Monday, January 15, 2007

Sinn Fein Talks Aimed At Backing Police

The executive of Sinn Fein, Northern Ireland's main Roman Catholic party, voted for the second time overnight to press ahead with a landmark conference on its attitude to policing - the main obstacle to restoring power-sharing in Belfast. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams recalled the Ard Chomhairle (national executive) in Dublin to reconsider last month's decision to hold a conference on whether to back a reformed Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The step was taken after Adams accused the Democratic Unionists (DUP) - Northern Ireland's biggest Protestant party - of reneging on a alleged deal that would have seen them welcoming a republican plan for a policing ballot. After the six-hour meeting, a spokesman said that, on the urging of Adams, the executive passed a motion for the conference to go ahead on January 28 by more than two-thirds.The refusal of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), to back the PSNI has been a major stumbling block to restoring a power-sharing government in Belfast. The party has historically opposed recognising the force and its predecessor the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) due to a perceived Protestant bias. The British and Irish governments said a decision on policing and power sharing was needed before the end of January if an election is to be called. The governments have set a March 26 deadline for the restoration of power-sharing between majority Protestants, who mostly favour retaining links with Britain, and Catholics, who largely favour union with the Republic of Ireland. Self-rule was among the main planks of the landmark 1998 Good Friday agreement which ended three decades of "the Troubles", in which over 3,500 people died, many at the hands of the IRA. But devolved government was suspended in 2002 after allegations of an IRA spy ring at Stormont, the Belfast seat of administration, and Northern Ireland has been under direct rule from London since.