Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has started what could be a decisive series of moves leading to a shift on his party's policing policy.

Mr Adams has called a meeting of Sinn Féin's Ard Comhairle in Dublin tomorrow and he will ask it to convene a special party Ard Fheis on the policing issue in January.

The DUP has always insisted it will not enter government with Sinn Féin until the policing issue is addressed and such a Sinn Féin move on policing could pave the way to a powersharing administration in Stormont by March.

In a statement, Mr Adams said he was certain that an initiative of this kind was in the interests 'of all our people'.

Explaining the background to today's development, he said 'considerable progress' had been made in a series of negotiations with the British government.

The Sinn Féin President said his party's leadership had stepped up its contact with the British government on the policing issue over Christmas. 

He said that if plans for an Ard Fheis were agreed, there would be 'an intensive period of discussion within the party' which would be led by party chairperson Mary Lou McDonald.

Mr Adams said Sinn Fein would consult with 'the wider republican and nationalist community across the island, including the families of our patriot dead and victims of state murder and collusion'.

Taoiseach welcomes statement

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has welcomed the move by Mr Adams. He described it as an encouraging and significant development.

He said he hoped the Ard Comhairle would agree the convening of the special Ard Fheis in January that would definitely and positively decide on the policing issue.

Mr Ahern stressed that 'inclusive support by all for policing and the rule of law' was an essential part of the St Andrews Agreement.

The DUP leader, Dr Ian Paisley, has also welcomed the statement and said his party would await further developments in the days ahead to see whether there has been delivery in both word and deed from Sinn Féin.

Northern Secretary Peter Hain praised Sinn Féin's decision, stressing the intensive work and progress on the policing issue over the past few weeks.