Tue, Nov 14, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Sinn Fein steps up members' security over divisive issue

AFP , DUBLIN

Senior figures in Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), have stepped up security because of fears they may be attacked over the divisive issue of policing in Northern Ireland, Irish state radio said on Sunday.

RTE reported that security has been beefed up around Sinn Fein leaders like president Gerry Adams, chief negotiator Martin McGuinness and policing spokesman Gerry Kelly because of the potential fall-out from any policy shift.

Protestant parties are heaping pressure on Catholic Sinn Fein to endorse Northern Ireland's police service and say they will not share power with them at the devolved Belfast assembly if they refuse.

"Gerry Adams and the Sinn Fein leadership have been finding it hard to find support within the party for a shift on policing policy," RTE said. "It is now an even more serious matter for hardline republicans."

Sinn Fein leaders believe that a number of disaffected IRA members have contacted dissident republicans opposed to power-sharing in British-ruled Northern Ireland because they think endorsing policing would be a step too far.

Sinn Fein and the IRA have previously balked at backing the police because of a perceived Protestant-bias in Northern Ireland's force.

A number of dissident groups still exist in Ireland, despite the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that largely brought decades of sectarian conflict to an end. They include the Real IRA (RIRA) and Continuity IRA, which broke away from the mainstream Provisional IRA after the peace deal.

A paramilitaries watchdog said last month that the RIRA's aspirations "as a terrorist organization and its readiness to use extreme violence were undiminished".

The Continuity IRA emerged from an 1986 split when Adams successfully led a move to end a policy of absentionism in the Irish Republic and allow members take seats as lawmakers in the Irish parliament.

It is the only breakaway group opposed to the peace process which has never called a ceasefire and is opposed to any deal not based on a unified Ireland and an end to British rule in Northern Ireland.

The watchdog said the group "remains an active and dangerous threat," and would "undertake acts of violence if it is able to do so and judges them to be in its interests."

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