Belfast Telegraph

Orde: Why we should consider dialogue with dissidents

Sir Hugh Orde says violence may be at an 'acceptable level' but talking is the way forward, writes Brian Rowan

Former PSNI chief constable Sir Hugh Orde is now able to take a look from the outside in to give an assessment of the dissident threat.

This is what he did in a recent speech at Oxford in his new role as president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

The context he outlined was a serious threat, but not an 'unravelling of the peace process' - and not a threat comparable to that once posed by the Provisionals.

"The obvious questions, in terms of threat, have to be around their ability to encourage older and experienced combatants into returning to the struggle," said Orde.

"I think the recent political developments [on devolution of policing and justice] have gone some way to negate that threat. It provides additional and very important legitimacy to those who moved towards a negotiated peace.

"That having been said, we should continue to be concerned about this issue. It would only require a few 'experts' to come back into play to increase the risk substantially."

So, this is one of the fears - that experienced help plucked from the old IRA organisation would go a long way to giving the dissidents more of what they need.

The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) has already pointed to some help and expertise being offered.

Recruitment was another issue touched on by Sir Hugh - emphasising the need to deal not just with the consequences of young people becoming involved in dissident groups, but to look more closely at the causes. So what sucks them in?

This is something one of his former senior PSNI colleagues, Peter Sheridan, is doing in his new role as chief executive of Co-operation Ireland.

Sheridan wants to develop a strategy or programme that offers alternatives to young people, particularly in areas where they are vulnerable to dissident recruitment.

In his Oxford speech, Orde said: "There is growing evidence of recruiting, although small in number. They are the disenfranchised young led by a few from the previous world [the Provisional campaign]. I have described this in the past as young people being used and exploited by those who are no longer prepared to take risks themselves."

Orde wonders is it too soon to think of a dialogue with the dissidents - some way of talking them out of violence and persuading them of alternatives.

"These organisations are, it could be argued, relatively new and as such are unlikely to be amenable to any negotiated end . . . So it may be that we are currently in a situation where a small number, with a far smaller number of active players within that, are sufficiently committed and resourced to carry out attacks within their own geography."

"To borrow a phrase from the past, we may be at an 'acceptable level of violence' - albeit at a far lower level than when the phrase was first coined."

What he means is that if the dissidents cannot be persuaded to stop, then we must accept that the threat will remain - and violence will continue.

Orde is right that these organisations are relatively new, but there are those in leadership positions who have been around all of this long enough to know there is no military victory.

That means at some time they will have to talk - and that door has to be kept open. These dialogues take time to develop, but the time and effort can save lives.

That is why it is worth trying. And that is why the door must not be closed.

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