Martin McGuinness, Liam Clarke and the Big Picture

A different aspect of  Martin McGuinnness’s latest from Mick’s. (I’ve started so I”ll finish). I know from my own experience and observation of long ago that it makes you a better reporter if you have two outlets: the daily skirmishing for the local audience and the  bigger field for clearing away the smoke of battle to try to explain what it all means to the wider world.

How do the benefits accrue?  The devil is often buried in the frustrating and repetitive detail of daily coverage and there’s no substitute for close observation. But there’s a trap waiting for local reporters however. They and their editors can so easily become jaded and fall into the temptation of simply topping up the narrative without bothering much to put it into context. On the other hand the purely national reporter can seem extravagantly judgemental or oversell a story to compete for scarce space.

The redoubtable Liam Clarke now enjoys the best of both worlds. His recent appointment as political editor has given a boost to the Belfast Telegraph, while he continues to contribute (even if, inevitably, less frequently) to the Sunday Times.

Clarke has squeezed maximum value out of his first face- to face interview with Martin McGuiness in which they seem  to have buried an old hatchet. By contrast with Gerry Adams, McGuinness  never beat about the bush about his  IRA membership but he used that bald admission  to try to draw a line under what it was he precisely was responsible for. It was this  more sophisticated form of obfuscation that  Clarke and his wife Karthryn Johnson challenged in From Guns to Government (for which they received scant thanks from the police and others).  Now in a mini-peace process all their own, Clarke and McGuinness have made it up , no doubt out of mutual interest.     

For the Sunday Times courtesy of Newshound, we get Clarke on McGuinness’s world view  of this  “game changing year” with early comparisons  to other watersheds like 1989 and 1968 “ the year of revolutions” ( all of which failed, mind you). The message coming through in the  Sunday Times and the Bel Tel was one of  McGuinness  speaking with magnanimity through strength, offering to finesse  the great  FMDFM issue by simply rebranding  the posts as Joint First Minister. But still no give yet on voluntary coalition.  Who knows, that could come when or if SF’s leading nationalist role is confirmed.  Either way at this moment,  it looks like win:win for the  newly unencumbered leader of Sinn Fein in the Assembly.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London