Wednesday 22 January 2020

McGuinness didn't seek to hide the two sides of his life

'So many of the symbolic gestures of the post-Good Friday Agreement involved Mr McGuinness. His 'Chuckle Brothers' double act with the late Ian Paisley showed how such diverse individuals from diametrically opposing backgrounds and outlook could work together in the interests of the people.' Photo: PA
'So many of the symbolic gestures of the post-Good Friday Agreement involved Mr McGuinness. His 'Chuckle Brothers' double act with the late Ian Paisley showed how such diverse individuals from diametrically opposing backgrounds and outlook could work together in the interests of the people.' Photo: PA
Editorial

Editorial

A celebrated anecdote about Martin McGuinness captures both sides of this complex character and his life.

His home town club Derry City were playing the great Benfica of Portugal in the European Cup in September 1989. Before the biggest match in the club's history, a bomb was discovered in a culvert in the cemetery close to the ground.

Afraid the match would be called off by the RUC and British army, club officials called Mr McGuinness.

"Myself and some of the club's directors went up to the cemetery. I remember them hiding behind the headstones while I tied a rope around the device, which I think was a substantial device of maybe 100lb, and pulled the thing out," he said years later.

Mr McGuinness was quite a personality: fearless, determined and strong.

On the flip side, the bomb was planted by the Provisional IRA some time earlier to kill police and soldiers on patrol.

Mr McGuinness was the senior IRA commander in Derry and a member of the Provos' Army Council, which was responsible for sanctioning atrocities throughout the Troubles. The murders, maimings and mayhem of the IRA's campaign cannot be forgotten.

Unlike Gerry Adams, Mr McGuinness admitted to being a member of the IRA. But this stance was also shrouded in ambiguity. He told the Saville Inquiry he was a member of the IRA at the time of Bloody Sunday, but left the organisation in 1974 to be involved only in Sinn Féin.

Yet this admission actually strengthened public trust in him and, over time, made his relationship with unionists clearer as he was seen to be a more honest broker.

Writing in today's Irish Independent, Sinn Féin TD Éoin Ó Broin aptly describes Mr McGuinness as "the beating heart of Irish republicanism".

"His ard fheis speeches in the years surrounding the Belfast Agreement were always calming. He spoke from and to the base of our movement. He was listened to because he was always at the front line."

Therein lies the contradiction of Mr McGuinness. He was both a terrorist, who must be held responsible for destroying the lives of countless IRA victims, and a politician who helped to build and sustain a lasting peace in Northern Ireland once he realised that violence would not deliver for the people he represented.

Mr McGuinness was to the forefront of that peace process as Sinn Féin's chief negotiator and played a vital part in the bedding down of the Stormont institutions.

So many of the symbolic gestures of the post-Good Friday Agreement involved Mr McGuinness. His 'Chuckle Brothers' double act with the late Ian Paisley showed how such diverse individuals from diametrically opposing backgrounds and outlook could work together in the interests of the people.

And his handshake with Queen Elizabeth II illustrated how far Northern Ireland had come.

His journey was truly remarkable.

Martin McGuinness does leave behind a mixed legacy. Yet he did not seek to hide the two sides of his life.

Irish Independent

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