DUBLIN – DUBLIN (AP) — The British and Irish governments are in secret negotiations with IRA dissidents in hopes they can be persuaded to abandon violence, the senior Sinn Fein official in Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration said Thursday — a claim immediately denied by both governments.
Britain and Ireland have insisted publicly it's pointless to talk to Irish Republican Army splinter groups. They continue to mount occasional bomb and gun attacks in Northern Ireland in an effort to undermine the territory's Catholic-Protestant coalition and wider paramilitary cease-fires.
But Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commmander who led secret talks with Britain that inspired the IRA's original 1994 cease-fire, said he's certain that both governments are talking to dissident representatives despite their denials.
"I do understand the governments will come out and say that this isn't true, it isn't happening, and they have all sorts of mechanisms and phrases to use which cover themselves," McGuinness told the BBC in Belfast.
"But the reality is that some of these dissident groups, I know for a fact, have been involved in discussions with both the Irish and the British governments in recent times."
British and Irish officials immediately rejected McGuinness' claims in brief statements.
The British government initially denied talking to McGuinness and other IRA representatives in the early 1990s. Sinn Fein revealed the secret diplomacy in 1993. Britain subsequently admitted using agents and intermediaries to meet IRA leaders sporadically for more than a decade before the 1994 cease-fire. Britain opened official talks with Sinn Fein, the IRA's legal face, only after the IRA truce.
The IRA fully disarmed and renounced violence in 2005, formally ending its failed 1970-1997 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. IRA attacks claimed nearly 1,800 lives and maimed more than 10,000 other people.
The dissidents, by contrast, have rarely been successful in killing their targets or causing widespread destruction with car bombs. A series of small car bombs this year have detonated outside police stations, a courthouse and the regional headquarters of the British spy agency MI5 but have injured nobody seriously and caused little damage.
McGuinness said IRA dissidents' willingness to talk "suggests to me that these groups are recognizing that, at some stage, they are going to have to wake up and smell the roses in terms of their inability to destroy the peace process and bring down the institutions that have such overwhelming support among our people."
Dissidents did commit the deadliest attack of the entire Northern Ireland conflict, the August 1998 car-bomb attack on the town of Omagh that killed 29 people, mostly women and children.
The dissidents have increased operations since 2007, when the Catholics of Sinn Fein and the Protestants of the Democratic Unionist Party forged an unlikely coalition in fulfillment of Northern Ireland's Good Friday peace accord of 1998. In March 2009, IRA dissidents shot to death two off-duty British soldiers collecting pizzas and a policeman sitting in his car, but more than two dozen subsequent attacks on Northern Ireland security forces have largely failed.