'Secret talks' held with dissidents
The British and Irish governments are involved in secret talks with violent dissident republicans in Northern Ireland, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said.
The senior Sinn Fein member's dramatic claims, which follow a string of dissident bomb attacks, sparked immediate denials from both administrations.
But Mr McGuinness insisted behind-the-scenes discussions were under way and he welcomed the talks as evidence that dissidents accept they cannot achieve their aims through violence.
Senior Democratic Unionist Gregory Campbell, however, expressed fears that the governments had failed to learn the lessons of history by being prepared to talk to armed groups before they had renounced violence.
Last week Secretary of State Owen Paterson denied talks were taking place with dissidents, but Mr McGuinness alleged discussions with British officials were held "as recently as the last few weeks". He also claimed the Irish government "has also been speaking to these people over the course of recent years".
Mr McGuinness refused to reveal the source of his information, but said: "I encourage dialogue, I think it is important. I do understand the governments will come out and say that this isn't true, but the reality is that some of these dissident groups have been involved in discussions with both the Irish and the British governments in recent times."
"I know it's happening and that suggests to me that these groups are recognising that at some stage they are going to have to wake up and smell the roses in terms of their inability to destroy the peace process and bring down the institutions that have such overwhelming support among our people."
Last week, Mr Paterson denied talks were taking place. He said: "You cannot have any meaningful talks with people who are not committed to peaceful means. They are not listening. They are disparate. They are a very small armed group with no discipline or clear focus on where they are going."
The UK government has since issued a response to the claims by Mr McGuinness in which it repeated its stated position that "you cannot have meaningful talks with people who are not committed to peaceful means of pursuing their goals".
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin insisted its officials were not involved in such negotiations. He said: "Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin has made clear that these so-called dissidents should immediately stop any acts of terror or violence, that they cannot achieve anything through violence, and that they are acting against the expressed will of the people of Ireland."