Belfast Telegraph

Talking to the dissidents at arm’s-length isn’t easy, but it is essential

By Brian Rowan

Back channels can create all sorts of problems - because of who is involved and where they lead.

This one is linked to the dissident republican leadership.

The go-betweens are essential. It means contact by governments and police can be achieved at arm’s-length, and can always be denied.

In every contact there is the potential for embarrassment and controversy that comes with the charge of “talking to terrorists”.

Yet these chains of communication are absolutely essential.

This time it was needed to get information on a bomb the dissidents claimed to have neutralised.

That is why they gave the “X marks the spot” detail.

But they held back other information — said nothing about the second trip-wire |device, because in their words “the game was still on”.

We are beginning to learn some more about this particular back channel.

A project, Diversity |Challenges, found the key to open the door to the dissident groups — raising funds to offer training on restorative justice.

There are two key go-betweens working alongside that project — one of them the link man contacted by police on Tuesday.

The big piece of work in |the private contacts is trying to persuade the dissidents |to end their violence.

This newspaper has been told the two governments know what is happening.

These are the contacts Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness revealed last |August.

There was concern then that information had become public, and there is concern now that this newspaper has discovered the police contact with the back channel earlier this week.

Sometimes these things get out into the open.

But it would be more of a shock if some effort was not being made in the background to “talk to the terrorists” — and to try to persuade them to stop.

It was happening at the height of the IRA war — and it is happening now.

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