Sinn Fein has left people behind in peace process including Dissidents – Time to talk to them

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Just for a moment think, what if?

What if that mortar bomb had not been discovered in north Belfast a few days ago?

What if one of the dissident factions had managed to launch the device?

What if it had struck a police vehicle, and what if an officer/officers had been killed?

What then would we have thought, said and demanded.

I wrote in the Belfast Telegraph recently that the dissident threat while not always seen, is always there.

It is not to exaggerate that threat, not to talk it up or down, but to remind people of the danger.

The threat is a capacity to kill in sporadic and occasional armed actions, not to sustain or win a war, and, more often than not, the various dissident plots fail.

They are infiltrated and compromised; watched and heard, and have been unable to match the momentum of activity that signalled their emergence in a bitter peace process separation from the IRA in the late 1990s.

The threat was at its most serious in the period of the Good Friday Agreement and has not reached that same level since.

Remember the bombs of 1998 in Moira, Portadown, Banbridge and then Omagh.

The various wars have stuttered and stalled since then; wars I have described as pointless, pathetic and phoney.

Part of that dissident world is characterised in little power plays and competing egos and personalities.

There is talk of recent tension in Belfast between some of those who are part of the faction Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) and figures linked with yet another new IRA coalition.

In this you have people who followed the mainstream republican movement right to the point when new policing was endorsed, and others who had no part in the often described ‘long war’ that stretched through those decades of the ‘70s, ‘80s and into the ‘90s.

In that fractured dissident world, there may be new titles but it is an old threat dressed up in a different name.

That threat is to on occasions get under the intelligence radar and kill – as at Massereene Barracks, and in the actions that took the lives of police constables Stephen Carroll and Ronan Kerr.

This, however, is only part of the story.

The vast bulk of activity fails; bombs do not explode or only partially detonate, devices, such as last week, are discovered and operations are aborted.

It is this sentence that more accurately describes the dissident organisations and campaign.

Their wars will not change the politics of Ireland, but this does not mean they are not entitled to a political opinion and one that differs from that of Sinn Fein.

Within the republican community there should always be room for that different thought, but no room for the war games; and this should be the focus of an urgent dialogue.

If this is left to the dissidents and Sinn Fein alone it may never get beyond the arguments of ‘sell out’.

So, while Sinn Fein has written on several recent occasions to Republican Network for Unity (RNU) on the issue of dialogue, a different, wider, approach is needed.

The talking needs to involve the nationalist/republican community in the widest possible sense; needs to be agenda focused and independently facilitated.

This is the structure that needs to be built and urgently before anyone else is killed or injured in some pointless war action.

Sinn Fein needs to be less arrogant when it comes to the question of talks, needs to understand that it has left people behind in this process; people who have questions that demand answers.

The dissidents have the right to talk and to be heard in words and arguments, but they will not be heard if the approach is bombs and bullets.

Talking, dialogue, needs to happen and sooner rather than later.


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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at


  1. A armed usually fights before they talk-there is no fight in the dissidents so maybe they have no talk in them either- there was a open invite to them for talks at the last Ard fheis-never heard another word about apart from some of the dissident groups saying in the media that they did not want to talk-

    • The broken relationships in that community will not be mended unless there is a talking initiative that involves many more than the representatives of the dissident groups and Sinn Fein. This dialogue should be made happen in a structured process shaped and directed by independent facilitators. It must also involve all parts of the nationalist/republican community in the widest possible sense. And if dissidents won’t come to the talks, then the talks should go to them.

  2. Don’t think there will be any talking Brian, a lot of people who support the dissidents took that decision because of the path Sinn Fein have now gone (ie: into British Govt.) Sinn Fein are now a fabric within the British presence in Ireland

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