McGuinness and #Aras11: A brief afterword…

I think it was Eamonn McCann who said it is almost impossible to dislike Martin McGuinness once you’ve met him. I fully concur. The last time I met him was in Stormont, and when he saw me he rose from his chair, strode across the Long Gallery to warmly shake my hand.

That kind of emotionally intelligent instinct is political gold, and is one reason why McGuinness has lifted honours in the last two Slugger Awards. It’s also a critical part of his party’s wider licence to operate on the Unionist side of the fence.

You can pick that warmth up in this account from the same Mr Appleyard I just blogged previously. It’s only when he withdraws from personal contact with the deputy First Minister that his mind drifts to matters more solidly social and political:

Plunging through those streets with him was fun, and I wanted, for a while, to believe he would be a good choice for president. But later I thought: what if we give him the benefit of every doubt? Say he did leave the IRA in ’74, say he had nothing whatsoever to do with civilian casualties, kneecappings, torture, sectarian murders, racketeering, corruption, say he was as pure as the driven snow — what does that leave us with? With a man who knew all these things were going on and supported the thugs that did them by supporting the IRA. A decent man would have dropped them like a stone. You, James Martin Pacelli McGuinness, did not.

I left him at Galway. The next day there was Newcastle, Ballinasloe, Bundoran, Letterkenny. Even the names in Ireland are poetry. McGuinness writes poems and he adores Seamus Heaney, who he thinks would make a great president. “But I am not a poet!” he says quickly. He isn’t. But he should read Yeats, the greatest of Ireland’s poets, more closely than the Irish tend to do. I kept hearing of the “terrible beauty” that Yeats said was born when the leaders of the rising at Easter 1916 were executed by the British. But “terrible” is the word, and Yeats also wrote in that poem: “Too long a sacrifice/Can make a stone of the heart.” He later wrote scathingly and sadly of the withering effects of the pursuit of “some vague utopia” on a human soul.

Personally I like Martin McGuinness, a lot. And that’s despite having no illusions of the particulars of his violent past. He possesses the kind of star quality that Peter Robinson can only dream of. Yet Robinson’s political instincts (with the advantage of sovereign possession, I suppose) are the clearer, the more thought through and, over time, the more consistent.

But likeability is only one factor in the success of any political enterprise within a democracy. People have to believe you can do what you promise. Thus Mr Robinson’s low in ratings popular polls seems belied by the fact that so many people are prepared to turn out and vote for him at the appropriate time.

Both, of course, share a work ethic that’s probably helped cement the relationships in Stormont Castle. That and the fact that currently there is only one operating factor in shifting votes in Northern Ireland, the need for communal champions either side of the sectarian divide.

At the same time it is hard not to think that the in the more open theatre of southern politics the SF project will struggle to take off until such times it can run senior candidates who have no need to be so defensive of their pasts. And that they have a credible and desirable route map (despite powerful dynamics apparently working in the opposite direction) to their said goal of politically unifying various peoples of the island.

Personality, whether Martin’s or Gerry’s, is simply not enough.


  • Cynic2

    I dont disagree. In education she also showed himself professionally competent.

    But are the attributes you highlight all we want? Where is the vision to move politics on from the present zero sum game?

  • iluvni

    That kind of emotionally intelligent instinct is political gold, and is one reason why McGuinness has lifted honours in the last two Slugger Awards.

    Butter up the local hacks and they’ll give you awards, instead of running with the questions of McGuinness their southern counterparts asked?

  • Mick Fealty

    Come on iluvni, don’t be shy, spit it out?

  • “when he saw me he rose from his chair, strode across the Long Gallery to warmly shake my hand”

    Ah yes, Martin, the master of ingratiation! I’ve been a victim myself but I’m old enough and ugly enough to see through the charade; I also find ingratiation grating. If you look closely at the first photo you’ll see that even the minders can smile – well, one of them can 🙂

    Sometimes the mask falls as we saw in the unexpected encounter with a real victim during the Presidential campaign, David Kelly. It’s not surprising that the trip to Limerick was cancelled – a similar encounter with Mrs McCabe obviously wasn’t relished.

    “communal champions either side of the sectarian divide”

    We have a constitutional divide with various loose alliances on either side and three main religious sects: Catholic, Presbyterian and Episcopalian. The communal champions act like dictators joined at the hip/lip.

    Martin and I are both recipients of Slugger awards but there the resemblance probably ends 🙂

  • Mick Fealty

    I think you mistake something profoundly political about the Kelly incident. It happened outside the bounds of Martin’s political license, at time when that’s precisely what he was seeking.

    He has a mandated licence to trade off in an albeit Soveitised NI, and no matter what victims think or feel about that it does not change current reality. Only his political rivals can change that.

  • “I think you mistake something profoundly political about the Kelly incident.”

    I don’t think so. The ingratiation is also profoundly political – and the smile is that of a dodgy second-hand car salesman.

    I occasionally take a front row seat at the Moyle District Council circus; I’m in touch with councillors of all hues there, including SF; and I’m the recipient of news from various quarters of SF folks continuing to operate outside the justice system. Having a mandated licence to trade is one thing – immunity from justice is another and that immunity still operates, much to the embarrassment of senior PSNI officers.

  • Skinner

    “Yet Robinson’s political instincts (with the advantage of sovereign possession, I suppose) are the clearer, the more thought through and, over time, the more consistent.”

    I agree; it is a function of where they each started. McGuinness embarked on his political life believing in things that were so ridiculous he could never have got anywhere in constitutional politics. He believed that he and his street gangs represented the official army for the whole of Ireland, for example, a concept so far removed from reality that it put him in the violent whacko category for most Irish people. During his campaign for President, of course, he had to concede that that belief was complete nonsense and that the Irish Defences Forces were the true defenders of the ROI. So while other candidates were trying to paint themselves with highly nuanced right and left-based tinges, McGuinness was having to make huge leaps in his entire idealogy. The fact that he could do so without so much as shifting his weight from one leg to the other makes people think that all he really cares about is power.

    Robinson, on the other hand, bar some messing about in Contribret, started out from a position that recognised the constitutional reality. He has not had to learn the carefully crafted phrases such as “six county statelet” and “I am not in the business of condemnation, we need to look at the causes of conflict” that were born of a need to accommodate an unsustainably ridiculous constitutional claim.

    The shape-shifter Marty is always going to look slippery against the dour Robbo.

  • Mick Fealty

    Take it to the police, and/or stop trolling Nevin.

  • PaulT

    Nevin, after MMcG had delivered the killer blow to Gallagher on Frontline, the debate (as it always did) reached the victims bit, Gallagher, stony faced, reeled of Kelly, McCabes and some other names and said they deserved answers, normally a crowd pleaser, it met with silence, having followed the election on where increasingly people pointed out that the ‘victims’ are wheeled out for elections and than put away again, that point in the debate seem to shock people, because it was obvious that Gallagher was using the victims to score points, the audience seem to suddenly grasp this.

    Whatever about Micks advice, I’d say, have a think about how much Kelly concerns you, or is the man a just a stick to beat MMcG with.

    Skinner, your comment on the Irish defence forces and the “republic of Ireland” is funny in a anorak sense given the term you use and where the first recruits came from!!

  • Alias

    Ted Bundy was a very charming man too, and likewise it was a tool of his trade.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Dear gad Mick. I know the shinner cheerleaders were giving you a hard time,but the above piece is cringe worthy !!!

    How dare Mr Kelly and Mrs McCabe,(and some other names),demand answers from the pira commander !!
    How very dare they !!
    Why,next The Prime Minister will be asked to meet,’wheeled out victims’.
    Isn’t that right Mrs Finucane ? 😉

  • Mick Fealty


    Please, try to stick to the issues. And spare us the unctuous false consciousness asides, as per:

    “…have a think about how much Kelly concerns you, or is the man a just a stick to beat MMcG with.”

  • PaulT, this conversation is about Martin’s qualities, not Sean’s. I flagged up the late cancellation of Martin’s scheduled visit to Limerick prior to the Frontline programme.

  • Alias, perhaps I’m from the Raymond Chandler school of observation: “She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket”. I know how disarming a smile can be so I’m naturally wary of it. Tony Blair often tried the charm tactic but it didn’t always come off.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Maybe it wasn’t Mrs. McCabe he was trying to avoid:

  • PaulT

    Huge bit of man-playing there Mick, and possibly you need to reread what you’ve written or look up the meaning of unctuous, as I find myself (possibly for the first time ever) in agreement with Heinz.

    Apart from that, as far as I can see I’ve stuck to the issues. You cut and pasted a story which is pretty much MMcG very nice guy, oh what about the victims.

    I replied that lots of people are now feeling the victims are wheeled on and off stage as and when needed.

    FFS Mick I’m a lot more on topic than others, whats your problem? you’ve pretty much driven every decent nationalist poster away with your bitterness and are in real danger of having to rename the site ‘Mick n Nevin have a chat’

  • Mick Fealty

    You know where this goes next, don’t you?

  • Skinner

    “Skinner, your comment on the Irish defence forces and the “republic of Ireland” is funny in a anorak sense given the term you use and where the first recruits came from!!”

    Excuse my ignorance, PaulT, you’ll have to explain that one

  • Decimus

    I think it was Eamonn McCann who said it is almost impossible to dislike Martin McGuinness once you’ve met him. I fully concur.

    As indeed did Frank Hegarty’s mother, but she was to have cause to regret those first superficial impressions.

  • A very interesting article by Appleyard, Mick. In this short snippet he captures the smile and the non-smile:

    One observer of the province described him to me as a far more chilling personality than Gerry Adams, and the great historian Michael Burleigh has written of his “cold piety”.

    I was stunned when, late at night in Carrick-on-Shannon, we sat down for our first conversation. Having been a slap-on-the-back, good ol’ boy all day long, the eyes suddenly became hard — “cold and unwavering as a gull’s”, as Samuel Beckett would have put it — and the man turned into an unyielding justifier of everything he ever did. I felt I was suffering an attack of Capgras syndrome, the illusion that somebody very familiar has been replaced by an imposter.

    That old kitchen sink has hot and cold taps – and both are still piped in.

  • PaulT

    Skinner, the title “Republic of Ireland” is only ‘legal’ in the UK, internationally the country is called ‘Ireland’. Can’t give you an exact % but many of the orginal members of the Defence Forces where Irish men demobbed from the British army as the vast majority of the IRA were anti-treaty. Like I said, its only anorak funny, but I think MMcG would find it funny.

    Sorry for going off topic there Mick.

    Anyhoos, I’m not rising to the man-playing from you, and I still think I’m more on topic than most here.

    I’d also add I think the arguement is lost with this comment in your OP

    “With a man who knew all these things were going on and supported the thugs that did them by supporting the IRA. A decent man would have dropped them like a stone.”

    Where does that leave Cameron? not to mention many civil servants, all of whom know of nasty things done and currently being done by their side but no-ones been drop (like a stone or otherwise)

    The difference is, if he wasn’t in the IRA at the time all he could do is drop them, whereas those in HMG had the authority to stop their thugs.

    So, do we set the bar higher for MMcG than others, or where are you trying to go with this?

  • Jimmy Sands

    This would be the argument that posits that if a state agent commits murder then the state is morally equivalent to a terrorist group. Still pushing this one are we?

  • Skinner

    I see.

  • PaulT

    Not sure you’re referring to me Jimmy, but if you are I’ll answer briefly as its off topic.

    Its more a defense of when Britain did things right, the line was “Britain hasn’t got permanent friends, its got permanent interests.

    Nothing to do with your vignette, more a dose of reality, the IRA was helping MMcG advance his political aims, no different from how any state\company\individual will happily deal with ‘thugs’ to achieve their goals.

    Not confined to Ireland, GB, USA or anyone, its just life, hence my question is Mick implying that the bar should be raised for MMcG and not for others. If so, why?

    Although Jimmy don’t know if you got the final radio debate, each candidate was asked who they would like to see on a postage stamp, MMcG said ‘I’m from Derry so Seamus Heaney’ big round of applause, Gay said Michael Collins and hardly anyone clapped. Collins is probably directly and indirectly responsible for many many more deaths of Irish policemen and Irish soldiers than anyone else in modern history.

  • Alias

    Nevin, I think it has something to do with how ‘normal’ evil can be. People expect murderers to look like murderers but they just look like normal people and that incongruity disconcerts them.

    I don’t find it odd that manipulators can be charming but rather find it odd that people would expect them not to be. Sociopaths are extremely charming people. They have to disarm a victim before they can get into a position to harm that person (or her son), and so they generally don’t give any clues about their real nature but become highly skilled at creating false clues.

    Not saying (to avoid a card) that any of that applies to McGuinness, but your opinion is as valid as mine.

  • PaulT

    Mick, have to say, I’m disappointed, I can see no reason to be handed a yellow hard for that comment, care to explain where I stepped outside your rules? purely so I can ensure it doesn’t happen again.

  • Jimmy Sands


    The bar’s not being raised at all. I don’t accept that murder is a legitimate tactic of statecraft. Few, if any, states would. They can and should be held accountable to that standard. The same standard cannot of course be applied to a terrorist group for which murder, far from being an aberration, is its very raison d’etre. Far from applying a higher standard to McGuinness, he is inserting himself into a milieu where higher standards than the ones by which he has lived his life apply and he has struggled to bridge the gulf.

    As for the Collins argument, I would end to concur that have tended to have a rose tinted view of the 1920s, but that may be even further off topic.

  • PaulT

    Actually Jimmy, the Michael Collins bit is actually closer to the topic than you think, and its kinda where I’m going.

    Firstly though, violence and death is the international currency in use today. Eg the UK bundling a man and his family onto a plane in Hong Kong to deliver him as a present to Gaddaffi knowing he would be tortured, some years later they’re bombing Gaddaffi in support of the same guy.

    Regarding Collins, having followed the election I felt that people first bought into the victims been wheeled out, than a bit bored when it dominated the debates and finally they put all the violence into one category, hence the muted response to the Michael Collins on a stamp answer. Another comment thats connected was Norris’s “ashamed to be Protestant”

    All of which is on topic I believe as the OP suggests MMcG nice bloke shame about the bodies, whereas my point to Mick was lots of people lots of bodies and I think many are beginning to realise that now.

    [Moderator’s note: Text removed. Just keep on topic and to the point.]

  • Jimmy Sands

    I think Gallagher’s problem with “wheeling out victims” was that in his case it was absolutely transparent. Although no other candidate shared Mitchell’s enthusiasm for shinnerbashing, the others were at least prepared to condemn when prompted save Gallagher who, no doubt angling for transfers, refused to do so until McGuinness went after him.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Reading Mick, I wonder, is McGuiness the Albert Speer of Irish Republicanism?

  • fordprefect

    Martin McGuinness’s so-called “smile”, is so false, you’d think it was painted on (more of a forced grimace, if you ask me). So much for his “warmth” and “charisma”, when he landed the so-called killer punch on Gallagher, did it eat into the FF vote or up his standing with the ordinary folk in the 26 counties? Did it F***!. Everyone knew that Gallagher was a proxy FF candidate (you know, the government that destroyed the country), yet, he still got more than double the vote that MMcG did. Personally, I haven’t really got time for any politicians most (if not all) of them are liars, but you have liars and then you have MMcG.

  • “That kind of emotionally intelligent instinct is political gold”

    Iron pyrites comes to mind for the man with the iron hand in the velvet glove. Has Martin’s Aras adventure played any part in the delay of the Programme for Government? The likely austerity measures to be imposed here wouldn’t have looked good during the course of the Presidential campaign.

    Helpful to a fault, the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell sent me an e-mail listing the some of the daunting contents of the Deputy First Minister’s in-tray.

    “McGuinness is coming back to cuts, stalemate and failure,” according to the SDLP enterprise spokesman. Liam Clarke

  • Abu Mikhail74

    Fair play Mick for trying to create a bit of balance in the MMG coverage. I’ve met him too and he definitely exudes a more natural friendliness than Adams.
    But did you watch all your posters dive into their trenches once more and begin to exchange fire? Any SF-related discusion turns into a bad day at Verdun.
    Not to be a tattletale, but surely anyone who makes a Nazi comparison should get a yellow card, Godwin’s Law and all that?

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, not anyone Abu. Yellows are a matter of judgement. It’s very difficult to referee fairly where people harbour deeply negative feelings towards various public figures.

    The rule should be that you say things in such a way that you’d be happy to repeat it right to their face, even though by the happy utility of the net, you don’t need to.

    I’m hearing all kinds of interesting things from the SDLP conference. But one good thing I think will come out of it is the proximity these men have had with each other.

    They remain rivals, but I would say each will have been strengthened by the civil competition… Ideally that is what I would like to see people draw out of the comment zone here on Slugger.

  • fordprefect

    I for one thank the heavens that you are not in charge of this blog (otherwise there’d be no-one on it) with your lust to hand out yellow cards to all and sundry for any perceived slight. I personally (as I’ve said before) have very little, or no, time for politicians be they SDLP, SF, DUP, UUP, FF, FG and uncle Tom Cobley an’ all. You see, as a Republican, it galls me to see MMcG, Adams et al dancing like pathetic down and outs to everyone and anyone’s tune for a few pennies (a bit of power), to paraphrase another blogger. I used to look up to SF because they called a spade a spade, but now (and this last good while back) they are the prostitutes (apologies to any prostitutes out there) of Irish politics. They are political promiscuous, jump into bed with anyone (again) for a lick of power. By the way I’ve said this and more to MMcG’s face.

  • fordprefect

    Sorry, politically promiscuous.

  • HeinzGuderian

    I’m told everyone who met The Fuhrer was captivated.

    Some more than others,I might add !!

  • Abu Mikhail74

    Agree 100% with that Mick.
    Ah now Ford! I’m not Phill Dowd! I didn’t ask for cards ‘for all and sundry’ just people who lose all sense of proportion and start up with the NSDAP stuff. It was the Albert Speer comment from someone earlier that I was commenting on. Like MMG or loathe him, he’s running no underground slave-labour rocket factories that I’ve heard of. The Evening Herald surely would have told us if he was. Nazi comparisons just make us all look a bit silly.

    About your comments on how you used to look up to SF, I get where you’re coming from, uncompromising people are easier to admire and there seems no comparison between SF then and now, but that’s politcs I suppose, the pursuit of power.

    Fair play for saying it to his face, how did he respond? He didn’t give you big bold dirty looks like he did to “mother-of-eight Miriam O’Caghan” (from the Indo story after her debate) did he?

    We’re in complete agreement on one very important point though: I’m glad I’m not in charge of the blog too!

    Ps. Sorry Heinz, that card was probably my fault!