Hain calls on SF to engage with police


Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain has called on Sinn Fein to engage with the police ahead of a party vote on policing.

Speaking at the sixth annual John Hume lecture at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, Mr Hain said Sinn Féin's refusal to participate in policing structures not only fuelled unionist suspicion but was damaging the republican community itself.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Government were willing and ready to engage with them in mature and sustained dialogue this autumn about their concerns on policing. Mr Hain said:

"The commitments made by the IRA in July 2005 and delivered over the past year mean that a vacuum has opened up in communities which can only be filled by a policing service.

"Normalisation has brought with it the contemporary problems of normal societies: drunken yobbery on a Saturday night, anti social behaviour, 'joyriding', car crime and so on. And local residents are demanding action which can only come from the police."

He continued: "The only way to address the experience of policing in republican areas is to begin a process of building trust between the police and republican communities on the ground.

"The PSNI want to engage in this dialogue - indeed, increasingly are doing so, not least in County Derry and in South Armagh - and I hope that increasingly Sinn Fein will promote that.

"The approach of senior Sinn Féin figures in dealing with the PSNI over recent parades and their very significant efforts to bring about a peaceful summer on the streets has been encouraging."

Mr Hain's comments will fuel the belief that the British Government is increasingly looking to policing as the key to breaking the political deadlock over power sharing.

The Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists have claimed Sinn Féin's refusal to endorse the PSNI as a stumbling block to restoring a devolved government featuring republicans.

In recent years, Sinn Féin has pressed for the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to a future Stormont administration.

Mr Hain said the Bill enabling that would hopefully receive Royal Assent in the next fortnight but that would place an onus on republicans and unionists to undertake a step change in their approach to policing.

In what was interpreted as a significant move last week, Sinn Fein policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly revealed he held direct talks with senior PSNI officers in advance of last Wednesday's Protestant Orange Order Twelfth of July marches in Belfast.

As a result, British soldiers did not take part in the security operation around Orange parades for the first time in over 35 years, huge screens were not erected to keep nationalist protesters at bay in the nationalist Ardoyne area of north Belfast and that flashpoint march passed off relatively peacefully.