Sinn Fein to hold talks with dissident group
Sinn Fein is to hold talks with the political representatives of the Real IRA dissident republican paramilitary group, it was confirmed today.
The 32 County Sovereignty Movement is seen as being the political wing of the Real IRA grouping which is responsible for a string of attacks including the infamous Omagh bombing of 1998, plus this week's car bomb attack on a Derry police station.
Dissident groups have also targeted mainstream republicans in Sinn Fein, but now Gerry Kelly, a junior minister for Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland's powersharing Assembly, has confirmed he will lead a delegation to meet with the breakaway group.
Dissidents have rejected the peace process, plus the compromises at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement and St Andrews Agreement which laid the foundations for the Assembly and led to Sinn Fein's decision to accept the reformed Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has been among the most outspoken critics of dissident groups, who he famously branded "traitors to Ireland".
Sinn Fein has, however, repeatedly offered to meet with dissidents to explain their policies and to argue for an end to violence.
Mr Kelly today confirmed a meeting could take place within weeks.
"We have been very clear that we are prepared to talk with these groups, and that they have the absolute right to disagree with the Sinn Fein strategy," he said.
"What we have got is an answer back from the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. I will lead a delegation."
He said there was an urgent need for dialogue, with dissidents continuing to mount attacks.
Tuesday's 200lb car bomb in Derry targeted the Strand Road police station and caused widespread damage to neighbouring buildings.
A taxi driver was hijacked at gunpoint and forced to deliver the bomb.
Police said it was a miracle no one was injured as the device exploded earlier than the bombers had predicted, with the bomb detonating while police were still evacuating people from the area.
On Wednesday a booby-trap bomb placed under a soldier's car in Co Down fell from the vehicle outside his home, but did not detonate.
Police said the army major was very lucky to have escaped serious injury or death.
Mr Kelly told the BBC: "These small groups have the ability to do damage. Two or three people can do a lot of damage if they go undetected and they have the expertise."