Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein will not blackmail police, warns Peter Robinson

First Minister's fury at Sinn Fein 'bully boy tactics'

By Noel McAdam

THE political fallout from Gerry Adams' arrest escalated as Peter Robinson accused Sinn Fein of a "despicable, thuggish attempt to blackmail the PSNI".

The First Minister warned that police must not be a target for what he called "republican bully boy tactics".

And tellingly, the DUP leader echoed the same language as Martin McGuinness used a month ago, after he revealed a private meeting with his Stormont 'number two' over the welfare reform stalemate – that it had "crossed a line".

His trenchant attack came as Sinn Fein Policing Board member, Gerry Kelly, confirmed his party would "assess the situation" over the next few days – hinting that it would suspend support for community policing partnerships.

Before arriving at the serious crime suite in Antrim where Mr Adams has been held, Mr Kelly described the police interviews as a "fishing exercise" and accused people in the "senior echelons" of the PSNI of being part of the "old guard" which "hated" his party.

But the Policing Board member also reiterated that his party had made no threat to the political process, but would "assess the position on all of this as we go".

Mr Robinson, however, said: "The threat now means that ordinary decent citizens will conclude that the PSNI and the Public Prosecution Service have succumbed to a crude and overt political threat if Adams is not charged.

"The PSNI must not be the subject of republican bully boy tactics. They must be completely free to follow any and all evidence, regardless of where it takes them, and to decide, free of political considerations, whether suspects will be charged or not."

Relations between Stormont's two top leaders are believed to have deteriorated in recent months, in the aftermath of the collapse of the talks lead by American diplomat Dr Richard Haass and professor Meghan O'Sullivan on parades, flags and dealing with the past.

But Mr Robinson (below) was referring directly to Mr McGuinness' thinly-veiled threat at a public rally in west Belfast on Saturday that an "embittered old rump" within the police were attempting to "settle old scores", and it was "a replay of the failed effort in 1978 to charge Gerry with membership [of the IRA]".

The DUP leader hit back: "I warn Sinn Fein that they have crossed the line and should immediately cease this destructive behaviour.

"Their actions allow only one conclusion to be reached – republicans believe they are not subject to the rule of law in the same way as they demand others to be made amenable to the rule of law."

Mr Kelly, however, said Mr Robinson had a "bit of a brass neck" in criticising a public protest, after his repeated defence of demonstrations by "flag wavers" following the decision to switch from flying the Union flag all year round at Belfast City Hall to designated days.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt voiced anger that senior republican Bobby Storey had asked, 'How dare they touch our party leader?', and called Sinn Fein's response "churlish and self-serving" – while warning that the situation could develop into a "proper crisis".

His party colleague, Tom Elliott, added: "Instead of politicking with policing and justice, Martin McGuinness and the rest of the Sinn Fein leadership need to get off the fence and make clear their support for the police and law and order – or not."

Alliance's deputy leader, Naomi Long said both SF and DUP "equivocate" over their support for the police when it suits them – and are mirror images of each other.

"I believe Sinn Fein have got this wrong. We need to follow due process. There should be concerns if they are threatening to withdraw support from the police," the East Belfast MP went on.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said there was a lot of "spin and froth" going on with the DUP using the situation to electioneer, but that the over-riding need was for justice.

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