There will be no winners in these wars – Brian Rowan on efforts to take ‘dissidents’ into a dialogue

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A little over a month ago a call to my mobile phone was the beginning of a sequence of events that took me to a meeting with representatives of the dissident group now using the IRA title.

In that brief phone contact a meeting place was arranged and a time.

“Stand at the gates and we’ll get you sorted out from there,” I was told.

It was March 18 and the meeting time was 19.30.

A few days earlier, PSNI officers had been targeted in a mortar bomb attack on the Falls Road – the explosion heard in many parts of Belfast.

And, the meeting that had just been arranged, was to issue a so-called claim of responsibility.

One of those I met took the statement from his shoe and the other shone a small torch as, in the dark and the wind, I scribbled onto several scraps of paper including a receipt.

Over many years, I have been in this type of situation many times.

No one had been injured in the attack and, while there was some shrapnel damage to vehicles,  I had been told the device had not made a direct hit on its police target.

The ‘war’ statement read to me however gave a different version of events.

Here, I am going to publish its full text:



“On Friday March 14th 10.30pm an active service unit of the IRA embarked on an operation against British State forces – namely a PSNI patrol.

This attack involved the IRA striking the PSNI Land Rover as it passed the City Cemetery on Belfast’s Falls Road.

The IRA had a second active service unit with automatic weapons close by with the intention of engaging personnel who exited the vehicles.

The device used in this offensive action was an explosively formed projectile (EFP) detonated by command wire.

These devices form a major part of the IRA’s already substantial weapons inventory.

Our development of this type of device is further evidence of the increasing expertise and ingenuity of our engineering department.

The precision of the device is evidenced by the fact that it struck its intended target.

The PSNI are the vanguard of British occupation and oppression in Ireland.

They are the heavily armed protectors of the State enforcing British law in Ireland.

They engage in harassment of Irish citizens on a daily basis, arrest republicans and facilitate the work of MI5 with the full knowledge and backing of the British Government.

For these reasons the PSNI are legitimate targets for the IRA.

The IRA has demonstrated its ability to execute PSNI personnel in the past and will continue to do so in the future.”

The statement came with claims of a new Semtex supply and detonators – all, of course, impossible to verify.

Only a few weeks earlier the Belfast Telegraph’s Political Editor Liam Clarke had published a security briefing painting an entirely different picture; that the dissident factions were struggling – short of both weapons and numbers.

What we know for certain is that the various groups are compromised – that the vast bulk of their planned activity is interrupted, that on many occasions devices malfunction or are abandoned and that numerous arrests have been made.

Yes they have the capacity to kill, but not to sustain a campaign and, from inside the ‘dissident’ republican community, there is a louder questioning of the purpose of such activity.

In recent interviews both with the Irish News and, in the past few days, with the Irish Times, Dominic Og McGlinchey – son of Dominic and Mary McGlinchey both of whom were murdered in the pre-ceasefire years – has added his voice to that debate.

He told the Irish Times Northern Editor Gerry Moriarty: “I don’t see mass appetite at a street level for the armed campaign…

“We should not be bound by the weapons. Just because they are there does not mean that they have to be used.”

What he is arguing for is another conversation that is focused on removing the gun from Irish politics.

Whether he is speaking for himself or representing a wider view is not the issue.

His comments should not be dismissed.

This is the conversation – the dialogue – that is needed.

Just look at the Good Friday killing of Tommy Crossan in west Belfast – the public execution of a one-time leader of the Continuity IRA in the city who fell from high rank.

That shooting had nothing to do with ‘Brits Out’ or an ‘armed struggle’ – had nothing to do with changing politics.

The dissident factions have become a confused and confusing mishmash of ’cause’ republicans and criminals, some of whom can’t go away and others who won’t go away.

And, those who genuinely disagree with the Adams and McGuinness strategy are being lost in that mix – not heard above the sound of guns and bombs being used in some pointless and pathetic play.

None of this will change Ireland – will alter political agreements or security policy.

It is a phoney war and the real challenge is to take the words and thinking of those recent interviews into some structured process of dialogue.

It needs to separate those ’cause’ republicans from the criminals, and whether the dissident IRA has new Semtex or not will change nothing.

That statement a month or so ago was words on paper.

What is the killing for – who is it for?

Those are the questions.

There will be no winners in these ‘wars’ – only losers and more stories of graves and jail.

Is that what the fighting is for – why the guns are still being used?

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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. Philip Kelly on

    while i dont support or condone the attempts of the dissident factions to restart the “as they see it the war” and as i don’t always agree with the current road that adams and mcguinness are leading us down i dont see any alternative.
    as i come from the older brand of republican family ie 1950s1960, and 1970s where we had no alternatives but the armed struggle which i fully endorsed and still do but that struggle did in many cases dehumanese many people where the values of life and right from wrong got blurred and in some cases lost altogeather espicelly in the 60s and 70s where it was unionist and british policey to break the nationalist /republican family with force of arms and a brutality that was reminisent of the war in kenya and cyprus where one side of the community was pitched aganist the other and where used as pawns to carry out the dirty war as was and still is the case with the U V F/ british army gangs who still operate under the radar and who would still want the war to recomence and finally defeat the republican ideal of a irish republic and to my mind thats why you have the willie frazers and jamie brysons but more important you have the link up of unionist dup tuv uup and the oranage order and the refusal to engage disposal of UVF guns, the contunial harrassment of young gaels walking along the falls road with hurley sticks or being arrested for anserwing questions to psni offerciers in irish all throwbacks to 1950s/60/ and the abuse of our right to our idenitey as irish, the commets made about our church and priests the commets about our community in general by unionist or in the haass project on flegs and the past all of the above gives creadence to the dissident republican groups, but while all this is going on our childern are working away at their education at all levels guided by teachers who have self confidence in their abality to create a community that currently fills the 3rd lavel colleges (much to the destain of jim allister and the tuv and dup and the big house unionist) all of which brings me back to SFand gerry and martin and the peace process, they have the vision not to allow the unionist /british machine destroy or dehumanise us any more they have showen leadership and brought us on a par with unionist and martin mcguinness has showen what we can and will do to create that republic without futher loss of life or jails thats the reason why the dissidents will never get the upper hand in republican areas we are educated young and full of confidence in themselves and their community our day has really and truelly come

  2. Barry Fennell on

    The ‘war’ is over. The apparatus at Stormont isn’t perfect and much much more is required. In a recent interview with the Irish Times Dominic Og McGlinchey stated: “Republicanism is a very honourable thing if done in an honourable way. We shouldn’t be dishonouring it by the mindless use of violence.” This statement and efforts for engagement and dialogue should be pursued, supported and facilitated. There has to be an honest analysis of and within republicanism about alternatives without the use of force and the way of the gun. Dialogue is key.

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