“The more that is out in the open, the more the chances of success are reduced.”

Northern Ireland deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, refused to elaborate on his claim this week that “some of these dissident [republican] groups, I know for a fact, have been involved in discussions with both the Irish and the British government in recent times.”  As Martina Purdy noted, he’s off on “his August holidays” after dropping the “verbal grenade” – or “black propaganda” as Des Dalton of Republican Sinn Féin called it.

The Sunday Times journalist who last weekend reported that attempts where being made to have those discussions, John Mooney, told UTV

“I believe that the British security services are attempting to engage in conversation with dissident paramilitary groups. I am not sure whether those talks have progressed very far but certainly those attempts have been made,” he told UTV on Friday.

“Any contacts I have with those organisations, they say they are not interested in any political debate unless it involves a British withdrawal. So any sort of communication or talks are really inappropriate at the moment. In so far that these groups aren’t politically mature enough to engage in this process.”

And, although both governments have, to an extent, denied talks were taking place, the BBC reported that

A source close to dissident republicans told the BBC that there had been recent meetings with government intermediaries which focused on a dispute at Maghaberry Prison.

It is understood that in the course of those meetings, it had been mentioned that dissident bomb attacks were “not doing the prisoners’ case any good.”

Conservative MP Patrick Mercer said he would “not be surprised” if there were “covert conversations” between dissident groups and government bodies associated with the intelligence agencies.

However, he added that this was different from an official government policy of talking to dissident groups.

As Henry McDonald noted on the Guardian’s Politics Blog, “Because it was Martin McGuinness who said it, commentators and observers of Northern Irish politics have been getting overexcited.”

Given the success of the previous process, including the clandestine talks between McGuinness and MI5 operatives in Derry, the rather simplistic conclusion is drawn that talks will once more yield similar results: a total cessation of violence.

There are, however, several reasons why the two situations are radically different, particularly on two key fronts. First, in 1993 the British faced a united, coherent movement – the Provisional IRA.

The twin dominating characters in that organisation were McGuinness and Adams, who exercised almost full control of their membership.

Secondly, the British state had a comprehensive insight into the strategic thinking inside that movement. Given the number of high-powered agents working for the British state within the PIRA and Sinn Féin there was more than enough intelligence to indicate to London that there was a significant “peace party” within the provisionals.

Indeed, many of these agents were engineered into place at top levels of the movement to advance the agenda of the “peace faction” inside the PIRA and Sinn Féin.

But there’s something else to keep in mind, as Brian Rowan mentions in his Belfast Telegraph article

These things are always deniable — they have to be for all sides.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not happening.

Politicians can’t sit across the table from the “terrorists”, and the dissident groups will not want to be seen to be in dialogue with the enemy, in this case “the Brits”.

“If you are involved in conversation you are going down the same bloody road the Provos did,” one source said — the Provos who are accused by the dissidents of “selling out”.

So, all of this is meant to be hush-hush, out of sight and out of hearing.

The more that is out in the open, the more the chances of success are reduced. [added emphasis]

And that’s something that Martin McGuinness is also very well aware of…

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  • “his August holidays”

    MMcG might be off for the Derry Fortnight – two weeks in the drizzle in Ballycastle or Bundoran.

  • Cynic

    Of course many of the dissidents are talking to the Brits

    How else would they get their pay?

  • hermeneut

    Like the news items this article quotes, there is a distinct lack of political imagination in this piece. Magennis is disrupting the dissidents’ claims of political support within their communities. “Look, they’re talking to the government – just as we did!” “Look, they say one thing – united Ireland or bust – but they’re making secret compromises.” It was actually a pretty astute move on the part of Magennis. The dissidents present the Shinners as surrender-monkeys and maintain implacable opposition to political talks; how better to undermine this than to say they’re actually talking? And within hours, a deal at Maghaberry…

  • joeCanuck

    True Cynic or, True, Cynic.

  • joeCanuck

    Unlike his brother-in-arms, when McGuiness does say something, he is usually speaking the truth. Of course, he doesn’t tell us everything.
    On the other hand, to paraphrase an old saying, you can tell when a government spokesperson is usually lying because their lips are moving.
    Discussions can only be good if they lead to a cessation of the violent crimes.

  • Alias

    “The more that is out in the open, the more the chances of success are reduced.”

    Which would imply that J118, err, the Butcher Boy is trying to scupper the contact, if it exists, between the British government and those who continue to oppose its rule by publically revealing such contact and stating that he is “100%” certain that it does exist. Obviously it’s a sovereign matter for the central government, and not something that the local administrators of its rule have any control over…

  • joeCanuck

    Why do you think that SF would want to scupper talks leading to a cessation of violence? The dissidents pose a potentially fairly serious threat to them and their peace policies.

  • Kevin Barry

    Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

    If he didn’t let it be known that SF are trying to speak to the dissidents then you would be on here crowing about how SF are doing nothing, while when he’s on record of trying to speak to them and putting pressure on them you contend that he’s jeopardising efforts to bring the dissidents’ campaign to an end.

    Make your mind up please

  • Pete Baker


    I think that’s exactly what he’s up to. Note that he’s also implying that any contacts, if they exist, are both more wide-spread and more direct than anyone else considers likely.


    Why? Who knows? “Black propaganda”? Perhaps he fears Sinn Féin being side-lined in the longer term? Perhaps it’s because of the reaction to Gerry Adams’ ‘offer’ of talks with those organisations? Perhaps it’s his reaction to that very public ‘offer’?

    Kevin Barry

    Try to pay attention to the detail.

  • Kevin Barry

    Hands up, I was wrong.

  • USA

    Baker, your ignorance and arrogance knows no bounds.

  • Kevin Barry

    Though my point still remains valid.

    What would you prefer, MMcG to speak to the dissidents and try and resolve the matter or to ignore them, and if he is to speak to them, would you prefer he let the public know that he is looking for a solution or to keep quiet about the whole matter and be accused of not speaking to his former comrades and influence them?

  • Is it possible MMcG thought the tortuous ‘talks’ he was part of were too long and too many people were hurt while the er ‘great and the good’ were talking? Could it be he simply wanted to bring the truth shivering into the open.

    Naive I know, but better than he thinks his own position might be threatened. Im pretty sure he knows he is safe enough, safer I think than his ‘partner’ in SFs daring adventure.

  • Simon Partridge

    It is clear that there has been some contact over the prison protest. It is in MMcG’s interest to build on this because the implication is that the “dissidents” have already set off down the same path as the Provisionals. So what’s the big difference – except that the”dissidents” have come to their senses sooner?

  • Pete Baker



    But the effect of his claims on any such contacts remains the same. It lengthens, rather than shortens, any such ‘Process’.

    Consider the question Martina Purdy asked

    Whatever the truth, the Deputy First Minister who was engaged in secret talks during his years in the IRA, has given dissidents something to think about. What will the rank and file dissidents make of his claims?

    That’s were the “black propaganda” quote comes into play.

  • Pete Baker

    I usually use ‘blessings’ instead of goodbye, but hello’s ok too.

    I think it, more than anything else, was aimed at confusing and disrupting the ‘foot soldiers’ and possibly a warning shot over the heads of the authorities. It was probably also aimed at garnering his own support, after all if dissies are talking to the Brits and the Irish, is that not exactly the same as he did?

    I also think there is more than one battle going on.

  • Pete Baker


    Well, that’s a more coherent analysis than your first offering.

  • joeCanuck

    But the fact is that, despite some good successes, it doesn’t look like the authorities will be able to put the “dissidents” completely out of business. Even John Hume after Bloody Sunday said it’s a united Ireland now or nothing (I think it was him). So did SF.

    The “dissidents” need to be persuaded that only democratic means will achieve that. Talking is a first good step alongside every effort to identify the “footsoldiers” and put them behind bars.

  • Pete Baker

    Well if it won your approval what more could a cat ask, unless it is for a few of your claws…

  • joe

    Completely agree.

  • Pete Baker

    And completely missing the point…

  • joeCanuck


    I worry that it is just a matter of time before another Omagh atrocity happens.
    What if those 3 children in Lurgan had been killed today? Presumably all but the most extreme would have been horrified and “casual” supporters of the “dissidents” would have turned away from them.

  • joeCanuck

    You should know by now Pete that even though you write the blog, it can sometimes get sidetracked to a small or large degree. The subject is the “talks” even though your thrust is probably the possible deviousness of Mc Guinness.

  • Pete Baker

    Nothing ever changes… But if you believe MMcG was trying to disrupt any ‘talks’, I disagree, It is possible to find several reasons for his comment, all of them valid. It is not a one way street. There is no way the ‘authorities’ or even SF can talk to all the dissidents. It will take more, and I think it looks like MMcG has fired the first ‘shot’. I don’t think it was aimed at anything GA was doing or had suggested, nor do I think it was a fit of pique because the GA offer had been turned down.

  • Pete Baker

    Wrong, Joe.

    The subject is what’s actual going on.

  • Pete Baker

    “But if you believe MMcG was trying to disrupt any ‘talks’, I disagree”

    Eh, Pippakin?

    A minute ago you said, “I think it, more than anything else, was aimed at confusing and disrupting the ‘foot soldiers’ and possibly a warning shot over the heads of the authorities.”

    What do you imagine the outcome of such confusion and disruption would be?

  • Government statements about talks with paramilitaries need to be taken with a large pinch of salt – Mayhew denial in 1993.

  • joeCanuck

    Well, Pete, how’s this for a theory. McGuinness is simply trying to demonstrate that he has his finger on the pulse, that he knows what goes on. Others have “confirmed” that talks have been going on. Would you be in the least surprised if SF had “informants” within the N.I. Civil Service, the NIO and the southern Government?

  • joe

    If they continue with the bombs hoax or not then Im afraid you’re right, they will ‘succeed’ they almost did that today. On a lesser scale but just as horrific.

    If they had succeeded the outcry would have damaged the dissidents, especially in the south, where there is a chance it would also have damaged SF to some degree.

  • Pete Baker


    He’d still be aware of the effect of his claims on any such contacts between the governments and dissenting republicans.

  • Pete Baker

    If there are secret talks, and I think there probably are, no amount of ‘chatter’ will disrupt them. It will have started, it may as in the case of PIRA/SF take some time, but it will continue. MMcG More than, almost, anyone else knows that.

    By foot soldiers, I meant those not close enough or important enough to be included or sought out.

  • Pete Baker

    And, Nevin?

    Another tree…

  • Pete Baker

    And whatever you’re having yourself, Pippakin, whatever you’re having yourself…

  • A treehugger writes: “And, although both governments have, to an extent, denied talks were taking place,”

  • Pete Baker

    Orange Juice. No one needs to be off their head to disagree with you. Indeed I have not disagreed! I have merely suggested there might be, probably are, more than one reason. In fact if his comment was a show of strength and how to manipulate, he succeeded.

    So many possibilities, but you stick to yours.

  • tacapall

    If they are in talks with the British Government then they are open to compromise, in what way then do they differ from PIRA and Sinn Fein. They might as well tell all their volunteers now that eventually the position Sinn Fein are now is what they should expect in the future. The only difference being, is, we’re only taking a working mans wage – if you believe that.

  • tacapall

    I believe the suggestion is, among others, that there is no difference.

  • joeCanuck

    And, give 20 – 25 years, is there a difference?

  • joe

    None, except that MMcG is, if this is anything to go by, much more astute and devious than most give him er, credit for…

  • Pigeon Toes

    iI’s been established that in terms of “woods”, that those “trees” do matter 😉


  • socaire

    spell his name correctly

  • socaire

    I suggest more wie and less posting.

  • socaire

    more wine that is

  • socaire

    Jeez, your political insight takes the light from my one eye.

  • socaire!

    And I was just off to bed, but I always try to reply, especially to you. In this case I suggest you take. No! Im being nice…I believe what I said here. If you disagree, and you wont so long as it supports SF, say so.

  • socaire!

    But not the wind from your er sails I ‘see’. You need more Jamiesons in that glass of water.

    Make an actual comment: why did MMcG make the statement?

  • Damian O’Loan

    Given the risk that his comments will render any talks useless, I can see a few possible motives:

    1. In the absence of political engagement with dissidents, still-armed loyalists will step forward to ‘protect their communities’, thus ensuring SF’s place for some time to come.

    2. That the PIRA converts are starting to wonder, and he needs to show that moving over to dissident groups is just taking ten steps back with no possible steps forward he doesn’t offer.

    3. That he is being advised that his position as (d)FM is at risk, that SF could eventually be replaced in the same way the SDLP were, either by the dissidents or theSDLP being groomed for power like SF were.

    4. That dissidents negotiating on an immature ideology are no use to him, so he’d prefer it stalled until they develop their demands – perhaps to find the SF position not to absurd after all.

    Despite his reputation as a Catholic, we know he doesn’t operate according to moral absolutes. Not all these possible motivations are unreasonable. If he were acting to minimise loss of life and instability, I wouldn’t be concerned. If he were acting to control things because he’s enjoyed his taste of power, I would be concerned.

  • Pippakin, there seems to be a lot of speculation in this thread built upon a foundation of, er, speculation. It’s difficult to see the trees in this dense undergrowth!!

    Are MMcG’s words contained in a press release or were they uttered in an exchange with, say, a journalist? No context has been provided.

    Rowan’s opening gambit, “The details of secret contacts involving dissident republicans and government officials can today be revealed”, turns out to be incredibly short on detail. Facilitators, intermediaries and sources have their own partisan agendas so we’d need some background about them before we can place much weight on their assertions.

    My link above lifts a piece from the 1993 Opsahl report, a report edited by Slugger blogger Andy Pollak. Perhaps Andy could give us some thoughts on the current state of affairs.

    The link contains the observations of an intermediary in Derry but gives no background on his/her agenda. None of the ‘saplings’ in Pete’s post seem to have known about the Hurd/McGuinness/McLaughlin encounter but the News Letter report of the Foreign Secretary’s visit to a deep water facility in Derry the following day should have registered on any investigative journalist’s antenna.

    The link also sheds some light on PIRA’s and the Government’s tactics at that time so it’s quite likely that the same game is repeating itself but with different but similarly motivated players.

    I wonder if Mayhew or his successors will have the decency to ‘correct’ the statements made to Parliament on November 29, 1993. Perhaps a little more honesty, a little more candour would be good for democracy; it might even resolve conflicts sooner.

  • Rory Carr

    THe DFM’s remarks were made, almost as an aside, in an interview he gave to Wendy Austin, at noontime Friday last. They were made in a developing discussion on the dissident threat and in response to Austin’s querying whether or not proposed talks between SF and the dissidents might be of any value given their oft-stated intransigence. McGuinness, it seemed to this listener anyway, was merely using the information he had to illustrate that talks were not hopeless and that the dissidents were being rather coy in their blushing virgin mode of ne touchez pas.

    Those who wish to spin something other out of this, some fanciful, conspiratorial, machiavellian plot by the DFM will do and say as they are motivated to do and say, but I hardly think that we need pay them much attention – it’s merely their hobby.

  • Nevin

    Interesting blog. I have bookmarked it, why is there no comment section?

    I have as you see above thought about this and I think the reasons for MMcG making the statement are many. Anyone who thinks he made the statement ‘off the top of his head’ is deluding themselves.

    Thinking about it, it seems to me the recent increased activity could be a show of strength on the part of the dissies. I dont believe bombs fail because an informer tampered with them, that would only work once if then…

    Wish you had a comment section. I have been reminded, see above, that I have commented too much. Heaven forbid I should overdo it!

  • I started with a comment section, Pippakin, but it was legally too risky in light of some of the stories I’ve published. For example, there’s a story there that ended up on the BBC cutting room floor because its lawyers didn’t want to face a legal challenge. It’s my impression that not all judges are completely independent; he or she could be a close acquaintance of a well-heeled plaintiff.

    In the paramilitary world there can be a storm before the lull. I didn’t hear the MMcG exchange but it’s possible his comments have been ‘sexed-up’. A verbal grenade is very different from the real thing, let alone a non-volunteer chained to a bomb.

  • Pete, Thursday’s podcast is available on the Talkback website.

  • Pete Baker

    And, Nevin?

    The relevant audio clip is included in the BBC report linked in the original post.

  • So – it’s buried in the undergrowth 🙂

  • Pete Baker

    Don’t be stupid, Nevin.

    It’s in plain view for those who looked. It’s not embeddable. And there’s nothing there that hasn’t been highlighted in the original post.

  • Pete, I expect primary source material to get a little more prominence.

    By the way, the PSNI’s changing presentation of manpower statistics could indicate a declining capability to deal with the increasing paramilitary threat yet the MSM seems not to have paid much attention.

  • wild turkey

    and even if they are not on the payroll, those in receipt of job seekers allowance have to attend regular interviews…and powerpoint presentations on basic interview and management skills and other such bullshit

  • hermeneut

    D’oh!! Shades of Ken…

  • Munsterview

    Or perhaps to shaft a bit of British Expediency or intel mischief in the bud.

    While the ‘understandings’ may be in British interests it do not necessarily follow that they are in Irish best interest and therefor the probable logic is to lift the stone and let all see what is scurrying around underneath.

    These boyos need the shadows to work, they are limited as to what they can do when exposed to the clear night of day. The same lessons do not have to be learned twice!

  • Munsterview

    Such a searing insight into republican thinking, I can only marvel!

  • lamhdearg

    Munster, A person with your intellect should not stoop to sarcasm.

  • lamhdearg

    Rory, Did you not feel martin had a little smile on his lips as he spoke?.

  • Munsterview

    Compliment or condemnation ?

  • lamhdearg


  • Simon Partridge

    The “authorities” are not naive. There will probably always be a few dissidents in Ireland since extreme republican ideology works like a form of religion. The point is to keep the violence manageable.

    So far the GFA has worked pretty well for the “authorities”, and the rump is getting smaller.

    We are not in “after Bloody Sunday” territory – we are “after Celtic Tiger meltdown” territory. The prospects of a united Ireland [whatever it means] don’t look promising.

  • Munsterview

    Thought so, just about within your grasp!

  • lamhdearg


  • Alias

    Joe, it is my view that Marty is MI6’s boy, so I would think that it isn’t necessarily SF’s agenda that is at apparent odds with the British government as expressed through Marty but rather the agenda of his handlers. As a part of the British state, the government only has limited control with the real control over British national security matters resting with the applicable agencies. If the ‘dissidents’ didn’t exist, then the security services would have to invent them in order to present them as the alternative to consolidating British sovereignty.

    Gregory Campbell of the DUP is also opposed to such contact, and recognises that the regional administration has no political control over such matters: “Obviously we can’t stop any discussions that are taking place but we would not give it any credence and we would not give it any support.” Not being able to “stop any discussions” politically doesn’t mean that it can’t be done via other methods (such as leaks to a servile media).

  • Pete Baker

    It’s in the linked BBC report, Nevin. It’s not an embeddable clip.

    And it doesn’t add, or change, anything that hasn’t already been highlighted in the original post. Unless you think otherwise?

    You would have blogged it differently.

    I know.

  • I largely agree, Rory, after having listened to the podcast. Mind you, Martin was a little coy himself about the source of his information. The verbal grenade fizzled more than banged; perhaps the cat had peed on it.

  • Pete Baker

    Well, the audio clip is there in the linked BBC report.

    The listener can decide whether, like you apparently, that the DFM’s comments were “almost as an aside”. Or not.

  • Pete, you missed my ‘largely’. Rory’s ‘almost as an aside’ is an aside and Martin’s somewhat coy replies were indeed responses to Austin’s limited querying. I say coy in the sense that they elicited a challenge from Gregory Campbell.

  • USA

    Baker, you are not worth engaging with.

  • Nevin

    The verbal grenade fizzled more than banged??

    Really, is that why there is now wide debate and headlines in major papers?

    I suggest his ‘coy’ remark was made with the intention of causing just such a debate and the coy smile? I’m only surprised he wasn’t grinning from ear to ear…

    He threw a ‘grenade’ alright and he showed the dissies and both governments how it’s done.

  • The audio clip is not embeddable but a brief reference to this primary material podcast is.

    the dogs in the street know that conversations with a purpose take place between governments and paramilitaries and have been doing so for around forty years. IMO its the lies and denials that create the problems as some of the reactions may be based on these.

    Brian Rowan (poorly worded phrase): “Politicians can’t sit across the table from the “terrorists””

    That NALIL link above illustrates that ‘the armalite in one hand and peace pipe in the other’ strategy was still in place at the time of Hurd’s visit.

  • Alias

    Of dogs and ‘dissidents’: the latter species hold the view than their agenda is to terminate British rule and not to legitimise its constitutional parameters – or, rather, some of their members might hold that view.

    In revealing that – or claiming that – the leadership of some of those organisation would be prepared to accept the legitimacy of British rule, the members might begin to wonder if their agenda is the same as the agenda of their leadership. It could be ‘divide and conquer’ black propaganda or it could be that some of those gangs are state-sponsored and serve to control any dissent to British rule.

  • Alias

    Or as I said earlier: causing confusion and disruption among the foot soldiers…

    What are the odds. One thing Im sure of Martin McGuinness did not make that statement by ‘accident’!

  • Pippakin, how do you do coy smiles on Talkback, the radio? 🙂

    Sure, there’s a little bit of fizzling in the media but I doubt if Joe and Josey are out there banging the bin-lids.

  • Alias

    “Or as I said earlier: causing confusion and disruption among the foot soldiers…”

    You’ve variated your trademark “I agree” or “I completely agree” post to ‘You agree’.

    “One thing Im sure of Martin McGuinness did not make that statement by ‘accident’!”

    True, Marty’s ‘accidents’ tend to be confined to appointing touts to senior roles within ‘the movement.’

  • Rory Carr

    I’m still puzzling as to how anyone, even the DFM with his quite remarkable powers, could make a statement “by accident”. Clearly Pippakin has seen aspects of the human condition to which we mere mortals are not privvy.

    I should have thought that the more interesting aspects of the DFM’s interview with Wendy Austin and the follow-up was when he had, not for the first time, to come to the defence of the First Minister whose perceived lack of involvement has again come under scrutiny and then the programme on the day following when the widow of murdered PSNI officer Stephen Carroll spoke of her meeting with the DFM and her admiration for the effort that he was making, which merely underlined the seeming lack of effort in other quarters.

  • Rory, on the other I’m not sure that survival of a grilling by Wendy Austin requires ‘remarkable powers’!!

  • Alias, Nevin, Rory Carr

    Well! that did poke the wasps nest with a stick.

    I heard MMcG on the laptop I always think of the laptop as visual, sorry. I also read the transcript the blog here and the various additions.

    Gentleman disagreeing with you does not make me wrong, naive or less clear sighted than you.

    Alias, I rarely agree with your conspiracy theories.

    Nevin I usually leave to you to your own devices, but I did like the pictures on your blog.

    Rory Carr, It is as always a pleasure. How did you manage to tear yourself away from your mirror long enough to reply..

    I stand by what I said, with apologies for the ‘smile’ Now Im certain Martin McGuinness was grinning from ear to ear…

  • joeCanuck

    MMG, Ireland’s own Mona Lisa. That elusive smile; you only can see it when you’re not looking. Mind you, since he was just heading out, maybe the Cheshire Cat might be a better analogy.

  • joeCanuck

    Then why are you engaging, USA?

  • joe

    I almost mentioned the Cheshire Cat myself. Im not sure anyone will ever know why MMcG made the comment. It was mischievous at best, but I also think it was deliberate.

  • Munsterview

    I have been informed that Suzanne Breen confirmed in the RTE drive-time radio news this evening that talks were taking place between one of the republican parties involves armed conflict and the British state.

    Ms Breen is usually fairly well keyed in and apparently there is not only smoke ( of whatever color ) there is also a wee fire going!