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Editor's Viewpoint: What can they say to the dissidents?

Published 13/08/2010

Nothing is ever quite as it seems in politics and, especially, in Northern Ireland. Just days after Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, said there could be no meaningful talks with dissident republicans, it is claimed that the terrorist organisations have the ear of both the Irish and British governments.

The claim was made by deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, who from past experience knows a thing or two about how these matters are conducted. Of course, no elected politicians are involved in the talks with the dissidents - our report says some independent figures are acting as go-betweens - which gives both governments just enough wriggle room to deny that they are talking to terrorists.

However, it does seem that there are on-going discussions. Just what they hope to achieve, however, is a very debatable point. It is claimed that a reduction in the number of punishment shootings has followed the contacts, but, worryingly, there has been an upsurge in attempts to kill people, including a female policewoman and her baby, with booby-trap bombs. The question many people will ask is what can you offer terrorist groups which seem hell-bent on pure anarchy? They have rejected the peace process, created in part by the republican tradition from which they sprang totally unreconstructed. They seem to have no political philosophy apart from a simplistic 'Brits out' and achieving Irish unity through coercion.

When the talks which led to the Provisional IRA ceasefires in the 1990s were being held, it was obvious that the Provos desperately wanted to end the conflict and use their political muscle to further their aims. The dissidents do not have any visible alternative course of action. There is some concern that talks involving two national governments, even if by proxy, could be interpreted by the terrorists as a sign of weakness and could encourage wilder elements to ratchet up their campaign of violence. The population at large holds the view that vigorous pursuit of the terrorists by police is the best option at this time.

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