Tuesday 21 November 2017

Who will speak for victims of the IRA?

Martin McGuinness outside 10 Downing Street in 2014 Photo: Getty
Martin McGuinness outside 10 Downing Street in 2014 Photo: Getty


The death of Martin McGuinness, the former Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland, was duly and appropriately acknowledged by political and civic leaders in Ireland and at an international level, with a mind to the Latin phrase De mortuis nil nisi bonum, that it is inappropriate to speak ill of the dead in the immediate aftermath of his death.

While condolences were properly extended to the family and colleagues of Mr McGuinness, most public figures were also careful not to condone or justify the path he took for the significant part of his life, and were also mindful of the pain caused to, and still suffered by, the victims of terrorism in the form perpetrated for more than a generation by the Provisional IRA, of which Mr McGuinness was a prominent leader. At this relatively early stage, this newspaper is acutely aware of those victims, conscious as we are that their families will now be deprived of an entitlement equal to if not greater than that of respect for the dead - which is to receive a full account of the circumstances surrounding, and apology for, what was, in any language, the murder of their loved ones. Who now will speak well, and truthfully, for those dead? Yes, in the latter part of his life, Mr McGuinness played an important role in bringing the so-called republican movement - Sinn Fein/IRA - away from violence to relatively peaceful and democratic means and to building a better Northern Ireland. That too must and has been widely acknowledged. However, the mortuary aphorism not to speak ill of the dead must not hold sway in the long term, for otherwise there would be no recorded history at all. It is important, therefore, not to whitewash over past events. The actions of the dead may not be able to physically harm us anymore, but those actions can continue to do great psychological damage.

Mr McGuinness has taken to his grave important information which would have eased the burden on victims of the IRA. More than that, he also failed to satisfactorily acknowledge that trauma beyond the tit-for-tat sectarian body count piled high throughout what was a bloody 30 years in the history of the nation. A time comes for an end to all that, for basic decency, for humanity, to be held forward. Unfortunately, save possibly to his confessor, for he was a Christian man, Mr McGuinness, in the suddenness of his illness and swiftness of his death, let pass that moment which should have been embraced long ago.

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