Derry priest offers to talk to Real IRA after threats


A SENIOR Catholic priest in Derry said yesterday he was willing to meet with the Real IRA to discuss their threat to step up a campaign of murder against police officers in Northern Ireland.

Fr Michael Canny, administrator of St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry, who is also the official spokesman for Bishop Seamus Hegarty, said he was making his offer of talks unconditionally.

Fr Canny’s offer follows a public statement from the paramilitary group in the city cemetery in Derry on Monday in which they said they would continue to “execute” police officers irrespective of their religion.

It also criticised the Catholic Church and the GAA for giving their support to the PSNI.

Describing Monday’s renewed threats to PSNI officers as “bizarre”, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness denounced dissident groups, claiming none of them could describe themselves as the IRA. “These groups are running around describing themselves with various titles with ‘IRA’ in it. They would be more appropriately regarded as not the IRA but more akin to Baader-Meinhof or the Red Brigade groups,” he said.

He told the BBC the “stupid and selfish” dissidents were “betraying the people”, trying to sabotage the peace process, end working relations with unionists at Stormont and “turn back the clock on policing”.

They were “imposters” who are doomed to failure, he said.

Commending Fr Canny for his offer of unconditional talks with dissidents, Mr McGuinness said they needed to heed the will of the Irish people.

He accused dissidents of viewing everyone as the enemy.

“Not just Sinn Féin [but] all of the other political parties on this island and the Catholic Church, the GAA, Protestant churchmen – they see all of us as the enemy.”

Mr McGuinness restated claims he made last year that “representatives of the British government were speaking to the highest levels of what is called the Real IRA”.

He said he would be surprised if such contacts were not being maintained. The British government denies such contacts.

A Government source in Dublin said there was “nothing for the Irish Government to talk about with these people”.

“The Irish Government has not been engaged in any channels, backwards or otherwise, in terms of the issues that the dissidents are raising,” The Irish Times was told.

The Government accepted that the British government was not in talks with dissidents again because there was nothing to talk about, although it had no opposition to Fr Canny or Kate Carroll, widow of murdered PSNI officer Stephen Carroll, making overtures if they wished.

Mr McGuinness admitted that dissidents were dangerous and capable of mounting occasional armed actions. But he added: “They are very heavily infiltrated and we have seen huge successes by the Garda in the South and the police in the North against them with the recovery of weaponry which was there for the purposes of . . . usurping the will of the people of Ireland.”

Speaking in Derry yesterday Fr Canny described the Real IRA statement as chilling, threatening and disappointing.

“By their actions they have placed themselves outside the democratic process and it is incumbent on us all to persuade them to reflect on that position,” he said.

“To that end I would be willing to meet with them, to listen to them and to tell them where their campaign is going. Their campaign means death, imprisonment and misery and has nothing to offer society.”

Branding the dissidents “a small unrepresentative minority whose methods will result in death, despair and misery for society and for themselves”, he added: “The time for that is long past.”