Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Jaw Jaw Jaw

The issue of talking to dissidents has been kicking about for the a few weeks and this raises the questions why now and is there any value to them?

Rumours had hit the newspapers about talks but it came into focus when Martin McGuinness claimed that the Government was engaged in talks.  McGuinness's original claim was more limited than the reporting around it.  He linked the talks with the then dispute at Maghaberry prison.  However, his intervention may have been more to provide justification of the initiative of his own leader.

Gerry Adams had announced he'd sought talks with dissident republican groups.  Rusty Nail exemplifies how this is a departure from past Sinn Fein behaviour and attitude towards them.  Also the ignorance of dissident/dissenting republican groups about the request raised further questions.  While the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, who had been in correspondence with Adams, were keen to point out a difference in position between Adams and McGuinness:

"as political prisoners whilst others would deem them traitors"

So is it that Sinn Fein is getting worried?  Is it Adams exerting his primacy again?  Or is it another public example of his erratic approach to politics?

Whatever the internal republican machinations there remains the question of the appropriateness government doing so.  The Chief Constable offered the defence that it could be accepted under the right conditions.  As to there not being a policing solution the 1956-62 Border Campaign and the failure by the likes of the Red Action Force show policing can sometimes deal with such threats.  Also for a public official who prizes their independence from politics I do question whether it is appropriate for the Chief Constable to even get involved in public debates.  This over-politicisation of the Chief Constable began with Ronnie Flanaghan and it was not a healthy trend.

However, talks with the dissident groups is a bad idea for three reasons. 
1.  It gives these organisations a degree of recognition that they simply do not deserve.  In this and even the broader media treatment the dissident organisations verge on being presented as a full re-incarnation of the PIRA.  They aren't. This year one person has died at the hands of dissident republicans, one of their own members, and their capabilities remain limited.
2. We've had the generational initiative to reach a political solution.  There is no scope for another one and an attempt at another could seriously undermine what has been achieved. 
3.  It's bad process.  Many mistakenly subscribe to dialogue being always good and that there must always be a deal. Dialogue like any idea has its limitations and there isn't always a deal.  Central to success is authority to negotiate but the multiplicity of organisations and factions makes it difficult to identify anyone with such authority.

In our attitude to dissident republicans we have to ask ourselves the basic question - is the scenario we are in more comparable with 1956 or 1969?  

The political representatives of nationalism present the level of public sympathy within that community as more akin to the low levels of support of 56 than the turbulent times of 69.  If this is true then we need to act like it. We give the police the resources the need to make the present campaign as fruitless as 56 and treat dissident republicans as a political irrelevance not elevate them by talking to them.

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