Is Sinn Féin fit for government?

Former vice chair of the Policing Board, Denis Bradley, writing in Thursday’s Irish News, takes issue with the Irish government’s lack of clarity and courage on political parties’ support for law and order here, something which has been highlighted on Slugger over recent weeks, and he asks the question, “Is Sinn Féin fit for government?”. Denis Bradley’s answer is “Yes”, but he adds an important proviso to any party actually being in government:

No political party in Ireland would join in government with Sinn Féin if they did not support the Garda. Equally, no political party in the north should join in government with any party which does not support the PSNI.

He could, however, also have taken issue with the British government – Peter Hain, speaking in the Commons on 28th June:

5. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): If he will make it a requirement of holding ministerial office in the Northern Ireland Executive that a person must take an oath to uphold the rule of law. [79739]

7. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What his policy is on the appointment to Ministerial office of people who do not support the police. [79741]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): All the parties should support the rule of law and policing arrangements in Northern Ireland, especially those holding ministerial office in a restored Northern Ireland Executive, who should also abide by the terms of the pledge of office, which commits them to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

Mr. Bone: Many people believe that former terrorists should not be Ministers. However, if they are to serve in the Northern Ireland Executive, the very least they could do is to take an oath to uphold the rule of law so that their despicable pasts can be just that—their past. Would the Secretary of State agree?

Mr. Hain: I agree absolutely, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the pledge of office, which commits all serving members to commit themselves to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means, is effectively a commitment to the rule of law. It was agreed by all the parties and is in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 as a result of the Good Friday agreement. I am at one with him in insisting that all elected politicians, especially Ministers, comply with the rule of law and support the police.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Could we have an unequivocal answer from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Does he not believe that all people who hold public appointments in Northern Ireland not only should support the policing arrangements but must support them, because the police uphold the rule of law? Will he say that they must support policing arrangements, and go rather further than he has to date?

Mr. Hain: Of course I think that the police must be, and should be, supported by all holding ministerial office. I want to be clear, however, that there has been a sea change on the part of republicans, Sinn Fein and the IRA in the past year or so, as a result of all the painstaking work done by our Governments and our predecessor Governments, and we should welcome that. I do not want to see another obstacle erected late in the day to stop the restoration of devolved government. If we disagree about that, that will have to be that.

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