Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Gerry Kelly articles on policing in the Belfast Telegraph

21 September, 2006


An historic decision by Sinn Fein to participate in policing could come within weeks of a timeframe being agreed for the transfer of powers to local politicians.

And with crucial negotiations in Scotland getting closer, Gerry Kelly has acknowledged "massive changes" since the days of the old RUC.

In the event of republicans endorsing policing, the senior Sinn Fein negotiator said their involvement would not be "half hearted" but "full-bodied".

"You are talking about the full package. You are talking about having achieved a new beginning to policing, then being full-bodied behind it," the party's policing and justice spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I think that we have proved ourselves in the past, that when we have said we will do something, and we achieve that goal, then we go for it," he continued.

But he stressed that the "full package" of police reforms had yet to be delivered.

Working institutions at Stormont, including agreement on a new Policing and Justice Department and the powers to be transferred as well as a timeframe for achieving this, are all crucial if republican participation is to be achieved.

"Clearly in those circumstances we will be going (to a special Ard Fheis) with a leadership proposal," Gerry Kelly said.

And on the timeframe for that, he suggested it could be "weeks rather than months".

This, he said, was the "biggie". "Some people have described it (as being) as big as the Good Friday Agreement in republican terms," the North Belfast MLA said.

And what would republican participation in policing mean?

"I think once you go to that point, you're in the full package," Gerry Kelly said.

"I want Sinn Fein to be involved in the justice process and be involved in any Ministry of Justice - You wouldn't be able to go to an Ard Fheis and say, "Well, we think somebody should be a justice minister, but not (be) on the (Policing) Board‚."

And how difficult would it be for him and other Sinn Fein leaders to encourage young republicans to join the police?

"Well I think if you are convinced, and remember we are 'futuring' here, if you make a decision and you believe that it is the right political decision to make, then you have to stand over it.

"There's no point going in half measures and I won't go at it in half measures," the senior party negotiator said.

He emphasised that policing had to be got right, adding, "I think we are close to it." ENDS

Policing feature

The 'p' words of the peace process can be heard in pretty much every political sentence.

There is little talk now of decommissioning or demilitarisation. These are more or less dead issues - things that have been dealt with, things of the process's past.

The political focus now is on Paisley and power sharing, and the 'Provos' and policing.

This is the agenda between now and the November 24 deadline - it is the business to be settled and sorted in the October talks in Scotland, and in whatever negotiations might follow.

So, how close is Sinn Fein to taking its biggest step in this long process, the step that brings it from outside to inside policing - inside a future ministry at Stormont, into the Board and, for young republicans, into the PSNI.

We may be closer than many people ever believed possible - closer because republicans want and need policing in their communities - but the circumstances that will make that happen have yet to be achieved.

In the waiting, change is acknowledged.

"We haven't achieved the full package (of reforms) yet, and I think the full package is very necessary."

Gerry Kelly was speaking to me in Sinn Féin's Falls Road offices yesterday. He is one of his party's senior negotiators - the policing and justice spokesman.

"I've never taken the position that everyone - even in the RUC - was bad, neither do I accept that there was only a few bad apples," he told me.

"I think you had a systemised approach,‰ he continued. "It (the RUC) was certainly the frontline troops of unionist rule, and I think that we have made massive changes to that. I think we have someway (still) to go."

But you sense that wherever it is that republicans need this process of policing change to go - in order to achieve their participation - then eventually that can and will be worked, not easily, but, yes, it can be done.

The policing stepping-stones that somehow have to be arranged to allow republicans to cautiously tiptoe into this process have long been identified.

They are in the shape of working political institutions, agreement on a new and shared policing and justice department at Stormont, the transfer of powers to local politicians and an agreed timeframe for achieving this.

Republicans will also want to see and read the changes in legislation.

And, if it can be achieved, how quickly then will the Sinn Fein leadership call that special Ard Fheis - or party conference - to open the door for republicans into the world of policing?

"You are talking weeks rather than months is probably the best way to put it," Gerry Kelly told me.

"Clearly in those circumstances we will be going with a leadership proposal," he continued.

That proposal can only be written one way if the overall political project is to be successful.

It is a proposal that has to be about republican participation - yes, maybe a critical, questioning, participation in policing, but the Sinn Fein leadership will have to direct its supporters and community towards something they have long been suspicious of.

That requires preparation, and a lot of that work has already been done in small and big meetings on both sides of the border.

Gerry Kelly and other senior and significant republicans have already been talking in a structured process to the grassroots.

Some of this has been about exorcising the policing myths in the places where republicans meet and talk, and about introducing new thoughts and the new possibility of a place in policing.

And what will that mean?

It will mean everything from a hoped for involvement in a new policing and justice department at Stormont, to being on the Policing Board, to encouraging young republicans and nationalists to join the police.

It is what Gerry Kelly calls a "full-bodied" participation, if the circumstances can be created.

"I want Sinn Fein to be involved in the justice process and be involved in any Ministry of Justice," he told me. "You wouldn't be able to go to an Ard Fheis and say, "Well, we think somebody should be a justice minister but not (be) on the (Policing) Board."

There are, of course, concerns - big concerns - not least around the decision to transfer responsibility for national security matters to MI5.

"If a person is a member of the PSNI, then that person, at all times, needs to be accountable to the accountability mechanisms connected with policing," Gerry Kelly argues.

"(They) cannot be separately accountable to MI5. They cannot become an MI5 operative and therefore not tell about that part of their duty," he continued.

"And this is crucial and this is something which needs to be sorted out."

The reading between the lines in all of this is that there is a preparation, circumstances allowing, for the next big republican step in this process.

Gerry Kelly, who in an IRA role had an active part in a long "war", is now part of the Sinn Fein management team that is moving republicans in a new and different direction.

It is a further confirmation that the IRA war is over - that the shooting of police officers or anyone else is finished, and that is what is so hugely significant about this possible - even probable - next step.

"We are very, very, aware that this (policing) is the biggest obstacle that we will have to overcome in our peace strategy and our political strategy," Gerry Kelly says.

But republicans are getting ready to climb over that obstacle.

It depends on Ian Paisley and power sharing and on an agreement with the DUP on a policing process and future that could do more for peace than the ceasefires and all of the decommissioning and all of the words of the IRA a year ago. Ends

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