With former Sinn Féin MLA, Daithí McKay [now a Slugger contributor… – Ed], speculating elsewhere that the, as yet unspecified, illness that caused the Northern Ireland deputy First Minister to pull out of December’s NI Executive Office trip to China at the last minute may force him to step down in 2017, Eilis O’Hanlon takes a pre-emptive look at Martin McGuinness’ “mixed legacy“.
McGuinness has been lucky. Adams is widely mocked for denying that he was ever in the IRA. McGuinness was praised for being more forthcoming when he appeared before the Bloody Sunday tribunal, though he really didn’t have much choice, after telling the Special Criminal Court in Dublin in 1973 that he was “a member of Oglaigh na hEireann (the IRA), and very very proud of it”. But he hasn’t been entirely honest either.
He continues to insist that he left the IRA in 1974. That lie has been politely overlooked. His failed bid for the Irish presidency in 2011 likewise brought out a tetchy, thin-skinned side to his character that he struggled to hide.
Confronted on the campaign trail by the son of an Irish soldier murdered by the IRA during a notorious kidnapping, he flatly denied ever being on the IRA’s ruling “army council”, superciliously asking the bereaved son who insisted that he was, “How do you know that?”
Question marks remain over numerous other episodes in his past, not least the death of IRA informer Frank Hegarty.
The dead man’s mother says McGuinness personally assured her that her son would be safe if he returned from England. In fact, he was shot dead.
BBC journalist Peter Taylor, who’s delved deeply into the secret history of the Troubles, further claims that McGuinness had advance warning of the Enniskillen bombing.
He was unquestionably in a major leadership role in the IRA during some of the most notorious atrocities, including the IRA attack in October 1990, in which Patsy Gillespie, a civilian cook at an Army base, was strapped into a van loaded with explosives and forced to drive to a border checkpoint, where the bomb was detonated by remote control, killing him and five soldiers.
That was an act of evil by any standards and it’s a stain on the strand of Irish republicanism that the Derry man represents. A couple of years ago, he was still refusing to accept it was “cold-blooded murder”.
In response, Victor Barker, father of 12-year-old James, killed in the Omagh bombing, said: “I would have more respect for Martin McGuinness if he completed his democratic journey and admitted some of the crimes which he has been a part of.”
But if one thing has become obvious since the end of the violence, it’s that his generation of ex-terrorists may never complete that journey.
They were able to go some of the way along the road from violence and we ought to be relieved that they did, though never grateful. They’ll never deserve gratitude.
More important, though, is to never forget the monstrous things that can be done by apparently affable family men, who write poetry and enjoy fishing.
We’re asked to brush the monstrous things they did under the carpet, because these men eventually backed away from the brink – but it took them far too long to realise that they could not get their way by force.
A few good deeds does not erase the memory of evil.
Read the whole thing.