Sinn Féin warns its patience on policing at an end

 

SINN FÉIN has significantly ratcheted up the dispute over policing and justice by warning that it will pull its Ministers out of the Northern Ireland Executive if the issue is not resolved.

This prompted an immediate demand from DUP junior minister Jeffrey Donaldson for Sinn Féin to clarify its position on sharing power with the DUP and the other main parties.

First Minister Peter Robinson is scheduled to make a statement on the controversy today.

Mr Donaldson yesterday accused Sinn Féin of brinkmanship and seeking to talk “up a crisis” after Sinn Féin’s leader in the Dáil, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, warned that the party’s patience over policing and justice must not be tested.

“If we are forced to conclude that change will not be forthcoming from the Executive then we will have no option but to pull out our Ministers and seek to put pressure where responsibility ultimately lies, which is on the British government in London,” Mr Ó Caoláin told a republican commemoration in Cavan on Sunday.

Such a move would be likely to collapse the Executive and Assembly. In such a situation the British and Irish governments would have to decide whether to call new Assembly elections or suspend the Executive and Assembly, the North-South Ministerial Council and the other Belfast Agreement institutions.

Sinn Féin has effectively blocked meetings of the Executive since mid-June because of disputes over policing and justice, the Irish language, the proposed new stadium at the Maze prison site and education.

Some progress was made on policing earlier this month with Sinn Féin and the DUP agreeing that neither party would take on the policing and justice portfolio, thus creating the opportunity for Alliance, the SDLP or the Ulster Unionist Party to run a justice department.

An effort also was made to address DUP concerns about the IRA army council with the Independent Monitoring Commission deputed by the British and Irish governments to report on the status of the council.

Mr Ó Caoláin’s comments, however, illustrate the extent of the divisions between the DUP and Sinn Féin over these issues.

A senior Sinn Féin spokesman said that Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was available all summer to discuss the problems with the DUP leadership.

“We committed ourselves in June to a process of dialogue in June but the DUP went on holidays while we hung about all summer waiting to sort this out. Now the DUP needs to come back seriously and address these issues and make progress,” he said.

Asked about Mr Ó Caoláin’s comments, he said: “We are not threatening anything. Our focus in the first instance is to make progress and that is what we are committed to doing.”

In Dublin Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald also said that the party was “not threatening anything” but seeking to resolve outstanding issues.

Mr Robinson, who recently returned from his summer holidays, is due to comment on the issue today, while Mr Donaldson asked whether Sinn Féin was “really serious about bringing Stormont crashing down”.

He warned Sinn Féin against engaging in “brinkmanship” and “blackmail” and said the party must clarify its position after Mr Ó Caoláin’s “threatening” statement.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the party was adopting a “stupid” tactical position over the unresolved matters.

He asked was the party seriously threatening to bring down the Executive and institutions such as the North-South Ministerial Council. “Sinn Féin’s position is more ludicrous than ominous,” he said.

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey warned that if Mr McGuinness did not distance himself from Mr Ó Caoláin’s comments “a full-blown crisis is facing the Executive next month”.