Massaging the past for the convenience of the politics of the present…

Mark Devenport neatly removes the problem of Martin McGuinness’ past as an IRA commander one step. Instead he looks at the record of Gusty Spence, who’s activities in the early sixties almost certainly radicalised the Catholic youth of the time, helping to lay the tinder for the mass killing of the early 1970s:

I talked to the acting PUP leader Hugh Smyth on “Inside Politics” and found him keen to pay tribute to Gusty Spence’s track record as a peacemaker, but reluctant to dwell on his more distant past as a UVF leader.

Councillor Smyth was also not forthcoming on the more recent split between the veteran Spence and the UVF’s Shankill Road leadership over the murder of Bobby Moffett. If Gusty Spence had not counselled loyalists to follow suit when the IRA announced its ceasefire in 1994 then the course of political history might have run in a very different direction.

In this regard the tributes paid over the weekend are well earned. However his victims must not be forgotten – something the grand-daughter of Matilda Gould ensured when she gave a chilling account to the BBC of how a petrol bomb attack carried out by Spence’s gang in the 1960s burnt her grand-mother “to a cinder” .

The temptation to massage the past for the political convenience is the danger here, not what was actually done in the past. Chris Donoghue on Newstalk’s Breakfast programme this morning asked Sinn Fein’s Donegal North East TD, Padraig McLochlainn 10 times if he thought Martin McGuinness really did leave the IRA in 1974.

Padraig chose to talk about anything else (including the grim, but officially acknowledged war record of various ‘venerable’ founders of the state) except the actual question.

It’s worth listening to the whole discussion, not least for the way the journalists handle the question raised in my own recent essay on the journalistic problem presented by partial disclosure

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty