Talks must begin with dissidents: Republican unity under threat if splinter groups are ignored.
Dublin and London must begin immediate talks with dissidents otherwise it will be the broad republican family which will be de-stabilised, not the peace process. Pious words from the pro-Union community that it will never talk to terrorists should be dismissed as hypocritical and meaningless rhetoric.
At the height of the Provos’ campaign of slaughter in the 1970s, London was in secret talks with the IRA whilst publicly denying all knowledge of the talks. In the 1980s, I was present as a note taker when secret talks took place between Ulster Unionists and an Northern Ireland Office Minister to kick-start a peace process which resulted in the Good Friday Agreement. And all this took place when publicly Unionists were ordered to snub the Tory Government because of the 1985 Hillsborough Agreement.
If the 1990s brought loyalist and republican death squads in from the cold, resulting in the 1994 ceasefires, why can’t London and Dublin bring dissident republicans to the negotiating table?
To dismiss such talks in the wake of the murder of prison officer David Black could result in a civil-war scenario developing in republicanism. What happens if the dissidents become such irritants, nuisances and embarrassments to mainstream republicanism, especially Sinn Fein at Stormont, that older IRA pro-McGuinness figures decide to unleash a Nazi-style ‘Night of the Long Knives’? This was the notorious night in 1930s Germany when Nazi tyrant Hitler wiped out many of his political opponents in one large-scale attack.
When militant republicans fall out amongst each other, the resulting feuds can be so blood-thirsty. Historically, what about the IRA brother who butchered IRA brother during the Irish Civil War after the Dail narrowly ratified the Treaty in the 1920s? More IRA men were executed by Free State forces than during the previous War of Independence against the Tans. What about the 1970s feuds between the Provos and Stickies as to which was the true IRA? What about the dozens of leading republican socialists butchered during the bloodbaths of the INLA’s internecine wars?
And most significantly, what about the night the IRA declared war on the republican splinter group, the Irish People’s Liberation Organisation, and wiped the fringe terror gang out in a single evening?
The dissident groups which combined to form the New IRA may be small in number, but they could give Sinn Fein and the Provos a very bloody nose if violent action was required.
It should not be forgotten that many young, middle class, very well educated republicans are joining Sinn Fein – republicans who have never served an apprenticeship in the ‘RA. They do not have the physical capacity to militarily take on the dissidents. Will we see history repeating itself where a Stormont Sinn Fein Assembly team orders the British security forces to ‘root out and eradicate’ known dissidents.
But what happens if to maintain overall unity in the republican family, the IRA hardmen have to make another re-appearance on nationalist streets to crush the dissident threat?
The peace process may not unravel because of ‘an acceptable level of violence’ by dissidents, but republican unity could come apart at the seams if nationalist confronts nationalist.
So for the sake of republican stability, the dissidents must be persuaded to enter maybe not the peace process, but certainly the discussion process. A volatile and unstable mainstream republican movement could pose serious problems for Stormont and the entire peace process.