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

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  • Cynic2

    Whatever happened in the 1920s the question is, was PIRAs Sectarian Murder Strategy wrong?

    Was it wrong to kill people?

    Was it wrong to kidnap a Catholic mother of 10 murder and bury her on a lonely beach?

    Was it wrong to plant blast incendiary bombs at a hotel and murder people just because they were Protestants?

    The old ‘we had no other choice’ argument hasn’t held water for almost 40 years – so was it wrong to murder people because you couldn’t get your own way politically?

    Was it wrong to withhold details of a deal from the Hunger Strikers for political ends?

    And in the end you lost the war and settled for a deal within the UK – so wasn’t it all a total waste?

    You will never get an answer on this from SF. It would simply be too painful

  • Mick Fealty

    As I’ve outlined in the essay linked above, and Padraig was right about this, the people traumatised most were those in the IRA’s theatre of war’, not the electorate of the 26 counties.

    The more important political question revolves around the less than robust commitment to telling the truth…

  • The near-canonisation of Spece reminds me of Trimble’s incredile claim at the time of the anniversary of Slavery by Wiberforce. Trimble wanted to confine the debate on the actions and attitudes ogf the British to slavery to their work to end it, and draw a disceet veil over their enthusiastic activity in it for the previous 200 years.

  • Mick Fealty

    Would you extend that criticism to Martin?

  • Dec

    ‘The more important political question revolves around the less than robust commitment to telling the truth…’

    Like Sean Lemass did about his activities on the morning of 21 November 1920? It’s the utter hypocrisy of that media mob that really grates.

  • Alias

    Society shouldn’t praise people who have violated its laws simply because they have stopped violating its laws. They murdered because they were fundamentally bad people; and they don’t become fundamentally good people just because they’ve stopped murdering.

    We’ve now lauded these murderer to the degree where we think awards should be given to them and where we think they are fit and proper people to govern us.

    They are a tiny fraction of society who caused the trouble for the rest of the society. This sociopathic class numbers 3% of any society, and that small fraction is where the much smaller fraction of murderers emerged.

    These murderers were not ‘reformed’ by conscience to stop murdering but ordered by the small number of organised murder gangs who employed them and controlled the violence to stop murdering, and those murder gangs were in turn ordered by the agencies who controlled them to stop murdering.

    These people are not in any way ‘humanitarians’ and it is tantamount to self-mocking appeasement for society to now regard them as such. They are deeply abnormal people who caused a vast amount of misery and harm to others, and none of that harm or misery is undone by desisting from it.

  • Mick Fealty

    Alias,

    What do you think ‘sovereignty’ is based on, if not force of arms?

    Dec, see whataboutery.

  • Alias

    I think you might be confusing murder gangs within sovereign states with the armies of sovereign states acting on the sovereign authority of government.

    Only governments have the authority of declare war and to form armies for the purpose of defending sovereignty.

    You are welcome to show where either the UVF or PIRA where the government of a sovereign state and so entitled, but I think you might find that a tad difficult.

    Ergo, they are murder gangs committing murder sans all moral and other legitimacy.

  • Rory Carr

    “They murdered because they were fundamentally bad people; and they don’t become fundamentally good people just because they’ve stopped murdering.”

    Well that explains everything. Indeed it may be said to be the universal theory that we have all been looking for for so long. No need for any further study then – the Punic Wars, the Reformation, the Inquisition, the failure of Arsenal to win the Champions League last year – all can now be easily explained.

    Fundamentally, that is.

  • Alias

    Incidentally, that argument isn’t disputed by the PIRA murder gang. It is why they claimed to be the legitimate government of Ireland and, ergo, morally and legally entitled to declare war under international law.

    It’s a question of whether or not you want to play along with the fantasy that a small group of thugs are entitled to declare themselves to be a legitimate government. But if you do decide to play along with said fantasy, let’s look at a few fundamental problems:

    “The IRA acted to assert a right to national self-determination by militant means in the absence of alternative means, but terminated their campaign once Irish national self-determination was achieved and the sovereign state was created. That was consistent with the principle of self-determination since it is a collective right with the state being the sovereign territorial entity wherein the nation exercises its right to self-determination via its democratically elected government. That nation via its state then exercised self-determination to self-determine that unity should occur only by exclusively peaceful means. So that it all legitimate.

    In contrast, PIRA could not have acted to secure the right to national self-determination for the Irish nation since that nation had already secured that right. They, of course, had no respect whatsover for the right of the Irish nation to determine its own affairs or to freely elect its own government. They were just a self-serving murder gang devoid of any principle or legitimacy.”

    The right of self-determination is a collective right and not an individual right. In other words, the nation decides policy in its collective interest via its duly elected government. The problem for the PIRA murder gang is that the Irish nation already had a validated right to self-determination and was duly exercising it within its sovereign state. As there is only ever one right to self-determination per nation, that means that the PIRA murder gang could not have been asserting the right of the Irish nation to self-determination but could only ever have been denying that right.

  • Mick Fealty

    I was referencing Dec’s mention of Lemass Alias…

  • galloglaigh

    Cynic2

    Republicans were not the only ones involved in atrocities, based on the religion of their victims. And that goes for the 1920s also. The UVF in 1920, were carrying out shootings and bombings, as were the IRA and the British army. That is the case for the last 40 years too. One was as bad as the other!

  • Alias

    Sorry, Mick, as it was addressed to me, I interpreted it in the context as the old “sure, wasn’t the state established by violence” justification that is used to imply that there is any valid comparison between violent acts committed to establish a right of a nation to self-determination and violent acts committed after that right to self-determination has been established that conflict with it. The rather obvious purpose of one right to self-determination per nation is to avoid one part of the nation deciding one policy and another part of it deciding a conflicting policy. The collective decides, and the dissenting minority must not use force to assert its will against the will of the majority. That is treason.

    “He had been knifed twice in the back and then through the skull. He had been so badly bludgeoned that his face was unrecognizable. It took six hours to positively identify the man as Eamon Collins.”

    Rory, which of the statements about the above example of murder is most like to be true:

    1. The murder was committed by fundamentaly bad people.

    2. The murder was committed by fundamentaly good people.

    In the end, the public will have to make its own judgement about that and not be brainwashed by those who seek to sanitise some deeply soiled people.

  • Dec

    Mick

    You see whataboutery, I say (given the context) perspective.

  • Cynic2

    “Republicans were not the only ones involved in atrocities,”

    I agree. They were both as bad as each other. This is a right and wrong and we should treat both groups equally and with opprobrium.

  • Alias

    To come back to the question, sovereignty is “based on” a people predominant within a region deciding that they have common interests that are distinct from other peoples and that those interests are best served by having control of their own affiars within a sovereign territorial entity. It’s essentially a contract that people within that entity have with each other and have with other peoples who have similiar arrangements.

    There are thousands of nations but only 192 sovereign states so not all nations are fortunate enough to be sovereign. In the Irish case, the imperative to organise the nation’s affairs by the nation in the nation’s interest was strenghtened by the inability of another nation to order those affairs in the best interests of the Irish nation. Not unnaturally, that other nation was determined to order those affairs to promote its own interests instead. So that mismanagement is where Irish nationalism (or self-government) mainly came from.

    If you look at history, there wasnt a lot of support to be found for sovereignty among the Irish nation itself. It is not a concept that they ever had any idealogical attachment to but rather something that they came to support as pragmatic expediency. Indeed, they’ve now succeeded in giving most of their sovereignty away to two supranational authorities in a plethora of treaties and have given still more still away in other conventions and treaties. So its debatable as to what degree they still order their own affairs.

    In NI, the Irish nation has renounced its former right to self-determination, agreeing that it should remain as a non-sovereign nation within a sovereign British state. So it’s again pragmatic expediency: if the nation is better served by being non-sovereign than there is no need for it to be sovereign. So, for example, the argument is made that they wouldn’t vote to change the present arrangement in a constitutional poll because they wouldn’t be better served by voting that way.

    It’s then a case of being a nation rather than being a sovereign nation. I’m not really sure if the sovereignty is based on anything solid among the Irish nation, with only the first article of the constitution making reference to the concept. The state is solid enough in that its has laws but more than 80% of all new law is not decided by the nation in its collective interest. It is decided by a supranational authority to promote its own interests. In areas where those interests conflict, the will of the supranational authority takes precedence to the detriment of the national interest (the nation now owes hundreds of billions to EU banks because it was in the EU’s collective interest that the State should underwrite that debt, and not promote the national interest). That seems to confirm that nations should not give their sovereignty away but I don’t think the Irish will learn that lesson.

    Internally sovereignty means the force of law and not, conversely, the law of force. It is people making laws in the best interests of the collective and living by those laws. Sorry if that is too longwinded and idiocyncratic but you asked!

  • Reader

    galloglaigh: The UVF in 1920, were carrying out shootings and bombings, as were the IRA and the British army. That is the case for the last 40 years too. One was as bad as the other!
    Fortunately, there are still 6 presidential candidates untainted by any of the above.

  • Rory Carr

    “Rory, which of the statements about the above example of murder is most like to be true:

    1. The murder was committed by fundamentaly bad people.

    2. The murder was committed by fundamentaly good people.”

    Ah, that’s too easy, Alias. The answer is of course No. 2.

    I base this upon a lifetime of observation of babes in their mothers’ arms.

  • slappymcgroundout

    “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.”

    Radicalized them where? According to Martin, when internment was first introduced, there were about 15 souls in the PIRA in Derry. That doesn’t sound “radicalized”. Martin says the “radical” occurred owing to internment. Moloney wrote that to internment you can add: (1) the British Army running down, to death, an older minor child and a younger minor child, with their armored vehicles, and leaving them there to die, (2) Annette McGavigan being shot in the back of the head, (3) Seamus Cusack and Desmond Beattie being shot, and (4) last but certainly not least, Bloody Sunday.

    You’ve likely read Hughes in Moloney’s one other work. What does he say? Need to retaliate as well, for things like Bombay Street?

    Lastly, re Gusty, please, check the earliest he was involved, check when he went to prison, and check deaths attributed to the UVF in between. Some number less than 10. I don’t think that “radicalized” the population.

    Almost forgot, but in terms of Belfast, you can add in, with Bombay Street, Ballymurphy. You have this notion that the PIRA were the motivating force…they weren’t. I had posted the list before and so you should have got the point:

    07 August 1971 Harry Thornton (30) Catholic
    Status: Civilian (Civ), Killed by: British Army (BA)
    Shot while driving past Springfield Road Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) / British Army (BA) base, Belfast.

    09 August 1971 Leo McGuigan (16) Catholic
    Status: Civilian (Civ), Killed by: British Army (BA)
    Shot while walking along Estoril Park, Ardoyne, Belfast.

    10 August 1971 Edward Doherty (28) Catholic
    Status: Civilian (Civ), Killed by: British Army (BA)
    Shot while walking along Whiterock Road, Ballymurphy, Belfast.

    11 August 1971 John Laverty (20) Catholic
    Status: Civilian (Civ), Killed by: British Army (BA)
    Shot while walking along path by St Aidan’s Primary School, Ballymurphy, Belfast.

    27 August 1971 Joseph Corr (43) Catholic
    Status: Civilian (Civ), Killed by: British Army (BA)
    Died 16 days after being shot at the junction of Springfield Road and Divismore Crescent, Ballymurphy, Belfast.

    06 September 1971 Annette McGavigan (14) Catholic
    Status: Civilian (Civ), Killed by: British Army (BA)
    Shot during street disturbances, while standing at the corner of Blucher Street and Westland Street, Derry.

    15 September 1971 William McGreanery (43) Catholic
    Status: Civilian (Civ), Killed by: British Army (BA)
    Died shortly after being shot by sniper from Bligh’s Lane British Army (BA) base, while walking at the junction of Laburnum Terrace and Westland Street, Derry.

    7 October 1971 David Thompson (38) Catholic
    Status: Civilian (Civ), Killed by: British Army (BA)
    Shot as he stood at the corner of Seaforde Street and Sheriff Street, Short Strand, Belfast.

    29 October 1971 Michael McLarnon (22) Catholic
    Status: Civilian (Civ), Killed by: British Army (BA)
    Died shortly after being shot, while standing at the front door of his home, Etna Drive, Ardoyne, Belfast.

    31 October 1971 John Copeland (23) Catholic
    Status: Civilian (Civ), Killed by: British Army (BA)
    Died two days after being shot near his home, Strathroy Park, Ardoyne, Belfast.

    06 November 1971 Kathleen Thompson (47) Catholic
    Status: Civilian (Civ), Killed by: British Army (BA)
    Shot in the back garden of her home, Kildrum Gardens, Creggan, Derry.

    4 December 1971 Martin McShane (16) Catholic
    Status: Civilian (Civ), Killed by: British Army (BA)
    Shot outside youth centre, Macrory Park, Coalisland, County Tyrone.

    I would suggest that you consider Moloney on Derry and then ask yourself whether it applies elsewhere as well:

    The story of the growth and development of the Provisional IRA in Derry is the tale not about how ideology triumphed but about how police and military violence created and nourished the need to retaliate. Martin McGuinness himself put it best: “The British developed Republicanism. It was nothing we had done to develop resistance to British rule. They brought about resistance to British rule…

    It’s what happens when your armored vehicles run down little children and you leave them lying dead there in the street (you just drive on). What happens when you shoot Annette McGavigan in the back of the head (10K souls are reported to have turned out for her funeral). What happens when some try to excuse the shooting of Cusack and Beattie by saying they were bad lads who were armed and the local community is small enough to know they weren’t, as that just wasn’t them. It’s the random potshots from the British Army as testified to by the pockmarks on the house walls. It’s the Catholic schoolteachers of Derry protesting as one voice and complaining that the British Army is timing their operations to coincide with children going to and from school It’s internment and Bloody Sunday.

    All of which makes for good recruiting posters. In other words, before massaging the past, you might first begin to know the past. And you might share that insight with Alias, as he simply doesn’t have a fecken clue, as you all would put it.

    Almost forgot, but every man’s hero, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, John Hume did his own recruiting for the PIRA. Simply recall when he walked out of Stormont following a certain event. Simply also recall who was not a happy camper with the decision, one Gerry Fiit, party leader in Belfast. Why was Gerry Fitt not happy? Because walking out gave the PIRA cover and legitimacy, since if Hume felt the need to walk out of Stormont then something must be horribly, horribly wrong with that institution and so maybe the PIRA are right and it is irreformable and need be overthrown. And that’s the measure of the radicalization, that Hume felt the need to walk out, since it was either that or lose the political leadership of the community (another point made by Moloney). And so Alias gets the point as well, you’re going to need to explain more than 3%, since I don’t think that Hume walked out to appease the sociopaths. Walked out to appease the rather larger community.

  • SPON1979

    I think that Martin McGuinness undoubtedly lied to Frank Hegarty’s mother to lure her son back to Derry and in doing so committed a crime that is almost uniquely despicable; rendering a mother complicit in her own child’s murder.

    McGuinness is obviously a highly intelligent and capable individual with a level of ruthlessness that is beyond the comprehension of most people – therefore he is and way invaluable to the IRA and SF. President of Ireland? I think that he would do the job well and I also believe that he is non, indeed anti, sectarian. But at the back of my mind will always be what he (probably) did in Derry, in 1986, and all over the capture of some arms – the rest of which he was later partially responsible for destroying anyway.

    Gusty Spence is a different story to McGuinness. Spence did his murdering whilst an uneducated thug. He later educated himself and saw that violence was wrong and that he had been used. He is, basically, a classic loyalist cliché in many respects. I see him far more as a man of peace than David Ervine; Ervine wanted the UVF to continue long after Spence wanted it to end.

  • “The temptation to massage the past for the political convenience is the danger here”

    It’s hardly surprising that Martin has succumbed to the temptation, Mick. Here’s a neat piece of dissembling from a few days ago:

    “I have a record as a unifier. I was central in uniting nationalist and republican opinion in the north around the development of a peace process. Likewise I was central to uniting nationalist, republican, unionist and loyalist opinion around power sharing institutions. And now I am confident that I can unite the Irish people in a great effort to build a new republic.”

    Alex Attwood portrayed the behaviour of Robinson and McGuinness at the Executive table as that of the bully ie unity by threat and force. And this behaviour took place in an alleged democratic forum in the recent past, not when the smell of burning flesh was swirling around.

    It might be interesting to compare Mary Davis’s contribution to society during the past thirty or forty years with that of Martin McGuinness. I suspect her unity rating would leave Martin trailing in her wake. It would be a shame and a disgrace if she she gets fewer votes than Martin; she’s not yet had a thread here on Slugger but she’s had recognition from Greenflag.

  • Alias

    “And so Alias gets the point as well, you’re going to need to explain more than 3%, since I don’t think that Hume walked out to appease the sociopaths. Walked out to appease the rather larger community.” – Slappy

    You’re conflating those who were engaged in a criminal conspiracy to commit violent acts with those members of the wiser community who acted as their cheerleaders.

    We’ve all seen the videos of Palestinians cheering when footage of the two planes hitting the twin towers was shown on TV but few would claim that those cheerleaders have the same level of guilt as those who were engaged in that particular criminal conspiracy. In fact, those Palestinians were not guilty of any criminal offence whatsover.

  • Greenflag

    @ Alias ,

    ‘ In fact, those Palestinians were not guilty of any criminal offence whatsover.’

    True but the same perhaps can’t be said for the ‘extended Osama Bin Laden family of 100 or so persons including some in South Florida whom the FBI wanted to question in relation to the attacks on the twin towers but who somehow managed to ‘expedite ‘ their departure from the USA with the help of the Bush Administration who were and remain old friends of the degenerate Saudi Royal family . Oil is obviously thicker than water or blood . One Florida Senator has new information on the possible role of prominent Saudis in the Twin Towers attack .

    http://www.democracynow.org/2011/9/15/former_senator_bob_graham_urges_obama