Govts in talks with dissidents - McGuinness
Govts in talks with dissidents - McGuinness

The British government has talked to dissident republicans in recent weeks, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has said.

The Six-County Deputy First Minister also revealed that the Dublin government had been meeting with the groups “for years”.

“They may well deny that, that doesn’t concern me in the least. I know it’s happening,” he told the BBC radio show.

The senior Sinn Fein figure, who said he was personally involved in back-channel talks with London as far back as Margaret Thatcher’s term in office, told BBC Radio Ulster: “I encourage dialogue, I think it it important.

“I do understand the governments will come out and say that this isn’t true, it isn’t happening, and they have all sorts of mechanisms and phrases to use which cover themselves, but the reality is that some of these dissident groups, I know for a fact, have been involved in discussions with both the Irish and the British government in recent times.”

On Sunday, British Direct Ruler Owen Paterson denied that his government wanted discussions with dissidents.

He was rejecting media reports that talks were being sought through intermediaries, despite opposition from the Dublin government.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the 26-County Department of Foreign Affairs claimed “it has never been our practice to speak to these people”.

The British government said: “Co-operation at every level between the UK and the Republic of Ireland is unprecedented and we are quite clear you cannot have meaningful talks with people who are not committed to peaceful means of pursuing their goals.”

But it is accepted that that there had been recent meetings between the larger dissident groups and government intermediaries which focused on a dispute at Maghaberry Prison.

It is understood that in the course of those meetings, it had been mentioned that dissident bomb attacks were “not doing the prisoners’ case any good.”

Conservative MP Patrick Mercer said he would “not be surprised” if there were “covert conversations” between dissident groups and government bodies associated with the intelligence agencies.

However, he claimed that this was different from an official government policy of talking to dissident groups.

It is also believed that there had been contacts between dissident groups and the previous Labour government.

The Dublin government has previously acknowledged that it has had contact with the breakaway IRA groups in 2003.

DUP hardliner Gregory Campbell, said if any discussions were taking place it was necessary to know who was involved and “on whose authority did they begin”.

He said: “If there are discussions with dissident republican terrorists who are carrying out murder, who authorised those discussions?

“If Martin McGuinness has any information about who began those discussions, let’s hear his information.”

Mr McGuinness also claimed the dissident groups were “recognising that at some stage they are going to have to wake up and smell the roses in terms of their inability to destroy the peace process.”

Des Dalton of Republican Sinn Fein dismissed Mr McGuinness’s comments as “black propaganda.”

Last weekend, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said he had written to all breakaway Republican groups requesting a meeting to discuss the problem.

eirigi general secretary Breandan Mac Cionnaith said no such request had been received by his party. He instead called on Mr Adams to a public meeting in west Belfast as opposed to “engaging in behind the scenes negotiations”.

“Let both eirigi and Sinn Fein put their political and economic agendas to the people of West Belfast and let them decide who has the most radical and realisable agenda.”

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