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Sinn Fein leader seeks party convention to accept Northern Ireland's police

Sinn Fein leader seeks party convention to accept Northern Ireland's police

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has announced he wants a special convention of his IRA-linked party to vote on supporting Northern Ireland's police force, a long-awaited peace move.
Adams said his party's 46-member executive board would meet in a Dublin hotel Friday to set a date for the January convention. It will involve up to 2,000 grassroots members _ among them Irish Republican Army veterans involved in killing nearly 300 police officers during the outlawed group's 1970-97 campaign.
Sinn Fein support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland appears essential for reviving a Catholic-Protestant administration, the main goal of the Good Friday peace accord of 1998. The major Protestant party, the Democratic Unionists, says it will not cooperate with the Catholics of Sinn Fein unless they embrace law and order in the British territory.
Adams, who has spent more than a decade steering the outlawed Irish Republican Army away from trying to overthrow Northern Ireland by force, said he understood that many supporters felt unable to support the police, "given the history of repressive and sectarian policing."
"However, the achievement of a new beginning to policing, as promised in the Good Friday agreement, would be an enormous accomplishment. And I believe that we have now reached the point of taking the next necessary step," Adams said Thursday.
"I am certain that an initiative of this kind is in the interests of all our people. It is the right thing to do," he said. "If it succeeds, it will advance the struggle for equality and the search for a just and lasting peace on the island of Ireland."
The British and Irish governments warmly welcomed the move, which was required as part of the governments' most recent formula for reviving power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who spoke by telephone with Adams, called the move "encouraging and significant." He said Sinn Fein members should "definitely and positively decide on the policing issue."
Sinn Fein has resisted recognizing the authority of the Northern Ireland police because of the painful, potentially dangerous divisions it could open up in Sinn Fein-IRA ranks. In recent weeks, Adams and other Sinn Fein leaders have warned they face potential assassination at the hands of IRA dissidents who accuse them of betraying IRA sacrifices.
But Adams _ who was interned as an IRA suspect in the early 1970s and repeatedly interrogated by police as a suspected IRA commander _ said death threats would not "deflect us from doing the right thing, and the proof of that can be seen in what we are doing tonight."
Policing lies at the heart of the Northern Ireland conflict.
The predominantly Protestant territory, formed in 1921 shortly before the overwhelmingly Catholic rest of Ireland won independence from Britain, never received Catholic support for its Protestant-dominated government and police force.
Violence ignited in August 1969 when Catholic rioters battled police to the point of exhaustion in the second-largest city of Londonderry, compelling Britain to deploy its army as peacekeepers. A modern IRA rose up, starting to kill police in 1970 and British soldiers in 1971, and didn't stop until its 1997 cease-fire.
The Good Friday pact recognized that political stability in Northern Ireland required full Catholic support for the police and dramatic reforms to the existing force, the heavily militarized Royal Ulster Constabulary.
An internationally authored 771-point plan to reshape the RUC into a more Catholic-friendly Police Service began in 2000 and has already scored wide-ranging gains, including a rapid rise in Catholic recruitment to more than 20 percent of officers.
But police still cannot operate normally in Sinn Fein power bases, and Catholic recruits to the force often must break contact with family members and move to Protestant areas. Sinn Fein has refused to encourage supporters to tell police directly about IRA crimes, including the fatal stabbing of a Catholic man outside a Belfast bar last year.


Updated : 2021-07-31 06:15 GMT+08:00