Belfast Telegraph

Adams trapped in web spun by Sinn Fein's own deceit

It suits the republican leader to claim that the DUP is in breach of the St Andrews agreement on policing and justice. But nothing could be further from the truth, argues Pete Baker

The current implicit threat to the stability of the Northern Ireland Assembly is a result of the Sinn Fein leadership's dissembling over the St Andrews agreement.

By 2006, the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney had focused minds within the Bush administration and, through Special Envoy Mitchell Reiss, pressure was being brought to bear on Sinn Fein.

As Mary Alice Clancy detailed in a 2007 article: "Although decommissioning was welcomed by the US, officials still wanted republicans to sign up to policing and Reiss continued to deny fundraising visas to Sinn Fein as a means of expediting its endorsement of the PSNI."

In 2006, a series of interviews by the Irish Times' Frank Millar identified Sinn Fein's support for the police as a requirement for the restoration of the Assembly. In a June 10 article that year, Millar quoted Reiss: "There is no difference of opinion at this moment between the British, Irish and American governments on the issue of policing."

However, a previous Sinn Fein Ard Fheis had imposed conditions on the party's negotiating team ahead of the St Andrews summit.

Those conditions included achieving "a DUP commitment to an acceptable timeframe for the transfer of powers on policing and justice" before an ard fheis could be convened to take the decision on supporting the police.

Sinn Fein's failure to get that commitment at St Andrews was hidden behind the two governments' stated 'view' that the target date included in their document was achievable. Shortly afterwards, the US fundraising ban was lifted.

Then Secretary of State Peter Hain initially colluded in the concealment by declaring in Parliament on November 21, 2006 that the agreement included "a clear commitment and a target of May 2008 for the devolution of policing and justice powers". Later, on January 10, 2007, he clarified the situation, identifying May 2008 as "a Government objective".

The Sinn Fein leadership eventually convened a Special ard fheis on January 28, 2007, anyway, and took responsibility for making the call on policing away from party delegates.

In May 2007, Sinn Fein ministers duly took the oath of office, pledging support for the police.

For the next year Sinn Fein publicly maintained the pretence that a May 2008 deadline not only existed, but could be enforced.

When Secretary of State Shaun Woodward stated in his 2008 New Year message that it was "for the parties to decide when the time is right", the revealing response from Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Chuilín was: "The British Government's commitment to the devolution of policing and justice powers by May 2008 was central to the decision of republicans and nationalists to engage with the policing structures earlier this year."

Whenever it was pointed out that only the parties could decide when that would happen the Sinn Fein leadership just repeated the fiction they had sold to its members.

When May 2008 came and went, Martin McGuinness finally admitted in the Assembly that "agreement between the political parties, as you well know, remains the key determinant before detailed steps can be taken to implement devolution of justice''.

Before May there had already been a new Ard Fheis motion demanding that the Sinn Fein leadership "set out, in public, the party's position in relation to our involvement in the current policing structures should the British Government fail to devolve policing and justice powers by the 8th May 2008".

In June 2008, Sinn Fein began a boycott of the Executive. For five months they blocked business at a time when other administrations were devising economic strategies to survive the recession.

That phase of the saga ended in November 2008 with the announcement of a new mini-process. But, as Woodward acknowledged at the time, there was still "no date actually agreed by the politicians". On the day, Sinn Fein - alone among the Assembly parties - declined interviews about the announcement.

We reached the end of 2009 with a UK General Election on the horizon. The Sinn Fein leadership had still failed to deliver devolved policing and justice powers within the constraints of the 'indigenous' deal and Gerry Adams was back to peddling the self-serving line that the DUP was "in breach of the commitments it entered into at St Andrews".

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Pete Baker is a regular contributor to the Slugger O'Toole website

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