Belfast Telegraph

Changes to policing key issue: SF leader
But Adams warns party would need to consult

By Chris Thornton, Political Correspondent
10 August 2004

New changes to policing could be the key to progress in next month's talks aimed at restoring Stormont, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams spelled out today.

But he also indicated his party is not prepared to rapidly embrace policing, saying it would be "a bigger strategic compromise" for republicans than the Good Friday Agreement.

He said that as well as a special party conference, Sinn Fein would need to undertake "a process of consultation" with their political base across Northern Ireland before reaching a decision.

Mr Adams spelled out policing as a significant issue for discussion in the talks planned for mid-September in Kent in an article in today's Irish Times.

The Sinn Fein president said those talks - due to be led by Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern - will have to deal with more than the headline issues of "paramilitarism and powersharing".

He said policing "could be the spine of any understanding reached during the September talks".

He was not specific about what changes his party is seeking beyond those already implemented since the 1999 Patten Report, but said they are "mainly about achieving civic policing and democratic control of policing".

He also said that a rapid transfer of justice powers from London to Belfast would be "crucial" for reaching a deal. Unionists are reluctant to see such a rapid transfer, because they want to see mechanisms that will prevent Sinn Fein grabbing any new ministry of justice.

Sinn Fein has pledged to call a special ard fheis on policing if it gets the new changes. Mr Adams said the aim of such a meeting would be "to discuss the matter".

But he also indicated that if Sinn Fein "decides to review our position", there would be a "a process of consultation with nationalist and republican communities throughout the six counties".

He said this was because "this issue is too big for Sinn Fein alone".

"A move by Sinn Fein on policing would be a bigger strategic compromise than the Good Friday Agreement," Mr Adams wrote. "So it requires the involvement of those who have suffered most from decades of bad partisan policing."

He added: "There should be no underestimation of the scale of shift in republican and nationalist thinking for Sinn Fein to be involved in policing, not only because of the emotions involved, not only because of the nationalist experience of policing in the North, but also because our country is still partitioned."

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