The party’s position is that witnesses, or anyone with evidence, should come forward to anyone they respect and have confidence in — not necessarily the police but not precluding them either.
Sinn Fein is still holding out for more radical reform of policing, including measures to hold the force accountable locally, instead of ultimate authority residing in London.
British legislation, providing for the eventual transfer of policing and justice powers to a new Belfast assembly, is expected to be passed in October, according to some newspaper reports.
Meanwhile, speculation is mounting that the official criminal records of republican ex-prisoners will no longer prevent them sitting on local police boards or even signing up as recruits.
Sinn Fein views this as an essential ingredient in any final package of reforms clearing the way for an eventual Sinn Fein special ard fheis to endorse the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The party president, Gerry Adams, has already said that, if the DUP makes good its threat to delay the resumption of devolution for at least two years, he will put pressure on the British and Irish governments for a new policing dispensation.
But while that lies in the future, Sinn Fein was under pressure this week after the horrific rape of a 15-year-old English girl who was on holiday in West Belfast.
The gang threatened the girl and three friends before one raped her twice. He then stole her cell phone and rang her mother to boast about what he’d done to her daughter.
Within a week, Thomas Devlin, a 15-year-old schoolboy was murdered in what appeared to be a motiveless attack in north Belfast. While no evidence exists to definitively say the murder was sectarian, Sinn Fein said it suspected loyalists were involved.
Both of these shocking incidents of violent crime put the party under pressure to endorse policing with the SDLP’s Lagan Valley Assembly member, Patricia Lewsley, calling on it to “stand back from its political agenda.”
“Are we to leave rapists and murderers on the streets until Sinn Fein’s own agenda is completely satisfied?” she asked. “This man will in all likelihood rape again unless he is caught by the police very soon”.
A 16-year-old youth, whose name cannot be revealed for legal reasons, has appeared in court charged with a series of offences including robbery, causing grievous bodily harm and aiding and abetting rape. There are reports that the rapist has fled to Spain.
Meanwhile the police themselves came under fire when two callers to a radio show said they had phoned to give evidence about the rape but the police officers they had spoken to had not been able to help.
Both people, who had different information for the police, said they had left their contact details but the police had failed to get back to them. After appearing on the radio show, the police announced an internal inquiry into what had gone wrong.
On the murder of Thomas Devlin, SDLP Deputy Mayor Pat Convery called upon everyone to help catch the killers saying they had a duty to offer more than sympathy to the grieving family.
“Above all, we have a duty to help take this murderer off the streets as quickly as possible so that other children may be safe. There must be no hiding place for murder,” he said.