Thursday 27 June 2019

McGuinness may have opened floodgates for victims’ stories

Maybe the British have the right idea. Forget about elections. Just anoint some hereditary head of state — then there’s never any argument about who should sign bills into law, or cut the ribbon at garden fetes, or represent the country overseas.

Best of all, our neighbours avoid the farce of evasion, misinformation and downright lies into which our own presidential election has descended since it began, oh, what feels like several hundred years ago.

Have there ever been more porkies told in pursuit of a job which doesn’t even have any real authority? Scrapping for power is fair enough, but the Aras is nothing but a decorative feather in the cap of the nation. In fact, considering the follically-challenged appearance of the last two candidates standing at this stage, Aras 2011 is looking like a manifestation of Jorge Luis Borges’s description of the Falklands War as being like two bald men fighting over a comb. But still they scrap for it. Sinn Fein has even had to postpone its national fundraising draw because, according to the party’s website, “so many activists and members have been tied up working on the presidential campaign”.

Most of whom, one can only imagine, have been employed clearing up after yet another pratfall from their candidate. Colonel Gaddafi even had the bad grace to get himself killed in the middle of Martin McGuinness’s campaign, inconveniently re-igniting memories of where it was the IRA got all those weapons during the Seventies and beyond.

The Shinners immediately jumped into battle to distance their man from Libya’s brutal genocidal dictator, though McGuinness himself told the BBC earlier this year that he felt no shame at all about his connections with Gaddafi. Those were the days when the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland didn’t have to issue constant denials of IRA membership, or spend every day hiding behind the greatest collection of manifest inaccuracies since Baron Munchausen was in his heyday.

McGuinness clearly believes that a fib a day keeps the anti-republican doctor away. It’s as if he doesn’t realise half the time that he’s being overheard. His latest gem, while campaigning in Cork, was to assert that “the IRA no longer exists”. As he told RTE’s reporter on the scene: “The IRA called a ceasefire — isn’t it amazing? — 17 years ago.” What’s amazing is that McGuinness appears to have forgotten the Canary Wharf bombing of 1996, which killed two innocent bystanders and ended the year-and-a-halflong ceasefire which preceded it. Or, perhaps more likely, hopes the rest of us have such short memories that we’ll fall for the fiction that the first ceasefire of 1994 held firm.

By June of 1996, Jerry McCabe was also dead. The Manchester bomb came a week later. A grim series of murders followed. Surprising that it has apparently slipped McGuinness’s mind, considering his own long memory for personal slights and partisan history. The IRA did not actually call an official end to operations until 2005, but even then there was never any mention of disbandment. In fact, all the security information was that the Army Council continued to meet, and our old friend P O’Neill went on issuing statements on behalf of “the leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann”. Last year, the SDLP accused the IRA of still carrying out punishment attacks and armed robberies.

It’s a funny way the IRA has of not existing, but then what else could McGuinness say? He was cornered again, trapped by the mad logic of his own claim that Sean Gallagher was “up to his neck” in Fianna Fail and had not satisfactorily answered legitimate questions about when he left the party. Ah, the irony. Seriously, did McGuinness not see one coming? Whatever the truth about when Gallagher left, membership of Fianna Fail was never illegal.

He was at it again when the family of Jerry McCabe blindsided him with a masterly statement questioning his fitness to be President, given his “loyalty to a secret illegal army”. How can a man be first citizen of a country, the McCabes asked forensically, when he did not even discharge the duties of the lowliest citizen in helping police find a policeman’s killers? Ouch. McGuinness was forced to deny that he’d known the whereabouts of Garda McCabe’s killers when they were on the run, and added the following piece of damage limitation: “A great wrong was done to the McCabe family and the IRA has acknowledged and apologised for it.”

And out pops another lie. The statement he refers to wasn’t issued by the IRA, but by the four men convicted of Garda McCabe’s killing. It does indeed say that they “deeply regret and apologise” for his death, but the statement came at a very particular time in the peace process when the men were desperate to avail of early-release provisions in the Belfast Agreement. That’s why a mere 52 of the words in that statement concern the slaying of an innocent man, with the remaining 104 words devoted to why they should get out: “We will not allow ourselves to be used as political pawns or hostages.” The IRA itself has never apologised for what its members did that day.

Deliberately so, too. The IRA does apologise when it sees fit. In 2007, P O’Neill offered “sincere apologies” for the death of a 17-month-old baby hit by a ricocheted bullet during an IRA attack on British soldiers in 1971. “Apologies” were also delivered in 2007 to the family of Eoin Morley, murdered in Newry after being wrongly accused of informing, “for the grief and pain they have suffered”. There are other examples, proving that on rare occasions the IRA does indeed apologise for its actions. The gunning down of Jerry McCabe was not one of them. McGuinness is damaged goods, and in a few days’ time will be returning to Stormont as fatally holed as Dana’s tyre.

He relied on victims of violence in the South being as easy to bully or morally blackmail into silence as those in the North, only to find that the same rules of enforced amnesia didn’t apply. Now, perhaps, he’s opened the floodgates to those victims to start telling their stories as well. That’s the thing about genies. Once out of the bottle, they’re notoriously reluctant to crawl back in. All this prodding of sleeping dogs for some piffling electoral advantage.

Was it worth it?

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