Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Time to get it right

The idea of St Andrews, as is now clear, was to get round the "show me yours first" stand-off between the DUP, who want an unequivocal SF commitment to policing and justice, and Sinn Féin, who want to know the DUP is up for power-sharing.

Both sides say that if the other delivers, so will it. And both sides say they won't deliver until the other does. That was the Catch 22 Tony Blur was in last week. And he's still there, as witness both parties' sloping-shoulders PR routines since Tony's primary gopher, Peter Hain, told the world the party delegates had said yes on Friday.

Ironically, the biggest problem occupying Ian Paisley's and Gerry Adams' minds this week is the same one: how to take their parties' support bases with them. It's the same problem which finished David Trimble's political career three years ago, so they're being very careful.

By failing to attend yesterday's planned meeting with Sinn Féin and Tony Blur, Ian Paisley was sending a powerful signal to grassroots DUP members that he's not gone soft. Fair enough, as long as he's not backing away from indications he gave Blur at St Andrews.

Similarly, Gerry Kelly of Sinn Féin is now making noises that Republicans aren't ready to pledge full support to the PSNI. Again, if it's an annoying but necessary noise on the road to where we all know we have to go, fair enough.

The Big Thing for Republicans, who I acknowledge have made a lot of running in the last 2 years, is to complete the outworking of the irrevocable commitment they've made to democracy and support a police force which they then play their full part in shaping and holding accountable.

So I'm being patient. We all saw what happened to David Trimble when he moved too far ahead of his party. The last thing we need is splinter groups - either paramilitary or political - so it's crucial to allow Adams and Paisley the time and space to consult and influence within their respective ranks. The prize will be a shared benefit to all our grandchildren.


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