Sunday Business Post

Backroom: SF have peace, now they want justice
15/08/04 00:00

`It's policing, stupid.' If Bill Clinton's election team thought it was so important to have a constant reminder of the main election issue - in his case the economy - posted in every campaign office, then the officials in Iveagh House and the Northern Ireland Office in Millbank in London should be required to have policing constantly before their minds.

Republicans have taken the initiative - these days you can't say they `have fired the opening shots' - in the run-up to the negotiations due to begin at Leeds Castle, near Maidstone, in the first week in September.

First, in a detailed interview with the BBC, and then in an Irish Times article, Gerry Adams set out in coded language what is on offer. In other statements, Alex Maskey, first Sinn Fein mayor of Belfast, performed his usual role as Adams's chief barker, exhorting the DUP to enter the tent.

Here is the Sinn Fein offer, decoded into plain language: republicans and nationalists do not like partition and do not want to live in a Northern state.

If unionists want republicans' consent to remain in such an arrangement, then republicans must be involved in controlling the security and policing apparatus of the place. They must know that never again will the police and security forces be used as a weapon of unionism against the nationalist community.

``Involved in controlling the apparatus'' means that there will have to be a Sinn Fein minister of justice, with a DUP junior minister of police.

There will have to be changes in the accountability of the PSNI so that the interference of the British MP who happens to be northern secretary for the time being is removed.

When those changes are made, Sinn Fein will join the policing board and substantial numbers of republicans will join the PSNI, first as part-time reservists. A thousand places are already set aside for nationalists.

In the event of all this being agreed, the IRA will go out of business because republicans say there then will be no need for such a body.

Many unconvicted IRA men, including many who have joined since the ceasefire, will become PSNI officers. That would mean unequivocally that the war is truly over. Former IRA men would be policing the state they fought to overthrow.

Far-fetched? Fanciful? Read the documents that emerged from the talks at Weston Park in July 2001 and the Joint Declaration of April 2003. It's all already agreed in principle by both governments, and there's a timetable for most of its implementation, which was what Adams referred to last week.

What Gerry Adams was indicating during the week was that republicans are ready for these seismic changes in their movement. Indeed, the ground has been prepared since 2002.

He then went on to ask unionists: ``Are you up to it?'' If they, in the shape of the DUP, the only unionists who count these days, are not, they will be accused of missing the chance of being able to claim that they secured the disbandment of the IRA.

The crucial question is whether they are willing to foot the enormous political bill, both symbolic and actual.

They have a lot of catching up to do. The bones of the deal on policing and security were agreed by David Trimble and Reg Empey in negotiations with Dublin, London and Sinn Fein, but neither Trimble nor Empey had the nerve to spell out exactly what it entails.

Will it be any easier for the increasingly doddery Ian Paisley and his articulate deputy Peter Robinson, both of whom will be negotiating at arm's length, since they will not talk to Sinn Fein until all weapons are surrendered and the IRA disbands?

The paradox they face is that the only way they will know whether the IRA has disbanded is when former IRA men appear in PSNI uniforms. You can almost hear the gasps.

There's another side to all this: the British government won't, can't let go. They pay lip service to devolved policing and security, but they retain the last word for the northern secretary - which in reality means the director and coordinator of intelligence at Stormont.

Until 1989 the director was responsible to the head of MI5. Now he's responsible to the northern secretary.

It is believed that the British have decided that, if there is to be devolved policing and justice, MI5 will take on a greater role than at present, reverting to an arrangement even more strongly independent than pre-1989.

For Sinn Fein, that would be unacceptable. They would get to play with the toys, but Big Brother would be watching and listening, and might reserve the right to take away the toys on any pretext. So it's not just the DUP.

If the British don't take up Sinn Fein's offer on policing, the IRA won't go away.

The Good Friday Agreement stays stalled. Policing is the touchstone. That's what Adams means.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?