Belfast Telegraph

Why leaders must unite on dissident threat

By Lindy McDowell

Never mind for now the question of whether our political/security leaders should be talking to terrorists. Isn’t it time our political/security leaders started talking to each other?

In recent days alone we’ve had Owen Paterson (Secretary of State) insisting the government weren’t talking to dissidents. Martin McGuiness (Deputy First Minister) claiming that they were. Matt Baggott (Chief Constable PSNI) opining this would not be a betrayal. Margaret Ritchie (SDLP leader) arguing that, since MI5 weren’t up to the task of intelligence gathering, their role should be handed to the police. Alex Maskey (Sinn Fein) countering that this would be a return to the past. And his party colleague John O'Dowd suggesting that police may not be acting on information received.

Oh, and Conor Murphy (Regional Development Minister) clarifying his remarks about how he would have reservations about his own children joining the cops.

He now assures us that he would only “not urge” them to sign up on the grounds that the PSNI is “male dominated and conservative.” (Unlike, say, the Provos?)

Crucially Stormont Minister Murphy’s remarks come at a time when officers — including a young Catholic mother strapping her toddler into a car seat — are being targeted by dissident nutters.

Combined with all these mixed, often conflicting messages currently ricocheting around the Assembly, the NIO and the security services such comments surely only add fuel to the dissident project.

The murderous scumbags currently bringing chaos to our streets on an almost daily basis must be cart-wheeling in delight at the division evidenced by competing soundbites.

Is there actually an official co-ordinated strategy in place for dealing with the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland?

These madmen threaten us all. Stormont and the security forces are supposedly agreed on that one. (And while dissident republicans have been hogging the limelight, don’t forget there are other monsters out there. Only a week ago a young child’s life was put at risk by a loyalist pipe bomb.)

But even as the paramilitaries ratchet up the violence, our many and varied leaders are spouting off in all directions with no seeming consensus on what’s actually to be done about this.

You don’t need the mother of a little girl in Lurgan to tell you that after near-carnage at the weekend — something really needs to be done. And fast.

In this year to date there have been around 50 bombings and almost as many shootings.

They only have to be ‘lucky’ once ...

The dissidents’ ability to manipulate riots demonstrates their growing power in areas once dominated by the Provos. The scale of their violence means they are much harder to dismiss as small and isolated factions.

Put bluntly (and no matter how much we’d like to kid ourselves it isn’t true) the dissidents are on a roll.

Óglaigh na hÉireann in particular is increasingly flexing its malign muscle.

True, there have been a large number of arrests and charges. But there has to be real concern about the level of intelligence. The aim should actually be stopping terror attacks before they happen.

It should also be in instilling a degree of confidence in the public. About assuring people that the good are on top of the bad and the Óglaigh.

But with our leaders — left, right and security central — currently running off at the mouth in various directions in the media, it‘s hard to tell.

Time to talk?

To each other, yes.

But where conflicting media messages are concerned, Mr Baggott et al ?

Time to shut up.

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