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Sinn Fein education minister Martin McGuinness
"We are in a grave crisis - there is no point in trying to disguise that fact"
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The BBC's Denis Murray in Belfast
"So far republicans and nationalists have refused to join the police board"
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Alex Atwood, SDLP
"The British government has failed on a number of key issues"
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Saturday, 6 January, 2001, 18:28 GMT
NI peace process in 'grave crisis'
Anti-RUC grafitti
Many in nationalist areas object to the RUC
Sinn Fein'sMartin McGuinness has said Northern Ireland's peace process is experiencing a "grave crisis" over the issue of policing reforms.

His warning followed the denial by the government of newspaper reports that sweeping changes of the Royal Ulster Constabulary had been shelved because of nationalist opposition to legislation.

The British government has singularly failed to deliver on the promises and commitments made by the British prime minister on 6 May last year

Martin McGuinness
While denying the shelving suggestion, a government spokesman said the consequences of delay had been made clear to all the parties.

Replacing the Royal Ulster Constabulary with a new police service - with 50/50 recruitment of Protestants and Catholics - is one of the key elements of the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr McGuinness, who is the education minister in Northern Ireland's power-sharing Executive, said the British government had made a "mess of attempts to bring about a new beginning to policing".

He stressed that nationalists and republicans would not support the Police (NI) Act, which became law in November, because it did not fully reflect the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Policing headed by EU commissioner Chris Patten.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness: Tony Blair admitted he could not fulfill 6 May promises
"There's no point in people coming to us after they've made that mess and attempt to say to us if you don't go for what's been put in place of Patten, that's the Mandelson legislation, then the issue of policing will be put on the back burner.

"The situation that is before us is that the Mandelson legislation falls well short of the Patten recommendations.

"We are in a very grave crisis and there is no point in us trying to disguise that fact."

He said Prime Minister Tony Blair had made commitments on issues such as demilitarisation in south Armagh and other parts of Northern Ireland and policing, but had later admitted he was unable to fulfil these promises.

Talks in May at Hillsborough Castle in County Down led to an IRA statement in which it promised to put its arms " completely and verifiably" beyond use and prompted the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly and power-sharing Executive.

'Divergence of opinion'

Speaking on the BBC's Inside Politics, Mr McGuinness said the "British government has singularly failed to deliver on the promises and commitments made by the British prime minister on 6 May last year".

"We have this absolutely ludicrous situation where a British secretary of state tells us that as far as he was concerned he, that is the British prime minister, should not have made the commitments he made on 6 May."

He said this "divergence of opinion" indicated the process was in extreme difficulty and called on the British government to get "its act together and speak with one voice".

The latest row on policing centres on the refusal of both Sinn Fein and the nationalist SDLP to nominate representatives to sit on the 19-strong Police Board, which will oversee the reformed force.

The Police Board, which is to be composed of 10 representatives from Northern Ireland's political parties and nine government nominees, was due to meet for the first time in shadow form this month.

Senior Sinn Fein figures have said they would "actively discourage" young nationalists and republicans from joining the service.

The government believes that if it persuades the SDLP, which is the largest nationalist party in the province, to support the Police Act, it will overcome the current impasse.

On Saturday, the Northern Ireland Office denied reports that the SDLP had been given a two-week ultimatum to show support for the new service.

But a spokesman said the government would be failing in its duty if it did not think through the implications of further delay to the reforms.

It is understood that the change in the RUC's name and symbols and the recruitment to the reformed service would be delayed.

Alex Attwood, SDLP policing spokesman
Alex Attwood: Government to blame for failure to implement RUC reforms
Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein have accused the government of gutting the Patten reforms, watering them down as a "sop" to unionist parties.

SDLP Assembly member Alex Attwood blamed the Government for the failure to reach agreement on reform of the RUC.

Ulster Unionist Party security spokesman Ken Maginnis said he understood the SDLP had difficulties with the police reform legislation.

"I personally would call on Seamus Mallon, as leader of the SDLP in the Assembly, to face up to his responsibilities to society in Northern Ireland as a whole," said Mr Maginnis.

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See also:

06 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
Shelving of RUC reforms denied
06 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
RUC plans 'could be shelved'
14 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Federation's anger over police plan
13 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Draft plan for policing change
28 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Patten 'supports' NI Police Act
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