Sinn Fein says not ready yet to support Northern Ireland police

Monday, October 16th 2006, 8:49 am
By: News On 6

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said Monday his party was not yet ready to support Northern Ireland's police force, the next essential step in peacemaking in the British territory.

Adams spoke as he met Prime Minister Tony Blair and other British government officials in London, and a day before he was to meet leaders of Northern Ireland's Protestant majority in Belfast.

The discussions seek to promote a Catholic-Protestant administration, a long-elusive goal of Northern Ireland's Good Friday accord of 1998. Protestants led by Democratic Unionist Party chief Ian Paisley insist they will not cooperate with Sinn Fein, which represents most Catholics, until the Irish Republican Army-linked party accepts the authority of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

A plan unveiled Friday by the British and Irish governments, following a three-day summit with Northern Ireland parties in Scotland, requires Sinn Fein to accept the police as the first step in a complicated sequence of events ending with revived power-sharing March 26.

The Anglo-Irish plan called for Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists to accept their parts of the deal by Nov. 10, and for the Democratic Unionists to support the election of the top two power-sharing officials _ one Democratic Unionist, the other from Sinn Fein _ on Nov. 24. The remaining officials would be elected March 14, but only after the Democratic Unionists had accepted Sinn Fein's commitment to the police and Northern Ireland voters had supported the moves in an early March referendum or election.

Adams said the first port of call for changing Sinn Fein policy was the party's executive, where at least two-thirds backing would be required.

``I'm not yet in a position to put a proposal'' to Sinn Fein's executive, Adams said.

If approved by the executive, the policy shift also would require majority backing from an emergency conference of Sinn Fein's grass-roots members across Ireland.

Power-sharing, the central goal of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord, has been on hold since 2002 when a four-party coalition collapsed amid chronic conflicts between Protestants and Sinn Fein.

Tuesday's meeting involves leaders of all four parties that would be involved in power-sharing: the Democratic Unionists, Sinn Fein, the moderate Protestants of the Ulster Unionist Party, and the moderate Catholics of the Social Democratic and Labour Party. The latter two parties led the previous failed coalition, but were overtaken by their hard-line rivals in the 2003 elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly, the body that wields the power to elect the next administration.

Some Irish media were billing the meeting as historic because both Adams and Paisley would be there. But officials in both parties said they did not expect Paisley to speak directly to Adams. The two leaders have often been in the same room together, particularly in the Assembly's debating chamber, but Paisley has refused to negotiate directly with Adams.