A Big milestone
Much as I dislike the dramatic language used by Tony Blur's government to manipulate and cajole, Saturday's vote by the Sinn Féin conference to mandate its executive to declare full support for policing and justice really is a Big milestone, and I congratulate them for it.
It makes Northern Ireland a safer place and marks the coming-of-age of the Republican tradition which, when that mandate is implemented by the ard chomhairle, will - for the first time in its history - be a mainstream constitutional movement seeking to change from within by using, exclusively, the process of democratic politics. Although I detest terrorism and the active and complicit support so many Sinn Féin members gave it, I take my hat off to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness for the success with which they've steered Republicanism firmly, and with a great deal of personal skill and strategic insight, into the very centre of constitutional politics.
I also agree with the DUP that there has to be delivery on the ground soon. Jeffrey Donaldson's response yesterday was the most magnanimous towards SF that I've yet heard from his party, acknowledging that it was a major step for them and an important shift. So often in the past, I've been frustrated at Unionism's lukewarm, grudging response to Republican moves, but I felt a sizeable amount of recognition and respect in Jeffrey's reaction yesterday. That said, I agree with him on delivery, because words mean nothing unless implemented. As he said, when - at some time over the next couple of weeks - a crime is committed in west Belfast or mid-Ulster we need to see Sinn Féin encourage their people to cooperate fully with the policing and justice authorities.
Milestones always point somewhere.