Sinn Féin may conditionally endorse police

In a softening of their position over policing, Sinn Fein yesterday opened the way for the party to take up their seats on the Policing Board and endorse the new policing arrangements.

In an interview with a newspaper on Tuesday, Sinn Féin Chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said that his party could now consider joining the Policing Board, claiming that Prime Minister Tony Blair had pledged to amend the policing legislation.

Mr McLaughlin added that if Mr Blair was prepared to honour those pledges, Sinn Féin would be endorse the police service.

Spelling out the conditions for backing the police force – a move that has so far been strenuously resisted by the party – he said that the Patten proposals must be fully implemented.

Mr McLaughlin claimed that a commitment had been secured from the British prime minister to introduce amendments to legislation that would bring the PSNI up to what he said was the minimum acceptable threshold under the Patten proposals.

The Foyle assembly member said that his party were keen to participate in the policing arrangements, saying that Sinn Féin would "step up to the mark" if and when the necessary amendments to legislation were made.

However, First Minister David Trimble – in a clear message to Sinn Féin – warned that there could be no question of Sinn Féin participating on the Policing Board with "any integrity" unless there was a commitment to reduce violence in republican areas.

The First Minister said Sinn Féin had a job to do and that he did not want to hear the sort of excuses that had been put forward in the past.

In response to Mr McLaughlin's statement, Policing Board member, and MLA for North Belfast, Fred Cobain, threatened to resign his seat if there were any "concessions" made to Sinn Fein.

He added that the UUP's stance on policing would be untenable if further republican demands on police reforms were accommodated.

Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan said Sinn Féin was attempting to play one side against the other.

He said that Sinn Féin appeared prepared to speculate on joining the Policing Board and yet on the other hand had been dismissive of those who had participated in the current arrangements.


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