies finally realised, you cannot have a revolution without a political movement.

    So to reach this stage, the SDLP and UUP had to be sunk, with their co-operation. How else could 4th choice Sinn Fein end up in charge of Health and childrens’ education in the Stormont government, with loads of photo opportunities for Martin McGuinness with kids on his knee, like a latter day St Francis of Assissi. The only reason it has taken so long is that there was no-one on the unionist side big enough to swing it.

    Hence Big Ian had to re-emerge, on a short term basis, to sell it to the few left who cannot see the obvious.

    So yes, Gerry will lie to the boys, and get away with it because at the end of the day, they know that the good old US of A want a united Ireland, and the people in Ireland have no say in the matter.

  • Pete Baker

    That isn’t a very convincing conspiracy theory, Patrique.


    You did read to the end of the post, didn’t you?

  • Patrique

    Mr Baker, the old dismissive “conspiracy theory” line. Ask yourself one question, who invented the term “conspiracy theory?”. The answer is the conspirators, so that when the truth became known, they could get idiots to sneer “conspiracy theory”.

    And it worked.

  • Pete Baker

    Yeah.. right..

    You do know that the tin-foil doesn’t work?

  • USA

    I’m afraid you are attributing too much importance to your six little fields. The current American administration cares more about events in Kurdistan or Gaza. As for the American people, they care more about rising health care costs, the 300 billion dollars we have spent so far in Iraq, or any other number of issues. Your little piece of soil does not register anywhere in the media or US public opinion.
    PS. To suggest that the SDLP and UUP were willing participants in their own destruction does not even warrant a response.
    Burst your bubble dude.

  • páid


    I did read it. I think the last paragraph has a ring of authenticity about it. Embarass me, I’m obviously missing some obvious point!

  • Little Eva

    “Before travelling to Scotland, some senior British sources suggested that demanding it “upfront” was the problem, because “this would mean they are accepting the legitimacy of the state”.”

    The above doesn’t make sense.
    As opposed to SF not accepting the legitimacy of the state when they gave their support to the GFA which couldn’t have spelled out more clearly the constitutional position and the only way it can be changed?

  • Pete Baker


    You would think so.. apart from the years of constructive ambiguity that have since been applied.

    Which ties in with your question, páid.

    The article’s point, it seems to me, is that if the answer to the initial question is ‘no’, then what has been referred to as the psychological problem of supporting the police points to a more fundamental question for The Processâ„¢

  • Little Eva


    My point is, if it has caused them little problem lending their support to the obviously partitionist GFA why should supporting the police prove to be any different? Or even if it did cause them problems who then will be surprised by them now moving to the next logical step? It is hardly as if the constitutional arrangements of the GFA were a well-kept secret.

    Whether they are sincere in any of this is an entirely different point.

  • páid

    Thanks Pete, and I agree with that Little Eva.

    I think SF have to support the police, but it will be a pragmatic decision, based on the fact that someone has to police the Nationalist community and it is counterproductive for the IRA to do it.
    And so what? Irish Nationalists being pragmatically supportive but disloyal in principle and ideology. We’re well used to this doublethink.
    And if we forget, we’ll watch the Bests before and during the rugby.
    Bite your lip and get on with it!

  • Patrique

    Does anyone believe that John Hume didn’t realise the Peace Process would finish the SDLP?

    And as for USA. I was unaware that the average septic tank thought about anything.

  • Just A Question

    the new legislation for the 2007 assembly states that ministers will have to swear an oath upholding the law and police etc

    does that mean if SF cannot at that time swear such an oath that an executive can be formed without them?

  • Pete Baker


    It looks like a SF refusal at that hurdle would result in dissolution.. assuming that deadline doesn’t dissolve as well..

    But have a look at the legislation and see

  • Just A Question

    Going by what hain said tonite on hearts n minds, would the normal d`hont mechanisms not run and if SF feel unable to nominate because of the pledge, wuld it not pass on to say the SDLP to nominate?

  • Pete Baker


    That’s extremely unlikely. Not least because there are several steps before that stage and, while not specifically mentioned, there’ll be an expectation that SF will have to call an Ard Fheis on policing before then.


    A, perhaps, not unconnected post

  • Mark



    God loves a trier.

    A proper journalist? Frank Millar? The former UUP Assembly member and Chief Executive? Who probably nicked the idea from your multiple blogs?

    Frank Millar. Good one.

  • aquifer

    Policing was in the Good Friday Agreement already. How many times do you have to buy the same horse off Republicans? They deal like aristocrats and still try to play the poor mouth.