Priest offers to meet Real IRA


A priest from Derry has offered to meet the Real IRA in an attempt to persuade members of the group to abandon violence.

Fr Michael Canny made the offer today after a rally to mark the anniversary of the Easter Rising heard threats to kill more police officers in Northern Ireland.

Addressing an Easter Rising commemoration in Derry’s City Cemetery, the Real IRA denounced the PSNI, the Catholic Church, constitutional nationalism and what it called “the criminal free state government”.

A statement read out by a masked man in paramilitary uniform warned that those serving in the PSNI were “serving the occupation” and were thus “liable for execution”.

Fr Canny told RTÉ's Morning Ireland today he was not sure if members of the group would meet him but that he was eager to engage with them to try to stop them going down a road leading to “death, despair and misery”.

He said every opportunity should be availed of to let dissidents that know “human life is sacred”.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said today he was “disgusted” by yesterday’s threats. “The sight of somebody appearing in a mask and menacingly threatening Catholics who join the PSNI, nationalists who join the PSNI that they will be killed, threatening the government and people of this country, that belongs to the past, and that is the past.”

Mr Gilmore, who was meeting Irish-American Congressman Richard Neal in Dublin, said the dissidents had no mandate. “The arrangements in this country have been settled by the Good Friday Agreement, been voted on by the people of this country and nobody has any right to challenge that in the way that these people are doing. The Government is absolutely determined that they will not succeed.”

The Tánaiste welcomed Fr Canny’s offer. “If there is anybody who can persuade these people away from the path that they are on and the threats that they are making, then certainly I would welcome that. And I would hope that that would be helpful.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin TD described the threats against the PSNI as cowardly and senseless.

"These deluded criminals fail to comprehend the true meaning of republicanism and quite clearly have nothing but contempt for this country and its people,” he said. "Any terrorist group that believes they can return Ireland to the violence of the past is gravely mistaken. Foolish attempts to attack our peace process will not be tolerated and will not work.”

The Real IRA yesterday denied it was in talks with either the Irish or British governments and insisted it would not do so unless such discussions centred on “the restoration of Irish sovereignty”.

“If the British are serious about discussing the restoration of Irish sovereignty then we will listen to their proposals, anything else is a waste of time,” the statement said. “Óglaigh na hÉireann call on any young nationalist who may have been sold the lie that the RUC/PSNI is somehow a reformed, non-political police service to think again. Those who think they are serving their community are in fact serving the occupation and will be treated as such."

Trevor Ringland, an independent member of Northern Ireland Policing Board, said today the threats included in the statement were “appalling”, “sinister” and a “throwback to the past”. He said the PSNI served both loyalists and republicans and that the policing board would try to ensure police reached out to parts of the community that felt a distance from the PSNI.

Former SDLP leader Mr Durkan said the Real IRA’s words "are intended to intimidate everyone but their pretensions to legitimacy will impress no one".

He added: “Politicians do not really have to argue that this group is morally and politically bankrupt when they are driven to attack and threaten nationalists who want to serve the community and their country through a policing vocation."