Delegates at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in Dublin on 28 January voted by an overwhelming majority to back a leadership motion to support the police and judicial system in Northern Ireland.
This represents a huge turnaround by the republican movement. Not so long ago the police were regarded as "legitimate targets". Now Catholics are to be encouraged to co-operate with them and to join up.
For many republicans active in the IRA in the 1970s and 1980s, this has been a step too far. Many have now left the movement disillusioned by the direction the Adams/McGuinness leadership are taking. Some are regrouping around various dissidents who plan to run candidates opposing Sinn Fein in the Assembly elections now due in March.
However the dissidents are still a minority voice, mainly based in rural areas, and are dismissed by most Catholics who do not see them as offering any real alternative.
While the decision to back the police is significant, it is in line with the direction the republican leadership have been taking for over a decade. Since the IRA and loyalist ceasefires of 1994 the peace process has stumbled from one deadlock to another.
And every time the entire process has seemed to be heading for collapse the deadlock has been broken – temporarily – by concessions from Sinn Fein and the IRA. They have given way on decommissioning, on the standing down of IRA structures and now on policing.
This decision means that the Assembly election scheduled for 7 March will go ahead. However, it does not necessarily mean that the 26 March deadline, set last year at St. Andrews, for setting up a power-sharing Assembly will also be met.
Sinn Fein have decided to back the police, provided power sharing is implemented and a date is set for the transfer of control over policing from Westminster to Stormont. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) say they will only agree to share power if Sinn Fein already back the police, not just in words but in deeds and will give no commitment to seek local control over policing.
If this stand-off is overcome by one side – probably Sinn Fein – "jumping first" the Assembly may eventually be set up. If it is, it will solve nothing. Power sharing only institutionalises the sectarian division and the whole thing would be liable to fly to pieces at any time.
What is needed is a new party that can represent the united interests of working-class people and challenge the right-wing sectarian parties like the DUP and now Sinn Fein. The Socialist Party will field at least two candidates in the election to begin to offer such an alternative
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