DUP should help Sinn Fein out of the corner it has painted itself into
WE now need damage limitation measures from Sinn Fein and the DUP. Gerry Kelly was smiling and in the best of humour as he bounded out of Antrim police station to report that Gerry Adams was in good form, had been well treated by the custody staff and was now "worried about the damage that it may be doing to the image of policing".
Mr Adams is right: there had been wild claims from Sinn Fein of Mr Adams being questioned for 17 hours a day, when he is entitled to eight hours sleep and regular breaks of refreshment and rest, which he should correct.
This isn't the first instance of overt political pressure being put on the PSNI to release suspects or bend to apolitical agenda, but it is the most blatant, and it was paraded before global TV audiences.
Martin McGuinness sounded like the witchfinder general as he spoke of a murky cabal which hated republicans and was directing a political policing campaign.
Only members of the PSNI top team could mount a conspiracy like this.
Mr McGuinness made statements that will be very hard for him to pull back from without losing face.
The Deputy First Minister's remarks about police cabals threatening the peace process were often inflammatory and rash.
But his most damaging comments have been unscripted replies to questions from journalists while his colleague Gerry Adams was in custody.
He said Sinn Fein would "reflect" and "review" its support for policing if Mr Adams is charged as part of the police investigation into the murder of Jean McConville
Asked directly if his party would "pull out of support for policing if Gerry Adams is charged", he replied: "We're not taking any decision at this time about anything. We have always been very cool, calm and collected about how we deal with difficult situations.
"But I think if such a scenario does develop we will sit down and we will reflect on what will be an even more serious situation than the one that we face today."
Mr McGuinness should pull back if he cannot substantiate his claims.
Perhaps he was just letting off steam. Yesterday he seemed to have cooled down. In the afternoon he tweeted a picture of his dog Buttons running over the words 'Vote Matt Carthy' (a Sinn Fein Euro candidate ) written on a beach. "It's the elections stupid," Mr McGuinness joked, even as Mr Adams languished in his cell.
Jim Allister, the TUV leader, is already accusing the police of buckling to Sinn Fein pressure by not charging Mr Adams. "The authorities blinked in the face of Sinn Fein threats and tantrums," he said.
The danger is that loyalist paramilitaries and republican dissidents will take the same view and act on it. The next time a UVF veteran is pulled in for a historical offence, can we expect his supporters to pile the pressure on police with threats to public order or worse?
People will recall that Mr McGuinness spoke to the UK prime minister about a live police investigation, and then predicted disaster if charges were made against his friend and ally, Gerry Adams. That would be bad for Mr McGuinness, bad for Mr Adams and bad for the rest of us. Sinn Fein is in a hole and Mr McGuinness is digging us all in deeper.
He has accused "very senior people" in the PSNI of being opposed to the peace process and engaging in "political policing".
"There is a cabal in the PSNI who have a different agenda – a negative and destructive agenda – to both the peace process and to Sinn Fein," he said.
"Their agenda (is) to effectively impact on the elections in three weeks' time. Do people think we are stupid or think that we are naive? What other conclusion can we come to than that this is a very deliberate attempt to have an impact on those elections?"
Politicians need to recognise that the world does not stop spinning because there is an election on; police investigations still run their course.
Nothing is to be gained by building conspiracy theories around every police action.
In fact, Sinn Fein's reputation, and Mr Adams' too, has suffered internationally where the atrocious McConville murder has been linked to them on the world's TV screens without anything being proven.
It is in everybody's interests to take the heat out of this situation and pull back from the hair-raising comments that were made on Friday and Saturday and allow the office of the DPP to take its decision.
More than the image of policing is at risk – the North's political system cannot function unless politicians learn to behave more responsibly.
The DUP should help Sinn Fein find a way out of this corner they have painted themselves into.
Both parties should resolve that, next time one of their politicians is under investigation, they will bite their lips and say something more constructive.