“The motion has to have some practical effect..”

..is, I would suggest, the key line in the Secretary of State for Wales, etc’s otherwise apparently optimistic comments in the Guardian today. Whether there will be sufficient time to establish that before the required decision on Tuesday, on whether to call an election, remains to be seen. Not least because Sinn Féin have been emphasising the conditionality of that motion – which passes the decision-making power on policing from an Ard Fheis to the Ard Chomhairle – in their attempts to persuade sceptical party members, as in this report on Martin McGuinness’s comments, conditions which are also noted in the Irish Times[subs req]From the PA report on Martin McGuinness’s comments in Lurgan

In the third of a series of meetings across Northern Ireland to consider Sinn Fein`s proposal for republicans to support the police, the Mid-Ulster MP said there was no way he would ask young nationalists to sign up to a British police service.

Mr McGuinness also told more than 200 republicans in Lurgan that Sinn Fein`s opponents would be sorely disappointed if they expected hardline republicans to pose a serious challenge to his party. Mr McGuinness claimed: “Our approach is a conditional approach.

“We have made it quite clear that if the DUP (the Democratic Unionist Party) are not prepared to deliver the Good Friday Agreement, the last point of our motion says that in the event of power-sharing not happening, the two governments would have to move on to Plan B.

Gerry Moriarty in the Irish Times has some numbers, and points to the conditions [subs req]

Up to 3,300 Sinn Féin members are expected to gather in the RDS tomorrow with about 900 of them mandated to vote on the leadership motion calling for endorsement of the PSNI – which would be a historic move designed to pave the way to powersharing government with the DUP, the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP by March.

Based on the general responses to over 100 private and public meetings Sinn Féin leaders held with party members, including IRA members, in the past two weeks they believe that the motion, which has conditional elements, will be passed tomorrow.

The motion leaves it to the ardchomhairle to implement support for the police based on the DUP sharing power and agreeing to the transfer of policing powers to the Northern executive by May next year.

What will be crucial to Sinn Féin maintaining its unity and cohesion is that party president Gerry Adams carries the ardfheis with a sizeable majority, probably of 75 per cent or more, and that no influential party personnel walk out of the ardfheis.

A good time for a reminder that Ed Moloney has already given his thoughts on the outcome

And those conditions again in full

The Ard Chomhairle recommends:

That this Ard Fheis endorses the Ard Chomhairle motion. That the Ard Chomhairle is mandated to implement this motion only when the power-sharing institutions are established and when the Ard Chomhairle is satisfied that the policing and justice powers will be transferred. Or if this does not happen within the St Andrews timeframe, only when acceptable new partnership arrangements to implement the Good Friday Agreement are in place. [added emphasis]

Notably, Peter Hain doesn’t refer to those conditions

“This is political endgame,” Mr Hain said. “It’s a point of both political insecurity and great potential. Each party is eyeballing the other across the divide and wondering whether they will deliver as promised. I believe both will.

“What has occurred in the past 18 months, since the IRA gave up its weapons, [has brought] momentous changes. There has to be delivery [by Sinn Féin now] on policing and the rule of law. The motion has to have some practical effect. I’m convinced that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness want this to work. I’m equally convinced that Ian Paisley wants to be first minister on March 26, but only if there’s delivery on the rule of law.”[added emphasis]

And he probably won’t. After all, he has already conceded that any target date for devolving those powers can only be “a government objective”.. and monitoring of the situation can also be expected.

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  • Harris

    Gerry Adams had this to say in todays Irish Times.

    “The motion leaves it to the ardchomhairle to implement support for the police based on the DUP sharing power and agreeing to the transfer of policing powers to the Northern executive by May next year.

    So, assuming the motion is positive and Sinn Fein present their motion (above) to Hain, would this be sufficient and fall into the “practical effect” category?

  • Henry94

    The practical effect will be to change Sinn Fein policy. That’s all it can do. It can’t mandate members of the public to call the police.

  • Pete Baker


    The point to note is that the conditionality of the motion means that the decision to change that policy is passed back to the Ard Chomhairle – which is mandated to implement it “only when the power-sharing institutions are established and when the Ard Chomhairle is satisfied that the policing and justice powers will be transferred.”

    In other words, no practical effect, not even the one you describe, until the Ard Chomhairle – not this Ard Fheis – do that.

  • Rubicon

    Henry – I think Pete is simply reading the SF position as it is stated – there’s nothing confusing about it, the conditionality is there and confirmed to be there by SF’s leadership. Until the AC action support for policing then the AF motion is a matter of internal SF politics. The world outside remains unchanged. Whatever happens tomorrow on Monday the ball remains with SF. It’s action that’s required and putting conditions on delivering that action means the world outside SF party apparatchiks will still be twiddling their thumbs.

    No action may cancel the election – but I doubt it. Many voters come the 7th March will be looking at SF wondering why they’ve decided to hold on to the ball. No action on the 26th March will keep the DUP out of the spotlight and still saying “no”. On the 27th they will be saying the same and the institutions SF want restored will be dissolved and a fading prospect.

    Keeping the DUP united and out of the spotlight doesn’t seem a very smart strategy. It’s damned daft to volunteer to remain under it.

    Is SF seriously expecting the DUP to change its tune? Perhaps I’m just naive and no judge of this political brinkmanship.

    For what it’s worth; my prediction is that SF will bask in positive media reports if tomorrow goes well – and the media will skip across to question the DUP. They’ll say nothing has changed and the media will run back to SF to make camp. Next week – nothing will have changed or progressed – but the envelope of opportunity will be getting narrower by the day.

    It’s brinkmanship NI style – Groundhog Day politics. Not being associated with any party (or even a supporter of any one political party) and not coming from NI I may be getting this wrong. My reading is that SF need to take risks to realise the conditions SF say they want met.

    What’s your prediction? I’d be interested to know your prognosis. Do you think SF passses the ball to the DUP on Monday? If so, what convinces you?

  • Pete Baker


    That would seem to be a succinct appraisal of the situation.

    However, I believe the reason for the sleight of hand between the Ard Fheis and the Ard Chomhairle lies with the previous motion 395 by which the party membership mandated the Ard Chomhairle to secure a firm commitment from the DUP to a date by which the transfer of policing and justice would definitely occur.

    As I’ve pointed out, repeatedly, that was simply not going to happen – as confirmed by Hain’s reference to a ‘constitutional nonsense’.

    Also relevant to that interpretation might be Ed Moloney’s article in the Irish Times today – all linked above.

  • Rubicon

    I understand your analysis Pete and agree with it. I’ve also read Ed Moloney’s article. Motion 395 left the SF leadership in a hopeless negotiating position. You can’t play poker with your opponent having sight of your cards and moving the locus of power away from the AF to the AC seems organisationally smart. Moloney’s article suggests that this may be easier to resolve once business moves into the AC’s hands. However, SF remains lumbered with the same conditionality even if the AF passes the new motion.

    I’d like to learn from a SF supporter of the current leadership line (like Henry) where he thinks this is all going. On what is proposed to the AF tomorrow it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere – unless you are entirely convinced by Ed Moloney that conditionality can be easily overcome once power moves from the AF to the AC.

    Prior to the election on the 7th it is essential voters are aware of these risks. If the AC move after the election there is a real danger that some SF representatives will defect. The consequence will be a loss of nationalist representatives on a restored Executive (assuming the DUP can or will deliver).

    This seems to suggest that SF’s AC need to action the motion (if passed) before the election – but that assumes SF are genuinely interested in restoration. Action before the election is risky (but smart), action between the 7th and the 26th damages any nationalist objective, action after the 26th can only be based on a Plan B being preferred. In none of these 3 circumstances can SF’s conditions be met.

    But – hey – what do I know! I’d like supporters of the current SF leadership line to educate me. What am I missing?

  • Pete Baker

    Well.. there is a subtle shift in the language used between motion 395 and the new, and possibly approved, motion which allows a certain wriggle room for the Ard Chomhairle in terms of just how firm that commitment to a date has to be..

  • Aaron McDaid

    Rubicon, the contents of the SF manifesto might be interesting here. If they go into the election with a clear policy detailing when the motion will be fully implemented (i.e. a deadline for transfer of powers) then that might be enough to win some more nationalist votes, floating nationalists who already support the PSNI. The anti-PSNI SF members will have to make up their mind quickly, because they know defecting after the election would look pretty stupid given the contents of the manifesto they signed up to.

    So they could go into an election after defections, but come out the other end with a large mandate and a more united party. Also, in the face of a clear SF manifesto, the DUP might be forced to be more direct with the electorate too.

  • Rubicon

    Aaron – is a deadline for transfers of powers achievable within the Plan A context this side of SF action. I have my doubts. Though – you’re correct, it may be convincing enough to some nationalists not presently voting SF. Certain facts won’t change even if that occurs:

    1. The DUP public representatives may be divided on a lot but there’s no disagreement on the need for SF action.
    2. With the DUP being able to make a convincing case for there being no evidence of SF action there’s no way restoration will occur.
    3. The wriggle room Pete refers to is most obvious in there being a failure to persuade/presurise the DUP to agree to restroring the institutions; ie, they seem to be aiming for Plan B.

    If they are it seems a big gamble to take. Any promise given by Tony Blair won’t see him around long enough to see it through (even if you believe he would). Yet, SF’s conditions suggest it is Plan B they are going for.

    If the DUP can be lumbered with blame at all it’ll be for refusing to talk with SF. Normally, this could be sorted out by fact-to-face talks but only if a modicum of trust existed. Will SF passing the motion tomorrow generate that trust? I think not.

  • Henry94


    I have no more knowledge than yourself of the SF leadership position and can’t explain anything on their behalf.

    I can only tell you what the motion says as I read it. It will be for the Sinn Fein to decide and clarify what it means tomorrow.

    For me it is impossible that a decision in principle by the Ard Fheis to give the PSNI an opportunity to win the support of the community could be held in cold-storage by the AC.

    All that will remain at issue will be the timing of appointments to the Police Board and policing partnerships ie stuff the AC would have to do anyway.

    Co-operation with policing on the ground is not dependant on the AC doing anything but could start on Monday morning if people want to do it.

    Just as the Ard Fheis can’t mandate people to use the police neither can the AC mandate them not to.

    In my view, if your bike is stolen on Monday you can go to the police about it and be acting in accordance with Sinn Fein policy as decided by the Ard Fheis. Assuming of course that the motion is passed as is.

  • Pete Baker


    “For me it is impossible that a decision in principle by the Ard Fheis to give the PSNI an opportunity to win the support of the community could be held in cold-storage by the AC. ”

    But that’s exactly what the motion put to the Ard Fheis proposes. And that proposal is because of the previous conditions laid down in motion 395.

    It’s a sleight of hand to pass the decision from the Ard Fheis to the Ard Chomhairle.

    They will then have to take the actual decision to implement the motion.. without the actual conditions being met – which may indeed be the point of the motion to the Ard Fheis..

  • Henry94


    I think you are confusing the practical implementation side of the motion with the principle side. If people can use the police service with the blessing of the Ard Fheis on Monday then the steps mandated to the AC to take are not going to stop the motion from having some significant practical effect.

    It would be an impossible position for the Ard Fheis to decide in principle to support the police and the AC to advise them against it notwithstanding any delay in appointing members to the Police Board etc.

  • Stevo

    The ard fheis is currently being shown live on Sky interactive for anyone interested. McGuinness is currently giving a hardline speech – always an indicator of imminent retreat/sellout….