Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Dissidents do not warrant dialogue

The assertion by Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, that the government will not hold talks, or negotiations, with dissident republicans to persuade them to end their growing campaign of violence brings to mind the statement by Prime Minister John Major in 1993 that it would turn his stomach to talk to the Provisional IRA.

As we now know, back-channel negotiations between the then Tory government and the IRA were already on-going and were to finally bear fruit in the peace process. History teaches us to beware of statements by politicians.

However, there are major differences between the state of Northern Ireland in the early 1990s and now. Most importantly, the electoral gains of Sinn Fein meant that republicans saw another way to wage their long war and they were wearying of the so-called armed struggle. Essentially, the conditions were ripe for talks or negotiations. Terrorism could be brought to a halt and the struggle brought to the ballot box.

While Gerry Adams may argue that it makes sense to talk to dissident republicans, few people in Northern Ireland or internationally believe that is the case. They view the dissident republicans as a small core of die-hards not open to rational debate and with no political mandate or rationale. Instead most people would prefer to allow the police - now supported by the vast majority of the population - to pursue a war of attrition against the dissidents.

Certainly Sinn Fein can open their own lines of negotiation with the dissident groups in an attempt to persuade them of the futility of their actions. They come from the same background and - once upon a time - shared the same tactical appreciation of how the struggle should be fought. But that time has gone and there can be no returning to it. Sinn Fein should use all its influence to ensure that the dissidents have as little support as possible. For the government to talk to them would be to give them a status they do not deserve.

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