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Northern Ireland: Sinn Fein warns it may abandon power sharing in policing row

Resource type: News

The Guardian (London) |

by Henry McDonald Power sharing in Northern Ireland was under threat yesterday after warnings from Sinn Fein that it may pull out of the Stormont government over the failure to devolve policing and justice powers. Unionists warned last night that the republican party’s increasingly bellicose tone was destabilising devolved government. Sinn Fein says it is frustrated over the failure to transfer control of policing and justice from Westminster to the Northern Ireland assembly set out under the St Andrews agreement in 2006. The devolved parliament will reopen after the summer recess early next month and there are growing fears that the bitter exchanges between unionists and Sinn Fein over the holiday period are precipitating a crisis. The Ulster Unionist leader, Sir Reg Empey, challenged Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, to clarify whether he backed warnings by Sinn Fein’s leader in the Irish parliament that republicans were prepared to pull out of the power sharing executive. The leader, Caoimhghin O Caolain, said his party’s patience should not be tested. “If we are forced to conclude that change will not be forthcoming from the executive then we will have no option but to pull out our ministers and seek to put pressure where responsibility ultimately lies, which is the British government in London,” he told a gathering of republicans at the weekend. Responding to the threat, Empey said: “If Martin McGuinness does not distance himself from this statement then a full-blown crisis is facing the executive next month.” Jeffrey Donaldson, a junior minister in the largest unionist party, the DUP, said the threats to pull out were neither constructive nor helpful. “Such language, as has been used by this Sinn Fein representative, begins to cast significant doubt on Sinn Fein’s commitment to making progress in Stormont,” the Lagan Valley MP said. The creation of ministries in charge of policing and judicial matters was scheduled to be completed by last May. However, the DUP is nervous that devolving these powers means they could end up in the hands of a Sinn Fein minister, possibly even a former IRA member, which could rebound electorally on the party. The DUP faces a critical battle at the European elections next June to wrest a seat back from former party member and now head of the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice, Jim Allister. Caoimhghin O’Caolain of Sinn Fein said the party’s patience should not be tested.

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