Sinn Fein approached New IRA group Saoradh over potential ‘co-operation’ on Irish unity referendum

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A potential “co-operation” agreement with dissident republicans on achieving a border poll was being sought by Sinn Fein, according to the Sunday Times.

he newspaper reports the party’s chairman Declan Kearney made direct contact with Saoradh – widely considered to be the political wing of the New IRA – in late 2020. 

According to the Sunday Times, Mr Kearney wrote to Brian Kenna who acts as the chairman for Saoradh, offering to arrange a meeting on promoting “engagement on developing a common strategy and co-operation” around a referendum.

He also offered an invite for a “delegation” from the dissident group to “meet with myself and other members of the Sinn Fein leadership”.

Sinn Fein defended the move to the newspaper arguing “dialogue and engagement” is a “vital part of the peace process”.

The New IRA group has previously claimed it was responsible for killing journalist and author Lyra McKee in Londonderry in April 2019 as she observed rioting in the Creggan area.

Sinn Fein previously condemned the killing “in the strongest terms possible” in 2019, just a year before the reported approach to the group was made.

According to the Sunday Times, the offer of co-operation was rejected by Kenna.

In the letter sent to the group by Mr Kearney, he writes: “While the pending imposition of Brexit and its implications for Ireland underlines the enduring undemocratic nature of partition, the Covid-19 pandemic has also brought the contradiction of our country’s division into even sharper focus.

“It is clear these two factors have had a significant impact on the thinking of many citizens beyond the wider republican base.

“The prospect of securing a referendum on Irish unity is very real but we must make it a reality.

“Sinn Fein believe such a referendum should be an immediate political priority for all Irish republicans… in order to promote engagement on developing a common strategy and co-operation towards achieving this outcome, I invite you and a delegation from your party to meet with myself and other members of the Sinn Fein leadership.”

The New IRA gang told the Sunday Times in response: “Those peddling this approach are partitionist and reformist and serve only to prolong the shelf life of Stormont and its institutions.

“Nothing mentioned by any party to date has given Saoradh any reason to join the call for a poll.”

Last month, six men from the group were arrested during an Easter commemoration in Derry organised by Saoradh, with the PSNI coming under attack while in the area.

The men – held under the Terrorism Act – were later released pending reports to the PPS.

In a statement to the Sunday Times, Sinn Fein said: “We have always stated that dialogue and engagement — even with those who support armed factions — is a vital part of the peace process and moving these groups away from violence in line with the peaceful and democratic route to ending partition provided by the Good Friday agreement.”

The party has been approached for comment.

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