Priest's offer as threats are made

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 after a rally to mark the anniversary of the Easter Rising heard threats to kill more police officers in Northern Ireland, the Irish Times reported.

According to the report, 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."

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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 program that 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."

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, said Tuesday that he was "disgusted" by the REAL IRA statement.

"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," Gilmore said.

Gilmore, who was meeting with Massachusetts 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," he said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Independent reported that an internal battle between "dissident terror gangs" had intensified even as the Real IRA made its threat.

Stated the report: "The renegades are now fighting a 'media war' in a bid to establish their group as the leading terror faction.

"The Real IRA has slipped down in the pecking order over the past six months as the group styling itself as Oglaigh na hEireann is now regarded by the security forces on both sides of the border as posing the main terror threat.

"And the murder of 25-year-old Catholic PSNI constable Ronan Kerr by a 'freelance' faction of former Provisional IRA activists, based in east Tyrone, has put further pressure on the two older groups, the RIRA and the Continuity IRA, to step up their campaigns of violence.

"The ex-Provos, who are now known colloquially as the ET (east Tyrone) gang, put out a statement last week admitting responsibility for the young policeman's murder in Omagh."

The report added that both the PSNI and gardai were in no doubt within 24 hours of the blast that the "ET mob" were to blame for the attack.

"The emergence of the ET gang was revealed in the Irish Independent last November when the group was considering forming an alliance with Oglaigh ha hEireann. The group has since decided to abandon that plan," the report said.