Martin McGuiness today offered to hold talks with anti-Good Friday Agreement Republicans who remain committed to violence. But could these talks occur and if so, where would they lead? McGuiness, once a firm proponent of violence, threw down the gauntlet to anti-GFA Republicans stating:
My message to those who remain committed to violence is that it is not much of an achievement to think that the only thing you have shown the capability to break are two fine women’s hearts.
This statement can be, and indeed was likely intended to be interpreted in two ways. To most this is a simple appeal to the humanity of those still supporting violence. However it must be born in mind that McGuiness is no soft hearted pacifist. At the 1986 PSF Ard Feis Martin McGuinness gave a speech in favour a motion to recognise Leinster House where he stated:
I reject any such suggestion and I reject the notion that entering
Leinster House would mean an end to Sinn Féin‘s unapologetic
support for the right of Irish people to oppose in arms the British
forces of occupation. That, my friends, is a principle which a minority
in this hall might doubt but which I believe all our opponents clearly
understand. Our position is clear and it will never, never, never change.
The war against British rule must continue until
freedom is achieved.
In this context, the important part of McGuinness’ statement is not his reference to the broken hearts of two mothers, the many victims of the Provisional IRA also had mothers, but his reference to their lack of capacity. The offer of talks must be viewed in the same light, an attempt to highlight the strategic weakness of the anti-GFA movement.
When PSF reaches out to anti-GFA Republicans, as it has done in the past, it is fully aware of the fact that talks would be nigh on impossible. In the unlikely event that PSF were able to talk one group out of violence, the near impossibility of this strategy to bring about an end to violence is entrenched by the fact that there is no one dominant violent group. A negotiated end to violence would have to involve the representatives of all of the various factions, something which seems highly unlikely. The existence of so many groups makes it difficult to negotiate with one, as if any group unilaterally entered negotiations then there is a menu of other organisations to which their members could potentially flock.
So this latest offer of talks is unlikely to lead anywhere, and is instead an attempt by McGuinness to paint those using violence into a corner, highlighting their intransigence and disunity, and reaffirming PSF’s Republican credentials in the process.