Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Sinn Fein ard fheis: Just where do they stand on law and order?

Edwin Poots and the DUP questioned the Sinn Fein leadership
Edwin Poots and the DUP questioned the Sinn Fein leadership over their stance on law and order
Our frontpage story, Monday 15 April 2013
Our frontpage story, Monday 15 April 2013
Quip: Gerry Kelly

Sinn Fein have come under attack from the DUP amid accusations they're sending out mixed messages on their attitude to law and order.

Relations between the two parties sank to a new low on Monday night as a number of issues thrown up by the republican party at their ard fheis sparked anger in DUP ranks.

Two DUP ministers accused Sinn Fein leadership of being inconsistent on policies including support for the PSNI and opposition to dissident terrorists.

Tensions were raised on the floor of the Assembly on Monday when the DUP forced Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin to voice support for the PSNI before he was approved to replace Francie Molloy as a Deputy Speaker.

An intervention by First Minister Peter Robinson came after a weekend which saw a number controversial speeches by senior Sinn Fein figures.

Then came Monday's results of a Belfast Telegraph snap survey which found that 26% of Sinn Fein members still back an armed struggle as long as there's British rule in Northern Ireland.

The survey threw up a surprisingly soft attitude to dissidents – despite Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness speaking out against them at the ard fheis.

Unionist hackles were first raised on Friday when Mr McGuinness launched a stinging attack on his partners in Government, questioning their committment to Stormont.

In a veiled attack on Mr Robinson, the Sinn Fein man said unionist attitudes were holding up decision-making.

"People need to be in Government, not because they have to be, but because they want to be – and approach decision-making in that spirit," he said.

In a later speech, Gerry Kelly, a former IRA prisoner, sparked further ire with an attack on Chief Constable Matt Baggott. Mr Kelly, who is a member of the Policing Board, claimed Mr Baggott had "lost the confidence of the republican and nationalist people".

His views were supported by the Belfast Telegraph survey which found that only 36% of Sinn Fein members believed that the PSNI was an impartial force.

In his speech, Mr McGuinness also said he had met with Parole Commissioners to discuss the imprisonment of Old Bailey bomber Marian Price and had called for her release, along with Lurgan man Martin Corey.

DUP ministers Edwin Poots and Arlene Foster hosted a joint Press conference at Stormont on Monday to lambast Sinn Fein.

Health Minister Mr Poots said: "There is the need for Sinn Fein to demonstrate clear leadership to its own membership and activists by ending the mixed messages coming from senior levels of the party.

"On the one hand, Martin McGuinness did state that dissident republicans were 'traitors', but he then is happy to meet the Parole Commissioners calling for the release of dissident prisoners.

"These kind of mixed messages may explain why over a quarter of Sinn Fein activists surveyed were content to justify dissident republican violence and only 12% agreed that these terrorists were 'traitors to Ireland'.

"Sinn Fein had a very backward looking conference, a conference which one might have expected 10 years ago. But as a party that's in Government, they need to start looking forward and to drive this process forward."

Ms Foster echoed her party colleague's views, and called on Sinn Fein to work to "deliver a better future for everyone ".

"The responsibility falls to those at the top of Sinn Fein to step forward and offer some leadership, not just to the entire community of Northern Ireland or to nationalist/republican voters, but to Sinn Fein's own membership and activist base.

"The difficulty they appear to have in convincing their core supporters does not point towards an ability to move forward and deliver a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland."

Education Minister John O'Dowd called the survey "dubious".

"Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson and the leadership of the various parties sit down with each other, eyeball each other and have strong words with each other across the table and clear up any misunderstandings or beliefs that the DUP have about Sinn Fein's position, and Sinn Fein clear up any belief or misbeliefs that we have about the DUP," the Sinn Fein man said.

Story so far

On Monday the Belfast Telegraph published the results of a survey of 50 delegates at the Sinn Fein ard fheis which showed ambivalence on the issue of violent republican dissidents. Key findings were that only 12% agreed with Martin McGuinness's claim that dissident terrorists were "traitors", and 26% felt that "an armed campaign was justified while British rule remained".

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