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January 28, 2007
Sinn Fein Backs Northern Ireland Police

At one time, this would have been unthinkable, but pigs may indeed be flying over Belfast tonight. Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland, has endorsed the Northern Irish police force and pledged to cooperate with them in establishing law and order in Ulster:

Sinn Fein members overwhelmingly voted Sunday to begin cooperating with the Northern Ireland police, a long-unthinkable commitment that could spur the return of a Catholic-Protestant administration for the British territory.

The result confirmed by a sea of raised hands but no formally recorded vote meant Sinn Fein, once a hard-left party committed to a socialist revolution, has abandoned its decades-old hostility to law and order.

The vote, taken after daylong debate among 2,000 Sinn Fein stalwarts, represented a stunning triumph for Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams, the former Irish Republican Army commander who has spent 24 years edging his IRA-linked party away from terror and toward compromise.

It strongly improved the chances of reviving power-sharing, the long-elusive goal of the 1998 Good Friday peace pact, by Britain's deadline of March 26.

Adams said that the vote proved that the war was over, and in the absence of war everyone had to try to build the peace. It's not the kind of speech one expects to hear from a former IRA commander while Ulster remains under British rule, but it does reflect reality -- and the Sinn Fein acceptance of that reality inspires real hope for a permanent end to the Troubles.

Peace still has some miles to go before it arrives. Sinn Fein's vote is conditional on the return of home rule and power-sharing, and the transfer of the judicial system to the home-rule government from Britain over the next fifteen months. The Democratic Unionists haven't agreed to that as yet, demanding to see Sinn Fein cooperation before agreeing to either condition. It's a typical standoff that will require more diplomacy and more posturing, but all parties have shown momentum towards a negotiated solution that brings a measure of independence to Northern Ireland.

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern will emerge the big winners, if Sinn Fein remains in compliance with its pledge. Britain didn't want Northern Ireland back after the Good Friday accords, and the Republic of Ireland wants an end to the Troubles and its interference with their own affairs. If the new accord holds, Blair will have an historic victory for the end of his long term as Prime Minister, and Ahern will have rid himself of his biggest headache.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 28, 2007 10:04 PM

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