Myers on McGuinness

Kevin Myers: Some questions that we should never have to ask

Tuesday October 04 2011

A peaceful society only exists when we largely repress whatever
emotions, desires, ambitions, likes and dislikes that would cause
gratuitous offence or hurt or pain.

Society requires the assertion of a common virtue as a primary
adhesive, binding unfriends in an agreed commonwealth of bogus esteem.
Therefore the head of state of any republic must at least SEEM to be
the embodiment of that adhesive, and a lifelong public adherence to
the Ten Commandments is a primary requirement for such an office.

Journalists, on the other hand, are obliged neither to supply the
adhesive that binds a society nor even to pretend to follow most of
the commandments, though some deference to the one about not bearing
false witness is generally advisable. And since most of us at one time
have had the morals of a drunken polecat at a ferret orgy, we are
usually ill-placed to deliver sermons on ethics. However, if only from
the vantage point of a swamp, we are able to say who, like ourselves,
does not embody the required morals of a president.

Martin McGuinness is such a person. He has been the beneficiary of one
particularly idiotic comparison, and a dangerous one too, for all
logic and truth are lost in the mud of a lazy analogy. His defenders
regularly cite Nelson Mandela as a precedent: but this is a grotesque
and revolting caricature. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in solitary
confinement, during which time his ANC colleagues were murdered in
their thousands. Martin McGuinness was imprisoned, just once, for a
few months, in the free-association IRA wing in Portlaoise. He was
never imprisoned by the British.

Moreover, Northern Ireland was never South Africa or Alabama. It was
Northern Ireland: that’s it. It had no pass laws or apartheid system.
Catholics were not made to stand in the back of the bus, and
Protestants didn’t have more voting rights than Catholics.

It was, however, a gerrymandered Orange state, in which Catholics were
certainly discriminated against. Whether it was more odious than the
doctrinaire Catholic state alongside it, where it was almost
impossible for a Protestant doctor to get a dispensary, where the
universities closed on Catholic feast days, and government social
policy followed the specific instructions of the Archbishop of Dublin,
is less relevant than the moral absolute that such systems of social
injustice cannot be corrected by violence, which is simply another
form of injustice.

By the time the Provisional IRA campaign began, the long-overdue civil
rights reform package was already being implemented. The B Specials
had been disbanded, and the RUC was disarmed. By 1973, the Sunningdale
Agreement between the Irish and British governments, which was
registered with the United Nations as a treaty binding in
international law, made it illegal for any Northern Ireland ever to be
governed by a unionist-only administration, or for such a government
to exist without an all-Ireland council. The chief constable of the
RUC, Jamie Flanagan, was a Catholic. Catholic judges during this time
included William Staunton, Ambrose McGonigal, Michael Nicholson,
Turlough O’Donnell, Garret McGrath, William Travers, William Doyle,
and Rory Conaghan. Mr Justice Conaghan, despite being a Catholic, had
in 1965 become the youngest judge in Northern Ireland, and in 1972,
when awarding damages to internees, had vigorously denounced the
excesses of the security forces. Two years later, the IRA murdered
him, as it murdered the Catholic judges Doyle, Staunton, and Travers,
and tried to murder Catholic judges O’Donnell, McGrath and McGonigal.
It then declared the absence of Catholic judges was proof of a biased
judiciary.

Martin McGuinness was a major member of that IRA, which also rejected
the Sunningdale Agreement, of which the Good Friday Agreement is
merely a vulgate version, 25 years on. In that quarter century, the
IRA of Martin McGuinness perpetrated atrocities such as Enniskillen,
Birmingham, La Mon, White Cross, and in its campaign overall, killed
over half the victims of the Troubles.

The peace process has now created a moral dystopia which routinely
transforms murderers into heroes. Thus the recent obsequies for Gusty
Spence, upon whose homicidal shoulders rests much of the
responsibility of the Troubles, while almost no one remembered the
names of his victims. Was Liam Doyle, who survived after being shot
five times by Spence, ever invited to a single state reception in this
Republic? How many of the relatives of victims of the UDA romper rooms
or the UVF’s Shankill Butchers, or the IRA ethnic-cleansing of the
Border-lands have been honoured guests of the Irish and British
governments, as their tormenters have been?

We know from our history what the harvest will probably be when we
till the soil with the testimony of terrorists, and plough in the
blood and bone-meal of their forgotten dead. This is why we need a
president of irrefutable public virtue, not an unrepentant leader from
some of the most terrible episodes this country has ever known. There
are some questions — such as, When did you stop beating your wife, or
blowing people up? — that we should never be able to ask of a
president of Ireland. If we can, then we have the wrong person.