Sinn Féin endorses PSNI by overwhelming majority
Sinn Féin has voted by an overwhelming majority to endorse the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the rule of law in the North.
An extraordinary Sinn Féin ardfheis at the RDS in Dublin yesterday endorsed a motion driven by Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to support policing.
The final decision of the ardfheis was never in doubt from the opening speeches by Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness. But the extent of the victory, with over 90 per cent of the 982 voting delegates supporting the motion, caused surprise.
"The decision we have taken today is truly historic," said Mr Adams. "This is one of the most important debates in the history of republicanism and of this country," he added.
"Let's not be upset by how others respond to today's decision. The higher they build their barriers the stronger we become," he said in a reference to how the DUP will respond.
"This ardfheis acted in the national interest. We look to others to do the same in the time ahead," he added.
The pressure will now fall on the DUP leader, Rev Ian Paisley, to state whether he would be prepared to enter into a powersharing Stormont administration with him as first minister and Mr McGuinness as deputy first minister on March 26th.
That pressure is likely to be intensified based on an Independent Monitoring Commission report on IRA activity tomorrow, which sources say will be positive.
Dr Paisley's initial response indicated that any potential positive DUP response will not happen before Assembly elections on March 7th.
"Only with real delivery can the way be cleared for a full return to democracy, and the facing up to the everyday needs and requirements of the people of Northern Ireland," Dr Paisley said.
Delegates spoke over four to one in favour of the motion put forward by the ardchomhairle. Nearly 1,000 delegates were entitled to vote at the ardfheis, though another 2,000 had visiting rights. Delegates queued from before 9am to gain entry to the RDS venue.
The motion "commits fully" to support for the PSNI and the criminal justice system, and to take up places on the Policing Board and the district policing partnership boards.
However, it is qualified because the party's ardchomhairle has been mandated to implement it only if powersharing is established and when satisfactory arrangements to transfer policing and justice powers are agreed - or failing that to support the PSNI when new British-Irish "partnership arrangements" are in place.
The Sinn Féin ardchomhairle will discuss the issue in Dublin tomorrow.
Urging delegates to vote in favour, Mr McGuinness said: "You have a decision to make and it is a big decision. Today is decision day when Sinn Féin moves decisively forward."
The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and the British prime minister, Tony Blair, will meet at Downing Street tomorrow.
The transitional Assembly is also due to be dissolved at midnight tonight, triggering the Assembly elections for March 7th.
Welcoming Sinn Féin's decision, Mr Ahern said it was a landmark move that "opened the way for inclusive support for policing throughout Northern Ireland. That is profoundly in the interests of everybody". He said the timetable set out at St Andrews must be kept.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the vote "should be matched by the DUP committing to restoration [of the executive] and powersharing".