A challenge by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams to rival republican organisations to meet him for discussions about the way ahead has met with a suspicious reaction by the parties involved and condemned by the British government.
Mr Adams made his call after last week’s bomb attack on the Strand Road PSNI base in Derry and the attempted assassination of a British army major in Bangor, County Down. A third apparent attack against a Catholic member of the PSNI failed at the weekend when the under-car device failed to explode.
“The fact is that there is now no place on this island for political violence. There is a peaceful and democratic way for serious people who want to see a united Ireland,” Mr Adams said.
“There is a peaceful strategy and people can disagree until the cows come home about elements of it but there is no space for these incidents or for any armed actions of any kind.”
The Oglaigh na hEireann group, widely believed to be behind the recent wave of attacks, justified a series of armed actions this past week by simply stating that “only the cutting edge of the IRA” can achieve Irish freedom, paraphrasing a statement by Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness in the 70s.
In a statement received by a Derry-based newspaper, the group also defended using a taxi driver to transport a bomb to a targeted PSNI base in Derry. It criticised Sinn Fein for condemning a strategy it had previously defended, pointing out that the Provisional IRA had used similar tactics at the height of the conflict.
Mr Adams pointed to the group’s focus on his party rather than British rule and its failure to advance a political ideology.
“It is clear that the people involved in [violence] are more anti-Sinn Fein than anti anything else. They don’t have a strategy, they don’t have anyone prepared to articulate it. Who is out there defending these actions?”
Sinn Fein said it had requested talks with all of the republican groups opposed to the Stormont regime. Only the 32 County Sovereignty Committee said it had received a request from from ‘Provisional Sinn Fein’ asking for a meeting to discuss the republican prisoner situation in Maghaberry and wider political issues.
“We in turn responded to acknowledge their correspondence and to inquire as to what it was they were proposing,” a statement said.
Sinn Fein had mentioned Gerry Kelly would be in contact to arrange an official meeting, by the 32 CSM said “no such contact has been received by us to date”.
It suggested the talks amounted to little more than a publicity stunt.
“We treated this correspondence as private. We close no doors in seeking a resolution to the crisis in Maghaberry. We impose no agendas nor accept them being imposed on us,” the group said.
“Our position on the national question is clear and in the public arena.
“If Mr Adams felt it necessary to publicise this correspondence before any meetings took place we can only conclude that publicity was indeed his agenda as opposed to working constructively with us, away from the restrictions of the public glare, to resolve the ongoing crisis in Maghaberry.
“We remain focussed and will not be distracted in organising on behalf of the prisoners and their families.”
Breandan Mac Cionnaith, general secretary of the eirigi party, denied that his group had received any talks invitation from Sinn Fein.
Mr Mac Cionnaith said Mr Adams was “well aware” of Eirigi’s position.
“It has been on the public record for a number of years and party spokespeople have made themselves available to explain this position on countless occasions,” he said.
“However,if Mr Adams had genuinely wished to clarify any questions he had in relation to this position, he could have easily done so on the evening before he made his public comments when he stood side by side with senior members of Eirigi, including our party’s national vice-chairperson, at an anti-plastic bullet protest in west Belfast.
“Instead, he chose to use the organs of the corporate media to engage in the type of felon-setting that was previously the domain of unionist politicians and British government ministers,” Mr Mac Cionnaith added.
British Direct Ruler Owen Paterson quickly ruled out talks by his government with dissident republicans. Mr Paterson insisted that they would not be allowed to “disrupt the political process”.
In a radio interview, he said: “You cannot have any meaningful talks with people who are not committed to peaceful means. They are not listening. They are disparate. They are a very small armed group with no discipline or clear focus on where they are going.”
Gerry Adams condemned Paterson’s point-blank rejection of talks.
Mr Adams said: “I do not have any great time for Owen Paterson. Of course people should talk. That is common sense.”
He insisted that the attempt by Sinn Fein to initiate dialogue with rival groups, including those linked to some armed organisations, “is a genuine attempt by us to put very directly to these groupings that ongoing armed actions have no place in the struggle for Irish unity”.
“There is a peaceful and democratic way forward now -- the vast majority of republicans are on it. As the party elected by republican communities to lead, we have a responsibility to provide political leadership. This is what we are doing,” he said.
But Des Dalton from Republican Sinn Fein was also dismissive. He said Mr Adams stopped listening to fellow republican leaders when he embarked on the peace process.
Sinn Fein, which his party split from in 1986, was now “absorbed into the apparatus of British rule”, he said.
“Unfortunately Gerry Adams chose at that point not to listen to that advice and chose to embark on the road which was forecast where it would end up is where they are today,” Mr Dalton said.
“Gerry Adams and his organisation are now fully absorbed into the apparatus of British rule in Ireland and we feel we have absolutely nothing to say to them on that basis.”