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Dissident talks a step worth taking

Sinn Fein deserves credit for attempting to engage dissident republicans in talks. In this newspaper today a senior dissident figure calls on Sinn Fein to prove it is serious about such discussions. The fact that the invitations to meetings have come from such senior figures as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness is surely proof enough.

While many people argue - as they did with the IRA in the past - that armed groups should stop violence before the talking begins, that is a point of principle which has long been discarded.

The question is what value talks between Sinn Fein and dissidents would have? Sinn Fein could argue that if the IRA, with its huge arsenal from Libya, its funding and its extensive support could not win its war, the fragmented dissidents with none of the above have no reason for a campaign of sporadic violence.

But that is an argument, however logical, that could cut little ice. Many of the dissidents are former mainstream republicans who have rejected the ending of the IRA's campaign and the current peace process.

They have a nihilistic approach, clinging to some out-dated legacy of republican blood-letting. In the past when Sinn Fein was brought in from the cold through talks, the situation was much different. The IRA and Sinn Fein was a largely cohesive grouping with a defined strategy which could be debated and challenged. That is not the case with the dissidents.

However, talks between the republicans of various hues could serve a useful purpose in allowing the dissidents to put forward whatever case they have for opposing the peace process and the direction Sinn Fein has taken.

Their problem is that the border, as our poll last week showed, is no longer a political issue and the republican war is over to all intents and purposes. The dissidents are occupying rapidly vanishing ground.

While this newspaper - and the overwhelming majority of people throughout the province - see no validity whatever in their incoherent strategies, it is also true little harm can be done by talking.