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Sinn Fein members gather for historic conference to back Northern Ireland police

Sinn Fein members gather for historic conference to back Northern Ireland police

Sinn Fein activists from throughout Ireland gathered Sunday to vote on accepting the legitimacy of Northern Ireland's police force _ a long-unthinkable move that could pave the way for revived power-sharing in the British territory.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was expected to win overwhelming backing from his party's 2,500-strong conference, of which about 1,000 people were eligible to vote on a motion offering conditional support to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The Irish Republican Army-linked party long backed the IRA's effort to overthrow Northern Ireland by force, a 27-year campaign that claimed 1,775 lives, including nearly 300 police officers, before the outlawed group called a 1997 cease-fire.
But Adams has maneuvered his party close to accepting law and order as part of a wider effort to forge a coalition with the Democratic Unionists, which represents most of the British Protestant majority in Northern Ireland. Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley insists he won't form a Cabinet unless Sinn Fein, the major Catholic-backed party, dumps its traditional hostility to the predominantly Protestant police force.
A motion already backed by Sinn Fein's 46-member executive commits Sinn Fein to appoint members to a joint Catholic-Protestant board overseeing a mammoth reform program. That five-year effort has already boosted the number of Catholic officers in police ranks from 8 percent to 20 percent _ but police still cannot live or operate normally today in Sinn Fein power bases.
To be passed, the motion requires at least 50 percent support from voting delegates. But Adams and other senior Sinn Fein figures are publicly confident of winning a much higher level of backing.
Crucially, however, the executive's motion commits Sinn Fein to begin supporting the police only after power-sharing is revived _ and, just as contentiously, only if the Democratic Unionists agree to transfer control of Northern Ireland's justice system, including the police, from Britain to local hands by May 2008.
The motion specifies that Sinn Fein activists will be instructed to open normal relations with police "only when the power-sharing institutions are established" and Sinn Fein leaders are "satisfied that policing and justice powers will be transferred."
Such conditions are likely to lead to further protracted arguments with their would-be government partners in the Democratic Unionists.
Paisley says his party will make no commitments on dates to share power, or to permit control of police to be transferred to the coalition, until Protestants receive evidence of real cooperation with the police on the ground in Sinn Fein-controlled areas.


Updated : 2021-05-17 01:52 GMT+08:00