“that will then bring the onus back on Sinn Féin”

In today’s Irish Times, following on from his interview with Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern, London Editor Frank Millar talks to SF president Gerry Adams[subs req]. Some interesting exchanges, on the prospects for the months of negotiations ahead and, what could be described as a bad cop/good cop routine – an apparent defence of the last 30 years of conflict followed by a reference to policing as, possibly, “a necessary element in the resolution of the outstanding matters to do with the Assembly.”On the months ahead, until November – for now, the script for the SF president is familiar… it’s all about getting the DUP into a powersharing Executive –

Months of negotiations lie ahead, and we know what republicans hope to see at the end of the process. But before the hard bargaining gets under way, I put it to the Sinn Féin president that his party’s influence is in fact diminishing, and that he may have to settle for considerably less than he achieved in the Belfast Agreement back in 1998.

Mr Adams acknowledges “that would certainly be a concern” if it proved the case. “Our objective is straightforward. We will make a serious effort to create the conditions where the DUP become part of the powersharing arrangement in the terms of the Good Friday agreement.

“There aren’t any other acceptable terms . . . We go in with a good will and will make a big effort, and I’ve actually been telling republicans we should suspend our scepticism about the DUP.

But it’s the reference to the last 30 years, which Frank Millar picks up on, that could cause concern, although Adams closes down further discussion on it quite quickly –

[Adams]”I would like to see them participating. But if the DUP decides it’s not going to be part of this, that’s its decision. Sinn Féin will continue to do what we are doing in terms of trying to proceed with reform and modernising . . .”

As, I observe, they’ve been forced to do for a long time now, given the suspension of the institutions for longer than they ever operated. Indeed, isn’t this the point? Sinn Féin is now dealing with a DUP which is confident, not least because they believe the republican movement has lost the leverage that came from the IRA campaign. Like the British state, the DUP also calculates that the IRA can’t now go back to “the war” and thus that Sinn Féin’s influence is diminished the longer peace takes root?

Mr Adams doesn’t flinch, recounting the familiar charges about the UDR, security force collusion in sectarian killings, and what he sees as a state of denial within the unionist leadership “for the situation which developed into conflict”, before issuing his challenge: “We should be pleased that the war’s over. If we’re thoughtful about this, and I think there are people in the DUP who are thoughtful about this, the last 30 years wasn’t good for anyone, particularly in terms of those who were bereaved or who have injured family members. But without the last 30 years, had unionism been allowed to continue, the situation would just be desperate.”

Even the unionists he appeals to will hear in this a defence of the IRA’s work over those years? Mr Adams says “they shouldn’t be surprised at that” while insisting: “Let’s not go into refighting the war.”

Frank Millar, correctly, has focused in on policing in both interviews to date, and will likely continue to. Dermot Ahern appeared to relax the pressure on Sinn Féin by saying, in his interview, that policing wasn’t a pre-condition for a November deal. In today’s interview, though, Adams suggests he recognises that, in fact, it may be crucial –

Supposing Dr Paisley was confident enough to contemplate an accommodation, isn’t it certain he would require Sinn Féin’s upfront endorsement of the Police Service of Northern Ireland?

Mr Adams maintains his traditional line, asserting that Sinn Féin will resolve its attitude to the PSNI “when the British government completes the commitments they have made” on the issue. But will that be good enough this time?

President George Bush’s envoy Mitchell Reiss says it is a requirement of any party seeking to enter government that they support the police? Mr Adams advises: “Do not heed what Mitchell Reiss has said. Mitchell Reiss will not be sorting these matters out.”

DUP chief whip Nigel Dodds also says endorsement of the PSNI is “a prerequisite” for any party sitting in government anywhere in the UK? “Well, let’s talk about these issues,” he offers.

But Dr Paisley almost certainly won’t see much to talk about. Does Mr Adams really think the DUP leader will sit in government with Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister who doesn’t support the police?

He insists to the contrary “the big issue is whether Ian Paisley will go into a powersharing government”. But say he is prepared to do so, and policing emerges as the DUP’s bottom line?

“Well, the issue of policing has to be resolved anyway.” Yes, and I might have been told that in any one of a number of interviews since the Belfast Agreement.

This debate has been going on for years. Can it be resolved at least in principle by November?

Like any politician Mr Adams can “talk the talk”. However, while the DUP may remain sceptical, longer term students of the republican “process” will almost certainly find his answer instructive.

“Policing may be a necessary element in the resolution of the outstanding matters to do with the Assembly. But policing needs to be dealt with anyway, if there was no Assembly. If there was none of this issue you have articulated bearing down upon the process, policing still needs to be resolved.”

So will Sinn Féin step up to the plate? “There is no issue that is not capable of being resolved, including the issue of policing, that’s the best answer I can give you. If the DUP cast about for reasons why they will not be involved in powersharing, that’s their choice. But I think we have clearly said the policing issue needs to be resolved.

“Given the British government propositions to resolve it – and they’ve agreed to proceed on those – that will then bring the onus back on Sinn Féin, so that’s going to happen anyway in my view.”

Tomorrow Frank Millar interviews Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Irleland, Peter Hain, who has stated previously that “The only logical, sustainable long-term position for anyone seeking to perform parliamentary legislative duties or exercise ministerial office is to support the police.”

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