Britain, Ireland in secret dissident talks: McGuinness

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Britain and Ireland have held secret talks with dissident republicans in Northern Ireland linked to recent bombings, the province's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said Thursday.

The comments from McGuinness, of Northern Ireland's biggest republican party Sinn Fein, contradict comments made Monday by Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson dismissing the idea of talks.

Republican groups opposed to Northern Ireland peace process have been blamed for a series of car bombings or attempted car bombings which targeted an army major, a policewoman and a civilian police worker in recent days.

Although no one has been killed in the attacks, they have fuelled fears of a return to bloodshed.

McGuinness, who has repeatedly condemned such incidents, said he thought talks with dissidents were important.

"Some of these dissident groups, I know for a fact, have been involved in discussions with both the Irish and the British government in recent times," he told BBC radio.

"I know it's happening and that suggests to me that these groups are recognising that at some stage they are going to have to wake up and smell the roses in terms of their inability to destroy the peace process and bring down the institutions that have such overwhelming support among our people."

McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army (IRA) commander, was himself involved in back-channel contacts with the British government during the 1980s, when the unrest in Northern Ireland known as The Troubles was still killing and injuring hundreds of people a year.

He is now part of a devolved, power-sharing government in Northern Ireland set up after a 1998 peace accord, serving with First Minister Peter Robinson, of Sinn Fein's former arch-rivals the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The Protestant DUP wants Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom while Catholic Sinn Fein wants a united Ireland.

© 2010 AFP

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