The news contradicts speculation in the press, originating from London and SDLP sources, that Sinn Fein was preparing to “jump” on policing before election day.
Although party spokesmen, notably Kelly himself, Gerry Adams, the party president, and Martin McGuinness, its chief negotiator, have repeatedly pointed to progress on policing, they said the time is not right to join up.
At the Sinn Fein ard fheis at the weekend, there were signs of outright opposition to joining the police board. A resolution opposing endorsement of policing until a British withdrawal was defeated.
Delegates, however, showed no enthusiasm for joining the police board now and speakers were harshly critical of the current policing proposals, saying they had done little more than reform the old RUC.
Party leadership figures made commitments over and over again at the ard fheis to holding a special conference to discuss policing before any decision was taken. Adams and McGuinness also said consultations would be taken with the wider community.
“We are not yet in a position to contemplate convening this [special ard fheis],” Adams said. “If we do so, it is my intention that a position paper would go to all levels of the party for discussion, that is, the party membership as a whole, and that there would be a comprehensive debate leading up to the special ardfheis.”
Sinn Fein was bitterly critical during the week of comments by the former SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon in the House of Commons where he said elections should be deferred until Sinn Fein had joined the police board.
Martin McGuinness said the comments were “reckless” and “disgraceful” and lamented the SDLP’s decision to “break the nationalist consensus” on policing by joining the police board last year.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan, however, has not been taking this lying down and has accused Sinn Fein of “missing the boat,” speaking “with a forked tongue” and leaving all the heavy negotiating to his party while keeping its own options open.
“For a long time we have heard Sinn Fein say that they were holding out for improvements to new legislation. We now have that legislation. Consistently we have challenged Sinn Fein to tell us what improvements they have won beyond what the SDLP already won. Consistently, they have failed to do so”, he said.
“Meanwhile, in the last sixteen months, the SDLP has succeeded in delivering more change to policing than in the previous eighty years put together. Yet Sinn Fein says that we jumped too soon.
“The reality is that the SDLP did not jump too soon. The reality is that Sinn Fein is in real danger of jumping too late. Not only have they failed to contribute to the key changes of the last sixteen months, they are now in real danger of missing out on the next wave of police reform.”
Gerry Kelly said, however, that the legislation, while welcome and the outworking of three years of hard work and negotiation by Sinn F