Thursday 17 October 2019

The interview that has come back to haunt a presidential candidate

It was a less-polished McGuinness who claimed innocents killed at the hands of IRA were 'too nosey', writes Jim Cusack

Martin McGuinness said civilians killed by IRA bombs in the North died "through their own fault, being too nosey" and ignoring warnings, during an interview with an American radio journalist in 1972 -- the worst year of the Troubles for deaths due in large part to civilian deaths in IRA atrocities.

McGuinness was asked by National Public Radio (NPR) journalist Neal Conan about the numbers of civilians being killed when he met and interviewed McGuinness at his home in the Bogside of Derry. In his introduction to his piece, while McGuinness was present, he described him as "Provisional IRA commander in Derry" to no objection from McGuinness.

In 1972, the IRA carried out a series of atrocities including the bombing of the village of Claudy in Co Derry in which a van bomb killed nine people including a nine-year-old girl, Kathryn Eakin.

It also carried out the 'Bloody Friday' attack in Belfast in which nine people including a 14-year-old boy, Stephen Parker, were killed when 20 bombs detonated within the space of an hour in Belfast. Both attacks took place in July 1972.

Two young women were killed and more than 100 injured when a bomb went off inside the Abercorn Restaurant in Belfast in March 1972. Several of the injured suffered loss of limbs including a young bride-to-be who lost both legs and an arm.

One of the youngest victims of the Troubles, Alan Jack, aged five months, was killed in another IRA car bombing in Strabane in July 1972. Seven people were killed in another car bomb attack in Belfast's Donegall Street in March 1972.

The NPR presenter interviewed Martin McGuinness again in July 2002 when McGuinness was minister for education in the power-sharing assembly with the Ulster Unionists before its collapse. Neal Conan said that McGuinness had probably forgotten he had met him in Derry 30 years earlier.

He was interviewing McGuinness a few days after the IRA had issued a statement apologising for the killing of "non-combatants" -- the term it preferred instead of innocent civilians.

In the 2002 interview, Conan said: "Thirty years ago -- I'm sure you forget this -- we actually met at your house in Derry at a time when you were the Provo or Provisional IRA commander in Derry and in fact at the time there was a campaign of car bombing going on and I asked you about that and here's a question and the answer you gave to it: "Inevitably some civilians are going to be hurt in these explosions?"

McGuinness, whose voice was nowhere near as modulated as it is now, replied in a sharp Derry accent: "That is quite right you know but we have always given ample warning and anybody that was hurt was hurt through their own fault, being too nosey, sticking around the place where the bomb was after they were told to get clear. It's only been their own fault that they've been hurt."

In the 2002 interview, Conan then asked: "Their own fault that they got hurt? A lot of us said things 30 years ago that we probably want to have back. Given that reflection, is there anything that, have your thoughts changed on that subject since then?"

McGuinness ignored the question and the playing of the tape and went on to comment on the IRA statement: He replied: "I welcome very much the statement by the IRA.

"I think a lot of events have happened over the course of the last 30 years and there has been 30 years of bitter conflict in the North of Ireland. There has also been a peace process and I think a lot of very good work has been done over the course of the last 10 years.

"The place we are today is a far better place than we were 30 years ago or indeed 10 years ago and I have no doubt whatsoever if we continue to make a success of the peace process and fully implement the Good Friday Agreement that where we will be 10 years from now will be a far better place from where we are at, at the minute."

Martin McGuinness also referred to "people who are trying to score political points, drag up things from the past."

The interview is available on the NPR website at: templates/story/ story.php?storyId=1146815

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