Mystery talks relieve march tensions
Mystery talks relieve march tensions

The Apprentice Boys’ ‘Relief of Derry’ march -- the largest sectarian parade of the year -- passed quietly on Saturday following reports of dialogue between nationalist groups and the Stormont and British administrations.

A weekly white-line picket on behalf of republican prisoners which would have been held nearby, was called off after a surprise agreement was reached last week on prisoners’ conditions at Maghaberry Jail.

The picket in Derry would have brought the republican protest to within 50 yards of the Apprentice Boys’ march.

Protest organiser, leading republican Gary Donnelly, said the Liam Lynch/Patsy Duffy cumann of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement had called the picket off late on Thursday.

“We have been holding these white-line pickets for the last six weeks and there has been no sign of a policeman or patrol. I know because I’ve attended religiously,” Mr Donnelly said.

He said the 32 County Sovereignty had “ignored” the coat-trailing loyalist march.

A protest at a much smaller morning ‘feeder parade’ in north Belfast was also scaled down. Following a silent roadside protest, the parade passed with little trouble.

The developments were linked to reports that a channel of communication has been opened between the PSNI and the republican armed groups.

In particular, assurances were said to have been sought from the ‘Oglaigh na hEireann’ group that no attack would be launch against the PSNI during the north Belfast parade.

Sinn Fein’s McGuinness has insisted that behind-the-scenes discussions were under way with at least some of the ‘dissident’ groups.

He welcomed the talks as “evidence that dissidents accept they cannot achieve their aims through violence”.

The London and Dublin governments have sought to play down or deny the talks claims.

But Mr McGuinness said successive governments had held talks with republicans despite public denials at the time.

“I have been, I think, a prime example of that myself,” he told BBC radio.

“I was involved with discussions with representatives of the British government before Margaret Thatcher had left office.

“And as a result of the ongoing dialogue and discussions, and willingness of people to engage, all sorts of important developments in the interests of our people have taken place over the course of recent years.”

The PSNI police chief Matt Baggott said on Sunday that opening talks with armed groups would not be “a betrayal”, despite recent bomb attacks that have targeted members of the Crown forces.

“History would say there has never been a security solution to [Irish resistance].

“Ultimately there has to be persuasion and dialogue,” he told Irish national broadcaster RTE.

Asked about politicians entering talks with the armed groups who had attacked his forces, he responded: “I don’t think it’s a betrayal.

“I think there would be conditions attached to that and that is the way of all dialogue in the past.”

However, no republican group, political or military, has confirmed that any peace talks have taken place. Republican Sinn Fein has condemned the reports as “black propoganda”.

The ‘Real IRA’ said it is not involved in “any talks about any subject” with either the Dublin or London governments.

A ‘Real IRA’ spokesman told the Sunday Tribune: “We categorically state that we are not involved in any such negotiations.

“The leadership of the IRA has no interest in talking to the British because the British have currently no interest in ending their occupation of Ireland. There would be nothing to discuss with the British.

“The only item on the agenda for the British would be to buy a ceasefire from the IRA through some financial package. The IRA will not be going down the same path as the Provisionals. The IRA is not in the business of surrender.”

The 32 County Sovereignty Movement, which is regarded by the security forces as the Real IRA’s political wing, also denied holding discussions with either government.

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