Tough questions for Sinn Fein’s Ard Fheis?

Following on from Pete’s blog on the difficulties facing Sinn Fein in getting acceptance for the PSNI, Republican blogger Chris Gaskin, for a long time an opponent of his party accepting the PSNI still seems opposed. One of his commenters helpfully lays out the policing motion Sinn Fein’s Ard Fheis in full from earlier this year:

Six County Policing

395. This Ard Fheis calls for the creation of the new beginning to policing, in accordance with the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. A key requirement in this is democratic accountability. In the Six Counties, this requires the transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London and out of the hands of British securocrats to restored, democratically elected institutions in Ireland. The Sinn Fein President will propose to the Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle that it calls a special Ard Fheis to decide Sinn Fein?s position on new policing arrangements in the context

? Agreement between the parties on the departmental model and powers to be transferred;
? The enactment by the British government of the legislation to give full expression to this transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London;
? A DUP commitment to an acceptable timeframe for the transfer of powers on policing and justice.
? A position paper would go to all levels of the party for discussion to inform a comprehensive debate leading up to the special Ard Fheis.

None of this is disablingly specific. But if a similar motion were adopted for the party’s special Ard Fheis we might expect some vigorous debate around the precise meaning of the term ‘acceptable timeframe’. In the past, the DUP has argued that it is not a matter of time, but of judging the quality of Sinn Fein’s committment to the rule of law.

Intriguingly, the St Andrews Agreement does contain a timeline, albeit one that allows for considerable and unspecified slippage. But, it seems, devolution of policing powers to a local minister has been relegated to last place on the list. And oversight of MI5 would seem to remain with Westminster.

As Pete has noted the complexity of Sinn Fein’s consultation process may mean that considering proximity of the first deadline for response (10th November – when parties have to signal their intent to the two governments) and the second (the more public deadline of the 24th November), this is either going to be put through at breakneck speed. Or as Jeffrey Donaldson hinted in last week’s Saturday view, there is likely to be a very forgiving schedule, if they ask the two governments for more time.

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