I blogged my views about Gusty Spence previously. However, Mr. Spence’s death also raises the issue of how ex-terrorists (or ex-combatants for those who prefer the term: exactly how the actions committed terrorists could be called combat is bizarre, but I digress) are viewed especially by the media. The way in which the media views ex paramilitaries differs radically between different individuals and groups but there is a certain common thread especially amongst what might be termed the “establishment media” of much of the BBC, UTV and Belfast Telegraph.
At one extreme we have “bad terrorists”
Bad terrorists are largely loyalists and dissident republicans. They are predominantly the terrorists who either failed to declare ceasefires or else have continue some form of criminality despite stopping murdering members of the other community. As such bad terrorists include the likes of the Orange Volunteers (in so much as they actually exist). However, other bad terrorists include the likes of Torrens Knight who was gaoled for criminal activities after his release. Another bad terrorist is of course Michael Stone who tried to disrupt the reopening of Stormont by trying to kill Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in hand to hand combat (again an interesting use by Stone of the term combat as he has knives and bombs and Adams and McGuinness would have had pens at most – and Gerry’s beard). The only thing more farcical than his plan was his subsequent defence that he was actually taking part in performance art. Another clearly bad terrorist is Johnny Adair who has been safely disposed of to the mainland where he now only visits us in the form of odd comments in Sunday tabloids during the silly season: even then only if there are no good sex scandals that week to titillate the readership.
Bad republican terrorists are easy to spot: they are the ones still allegedly involved in terrorism such as the assorted people currently facing trial for the recent terrorist attacks, those who planted the Omagh bomb and such like.
In the middle we have a large group of fairly good terrorists:
“Fairly Good” Terrorists
Fairly good terrorists are essentially all of the IRA. They are bad because they killed people but good because they stopped and also because they are vital to the process. Within the group of fairly good terrorists there are, however, gradations. At the bad extreme we have people who deny that they ever were in the IRA yet have been repeatedly implicated in specific terrorist acts. Others who are quite bad fairly good terrorists are the ones who are perceived to have done especially well from the peace process whilst being minimally repentant about their crimes: Mary McArdle would be a classic example. Less political but also bad would be the assorted South Armagh republican leaders who now seem to spend much of their time on their diesel laundering activities. Moving to other members of the Sinn Fein leadership we have quite good fairly good terrorists. Martin McGuinness would be a good example. Prior to him standing to be President of the RoI he was even better than he now is but standing for the RoI presidency made him more bad and allowed the bringing back up of the murders of Frank Hegarty and the like. Republican terrorists who admit taking part in violence (but obviously not their guilt) become even more close to good terrorists: Gerry Kelly is now a cuddly and charming person which is just lovely for all of us.
A few republicans manage to be good terrorists. They are the ones who denounce the Sinn Fein leadership but also the dissidents and preferably can string sentences together promoting socialism or other worthy causes. Brendan Hughes is an example though to be fair his beyond the grave coherent sentences are usually written by someone else. Anthony McIntyre is a good not dead republican terrorist. His ability to write well combined with his opposition to the current Sinn Fein position and even his opposition to religion all make him a truly good terrorist.
However, the main good terrorists are the loyalists. No loyalist terrorist is as good as the late David Ervine (peace be upon him). The bold Ervine by supporting the peace process; castigating unionist leaders with borderline libel and using big words has become elevated both in life and in death to the status of truly good terrorist. This has allowed ignoring of unfortunate comments such as calling murdering Catholics “returning the serve” and proudly telling people he had not forgotten how to make bombs. Other nearly as good terrorists include Jackie McDonald who as leader of the “good” UDA is just back from the USA and sadly was prevented by less good loyalist terrorists from attending the commemoration of James Connolly in Belfast. How one can be called by all and sundry the leader of a proscribed organisation yet not arrested has always been a mystery to me but again I digress.
All these people of course were involved in the criminality which resulted in the deaths of 3500 people here and yet none seem to have any true remorse or willingness to turn completely away from their criminality.
There are some ex-terrorists who indeed seem to be completely repentant and remorseful. The ones I know of have mainly “taken religion”, “got saved” or whatever else one wants to call it. Whether or not they have become involved in religion is not, however, the primary unifying characteristic of such people: religion is only one way by which people can turn away from their previous criminality. Rather it is the fact that they have completely divorced themselves from criminality and make absolutely no attempt to profit financially, in terms of publicity, prestige or any other way from their previous criminality. Indeed such people are embarrassed by the actions of their past; appalled that they did those things and want nothing to do with their old life. These ex prisoners are largely ignored by the media, the peace processors etc. and many are in fairly poorly paid, or no employment with few prospects. That is probably fair enough in view of the criminality they have been involved in.
For better or for worse society here decided to create the fiction that some of those who committed amongst the most foul crimes in western Europe in the last sixty years were somehow not responsible for their actions; or that what we had here was a war (though without war crimes prosecutions). For better or for worse the assorted criminals were released from gaol decades before their sentences required. The fiction was created that murdering a person for reasons of bigotry (surely a hate crime?) was less important than murdering one for money, sex or whatever. All that was promoted by the peace processors, the media and many others. Now they promote some of the criminals as “good”, castigate others as “bad” and ignore those who just might think what they did was wicked unjustified and would rather try to get on with their lives. The moral ambiguity and simultaneous self righteousness of many who promote “the peace process” has not gone away you know.
This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.