Is there a deadline (and an election), or not?

According to Gerry Kelly on the Politics Show, Francie Brolly put out a corrective statement following the Le Temps report of his remarks that Sinn Fein does not want to take a electoral hit on policing, saying he was misreported. If it was issued, it doesn’t seem to have been picked up anywhere yet see below. Alex Attwood confirmed reports picked up by Slugger that the British have been privately briefing to that effect also. Frank Millar has the latest word from the Sinn Fein leadership (subs needed):

Senior Sinn Féin sources confirmed at the weekend that the special ardfheis would be necessary to permit Martin McGuinness to accept his nomination as co-equal deputy first minister in the power-sharing Executive scheduled to be appointed on March 26th.

They also say the DUP would be entitled to regard the new pledge of office, enshrined in last week’s emergency British legislation, as amounting to an explicit endorsement of the PSNI.

The sources reiterated however that Gerry Adams would not move to call an ardfheis without DUP agreement on the modality of a new policing and justice ministry at Stormont, the timetable for the transfer of powers and a resolution with the British government of the vexed question of MI5 involvement with the PSNI.

The signs also are that without prior agreement with the DUP to form a government on March 26th, Sinn Féin leaders are likely to join a growing number of politicians on all sides questioning why the planned Assembly elections should proceed.

As you were then? That would merely seem to be the party’s pre St Andrews Agreement position re-stated [coughs on smoke, walks into yet another bloody mirror – ed].

The most puzzling aspect of the Brolly comments (misreported or not), is that they don’t stack up. If it concludes a deal, Sinn Fein may lose hardline support but it would also act as a bolster to waning confidence amongst the Catholic middle class that they ever had any intention of doing what they originally signalled they would do. And that is where the constituency battle is going to be fought: ie Brolly’s Limavady, not Adams’ West Belfast.

In truth, there is no serious electoral vulnerability for Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. But there is a perspective within Sinn Fein that the pain being experienced internally has to be used to some effect. A pain that arises, possibly, from the fact that political activists (rather than just the Army Council) are taking part in a crucial decision for the first time in the movement’s history.

We await the dispersal of smoke and withdrawal of mirrors. But hardly with bated breath.

Update: Statement from Brolly in today’s Irish News (subs needed):

Speaking last night Mr Brolly said:”I want to make clear that I don’t know nor do I have any say over when a special ard fheis will be called. This is a matter solely for the party president and the ard chomhairle. The party leadership has set out what is required to bring an end to repressive and sectarian policing. And they are working to resolve the outstanding issues including trying to secure agreement with the DUP and other parties on the timetable for the transfer of powers on policing and the departmental model to be used.”

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty