Friday, March 31, 2017

Martin McGuinness

One of the things I hate about modern political discourse is the failure of 'sides' to express their 'opponents' position as strongly as possible before disagreeing with it. Points scoring is cheap and nasty. Proper listening and understanding moves everyone forward.

So to Martin McGuinness. He is someone who, if forced to identify such a person, I would have said was my enemy in 1972-4. The IRA tried to kill me. They missed by a day, blowing up a Birmingham pub I had frequented the night before. I didn't lose any friends but my home city lost its vibrancy for a bit.

When he embraced the idea of politics to move things forward there was a lot of suspicion. I think rightly so. Whenever anyone has a change of heart it takes a while to be convinced. Those who suffered at his organisation's hands are clearly going to be the last people to forgive. And so we hear Lord Tebbit still expressing hate, as we might expect from a man who was seriously injured by a bomb which killed some of his colleagues and paralysed his wife for the rest of her life in 1984.

When people who once breathed out murderous threats stop threatening (Saul /St Paul anyone?) it is hard to get on board with them.

Nobody, to my mind, has touched on one thing that would have been hardest for Martin McGuinness. He had to take the IRA with him. That this was difficult was emphasised by a batch of atrocities committed by the 'Continuing IRA' as the peace process began.

I was brought up to hate Irish Republicanism. I never grasped their complaints. I did not have their case put to me as strongly as possible. They had no face in the media and for a time their words were spoken, on the news, only by actors.

It was, of all places, on the sleeve notes of an album by a fine band That Petrol Emotion, that I read the material produced here.

High unemployment, job discrimination, gerrymandering of political boundaries, a derisory public housing provision and the linking of the right-to-vote with a property qualification led in 1967 to the formation of a broadly based non-political and non-sectarian civil rights movement composed of all shades of non-Unionist opinion. By peaceful protest demonstrations, it demanded such reforms as 'one-man one-vote' (universal suffrage), an anti-discrimination act, reform of local government and the abolition of the draconian Special Powers Act.

On October 5 1968, a peaceful civil rights march in Derry (including parents and members of the band) was brutally attacked by the Royal Ulster Constabulary on the instructions of the Unionist-controlled Stormont Government. This was followed by the organised attack of a peaceful student march from Belfast to Derry by Unionist extremists setting a precedent of anti-nationalist violence in the subsequent months and culminating in the British Government's decision to draft in its troops to uphold 'law and order'.

In the face of such belligerent intransigence, it was a small step from demanding civil rights to demanding a complete severance of ties from Britain and the establishment of a socialist Irish state. The resurgence of the Irish Republican Army, largely dormant from the late '50's, heralded an age where constitutional politics went from sick-joke status to complete irrelevancy for the Nationalist community...

(End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues -  Virgin Records Ltd 1988)

For the first time I understood why Northern Irish Republicans felt as they did. I related it to the appalling sentiment expressed in Psalm 137 (the bit we rarely emphasise) that the Israelite who dashed Babylonian babies against the rocks would be happy so doing.

I am not condoning what many chose to do thereafter; merely showing a strong expression of the Republican case.

In the 1980s and 1990s, some back channel work went on, quite counter to the 'We don't talk to terrorists' sound-bite regularly wheeled out by politicians. If someone is so angry they will gladly dash the heads of innocent babies against the rocks it behoves us to find out why in any way possible. It was very brave of some people to do this.

McGuinness never revealed where the bodies were buried. I don't know, but I imagine, that at every step after renouncing violence his own life was in danger from those who didn't want to do that. Especially when they saw him and Ian Paisley laughing together and being nicknamed the Chuckle Brothers.

So, for me, he was not a good man, nor a bad man, but a man of contradictions. Some of the truth he took with him to the grave. I understand those who don't want him ever to rest in peace. And those who do.

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