Belfast Telegraph

Persuasion not coercion is how to deal with dissidents

Dialogue with dissidents is the only way forward now in the wake of Ronan Kerr's murder, says Brian Rowan

The language used by Gerry Adams yesterday is highly significant. Commenting on Saturday's bomb attack in Omagh, he spoke of "murder" - a word that speaks loudly to confirm the republican journey away from war. That is the journey of mainstream republicans - including the IRA.

Mr Adams would never have described as 'murder' an action by that organisation that claimed the life of a member of the security forces. But mainstream republicans no longer see the police as an enemy - things have changed.

When they endorsed the new policing arrangements in 2006, that move, more than any other, said their war was over.

"The political response must go beyond condemnation," Mr Adams said yesterday.

"It is imperative that everyone makes clear their opposition to the murder of Constable Kerr.

"Every citizen must defend the process ... those involved do not represent republicanism."

Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein are very precise in their language, so the word 'murder' has been deliberately chosen by the Sinn Fein president.

While his words are carefully chosen, so too is the targeting of police officers by dissident groups.

Two officers were seriously injured in under-car explosions in May 2008 and January 2010.

A female officer was also targeted last August, the device falling from her car. And, now, the killing of Ronan Kerr.

The dissidents don't, won't, listen to Messrs Adams and McGuinness. Groups such as Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) and the Real and Continuity IRAs see the peace process as a betrayal; a sell-out. And, in the thinking of these factions, there is still a war; still an enemy.

Policing has changed and is changing. The reforms recommended in the Patten report have made it different, made it easier for Catholics to join. But those Catholics are stand-out targets in their communities. Constable Peadar Heffron was easily found. So, too, Ronan Kerr.

Martin McGuinness described those responsible for killing Constable Kerr as "enemies of the peace process - enemies of the people of Ireland". He said their motivation was "to destroy the peace", but that they would fail.

In their thinking, the dissidents will consider what happened at the weekend as a success. This is what they have been trying for since they killed two soldiers and a police officer in March 2009. There is no security or intelligence answer to this - no initiative that will stop them.

Sinn Fein Junior Minister Gerry Kelly accepted this last week when commenting on a security alert in north Belfast.

And if there is no security or intelligence answer, then there is an onus to try to talk, to get through to the dissidents; to try to persuade them to end these attacks.

Some argue that there is no point, because they are 'fanatics and murderers'. But the point in trying is found in what happened at the weekend.

Already, the dissidents will be looking for, and thinking about, the next target.

Gerry Adams said they "should stop and stop now". But that won't happen. There is no easy answer.

This latest attack is about creating fear and about getting inside the heads of those the dissidents still consider to be their enemy.

They don't want Catholics in the police service; don't want anything that suggests progress.

In the background, some people are speaking to the different armed factions, talking and trying to get them to stop. Mr Adams, Mr McGuinness and Mr Kelly have all said they, too, are prepared to talk to the dissident groups.

If that happens, the argument of the Sinn Fein leadership will be that these armed actions won't work. But can they get through?

After this latest killing, they have to keep trying.

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