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Sinn Fein ready to meet Orde as party edges closer to policing

Gerry Adams is preparing the republican movement for another major decision. Security writer Brian Rowan reports

It seems it is one more step towards the inevitable - another republican foot inside the policing door.

We know the pattern now. At moments of decision for republicans, especially on difficult issues, it is Gerry Adams who sets out the argument.

And where does he do it? Well, usually in the republican newspaper, An Phoblacht.

This is where he talks to his own.

We have seen it before in the process of getting ready for ceasefires, for decommissioning, for ending the armed campaign.

This time it's about policing - the biggest issue of all as far as republicans are concerned.

Mr Adams is not saying that there is a done deal - but he is saying it can be done, and, if the outstanding issues are resolved, that it can be done within the St Andrews timeframe.

It's a big IF. And for republicans there are two big issues - the transfer of powers to local politicians and the future role of MI5 and how that crosses over into policing.

As part of the overall discussion, Sinn Fein is now prepared to meet with the Chief Constable and, one assumes, with his senior officers.

This is the foot inside the policing door.

Yes, it has been done before, but there was political cover on those occasions - in Downing Street, at Hillsborough and elsewhere.

What is now being talked about is different. This is a direct dialogue on the policing issues that fall within the Chief Constable's remit.

He is ready for the discussion.

"My people have got to be able to talk to their people and at every level," Sir Hugh told the Belfast Telegraph.

"All I ask is that my people are given the opportunity to protect all communities," he continued.

"Don't judge us by the past. Judge us by what we do now. That's all I ask."

And what about that issue of MI5?

Well, the Chief Constable doesn't take long to answer.

"National security is about international terrorism and if people think the island of Ireland is immune from international terrorism, then they need to wise up."

The issues that Gerry Adams raises about MI5 can be settled. Listen to what he is saying.

There can be no role for MI5 in civic policing.

There won't be. They are too busy doing other things - the business of monitoring the threat posed by international terrorism, which means 1,600 individuals under surveillance across the UK.

MI5 has 2,850 staff, and, as a source said to me recently: "You can do the maths."

Mr Adams says: "The PSNI cannot serve two masters. Neither can there ever again be a force within a force."

Around a hundred police officers will be attached to the Security Service in its new Northern Ireland headquarters at Palace Barracks in Holywood.

The big issue is its accountability within the policing structure and how precisely that is protected.

This is the focus of continuing negotiation.

The more complicated issue is the "definitive timeframe" that republicans want for the transfer of policing and justice powers to local politicians.

This requires the agreement of the DUP - something that is not on offer at this time.

Is there any wriggle room in all of this?

Is there some middle ground?

Can the work that Mr Adams and the Sinn Fein leadership have to do be achieved with something that is less than "definitive"?

This is what we now have to watch for. It is the main business of the talking that once again will be taken right down to the political wire.

Mr Adams is getting ready, or more accurately is getting others ready, for the big decision that will soon have to be made one way or the other.

Inside a special Sinn Fein conference, he is prepared to lead the republican debate on this most sensitive of all issues - the argument that says they have to support and participate in policing.

Today he is spelling out just how quickly all of this can be done - as quickly as the British and Irish Governments in the St Andrews Agreement suggested it should be done.

That means sooner rather than later. It means answering the policing question before the March election.

But that can only be achieved in the right circumstances. Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness are not going to ask for a vote, are not going to go before a special Sinn Fein conference unless they are certain they can win.

Are they certain?

Not as things sit today - but republicans are moving towards the inevitable and are prepared - if the right context can be achieved - to take the steps that will mean participation on the policing boards and joining the PSNI.

Belfast Telegraph


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