21 January 2001
Responsibility for progress rests with British
Following the discussions at Hillsborough on Wednesday and Thursday Sinn Fein has continued in intense and detailed discussions with the British government.
Commenting on the ongoing talks with the British government, Gerry Kelly MLA this evening said that, ``significant difficulties still stand in the way of an over-arching agreement which satisfactorily addresses the range of issues at the centre of the current crisis''.
Mr. Kelly said:
``The talks have ranged across the policing issue, demilitarisation, the issue of arms, and the permanency of the institutions. The policing has formed the bulk of the discussions and we are awaiting the British government's response to proposals put to them by us. I would urge Mr. Blair to consider seriously all that had been said to him on this matter by Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the Catholic Church and others, and to do the right thing by ensuring that all citizens of this part of Ireland can soon enjoy the benefits of a civic policing service.
``Overcoming the legacy of 80 years of conflict, division and alienation is a major undertaking, made more difficult by a British government in which significant elements act as if the peace process is simply an extension of their war to defeat republicanism. ``Policing and demilitarisation are the two pivotal examples of this.
``From our first submission to the Good Friday negotiations until now Sinn Fein has produced countless assessments and detailed positions on policing. We have made no secret of our view that it is a touchstone issue for nationalists and republicans and that success or failure in producing a new police service acceptable to everyone will have a profound impact on the future of the peace process.
``In the current discussions between Sinn Fein and the British there are significant points of difference being considered between the nationalist position and the British position. For example we are concerned at the provisions in the British Policing Act in which a Chief Constable can obstruct reports to the Police Board, the Act has also placed hurdles in the way of the Board initiating an inquiry, and similarly the power of the Ombudsman to investigate complaints has been limited and is less than that recommended by Patten.
``The balance of power between the Policing Board, the British Secretary of State and the Chief Constable in our view significantly tilts the balance unacceptably towards the latter two and away from democratic and accountable control.
``These, and other matters, all need to be properly addressed if we are to have any hope of getting policing right. Sinn Fein wants to get this issue right.
``The British government's Policing Act still falls short of what is required for a new beginning to policing. Therefore, nationalists must keep up the pressure for changes to the legislation and implementation plan.
``It is far better to take the time to get this right than to settle for something less. Short-termism will not work.
``The reality is that unless there is democratic accountability, unless a new policing service is acceptable and accountable to the people it polices, there is a grave danger that it will continue the repressive practices of the RUC.
``Consequently, there is a heavy responsibility on the British Prime Minister at this time - Mr. Blair needs to realise that the north requires a new, innovative and imaginative approach to policing which takes it beyond what passes for the norm elsewhere. Our history means that other policing arrangements cannot simply be transposed into our situation.
``I would urge Mr. Blair to consider seriously all that has been said to him on this matter by Sinn Fein, the SDLP, hierarchy of the Catholic Church and others and to do the right thing by ensuring that all the citizens of this part of Ireland can soon enjoy the benefits of a civic policing service.''
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