Few public figures provoke such diverse reactions to mention of their name as those who have made the journey from violent dissent to embracing the political process, and those who made that journey during what were, in a statement of monumental understatement, called The Troubles in Northern Ireland, are no exception. So when Republican leader Martin McGuinness died yesterday, not everyone mourned his passing.
Martin McGuinness - beyond light and shade
McGuinness had grown up in Derry during a period where the Catholic and Nationalist tradition in Northern Ireland experienced vicious bigotry at the hands of the Protestant and Unionist majority. Catholics were second class citizens, denied basic civil rights, including voting rights. The abusive repression, often exercised through the Police or their hated part-time backup, the “B Specials”, eventually provoked a furious backlash.
Peaceful protests in support of civil rights were violently curtailed. Successive Westminster Governments took little notice of the problem. By the time they did take notice, the Provisional IRA had become established within the Nationalist community, paramilitary groups were organising on the Unionist side, the army was deployed, and some seriously bad ideas had been tried - like internment - only to make matters worse.
Spot the difference - the English Sun ...
McGuinness was an IRA commander and was undoubtedly responsible for many of what were collectively called atrocities: punishment beatings and murders were all too common. But he was also someone who, at an early stage in The Troubles, the Westminster Government and security forces were talking to. Then came the move by the former IRA men to end the armed struggle and make their cause a solely political one.
What happened during those years in Northern Ireland cannot be blamed on any one group, to one tradition rather than the other. It was too complex a story to simplify, and McGuinness’ journey was typical of that complexity. He took part in some terrible acts, but brought his community to the negotiating table and took on the responsibility, with the Unionist tradition, of governing Northern Ireland for the benefit of all its people.
... and the rather different Irish edition
Acknowledging that journey proved to be beyond some commentators yesterday, and has proved equally difficult for some in the press today. Typical of this difficulty is that shown by the Murdoch Sun, with its front page rant “As McGuinness Dies … Soldier’s Ordeal … UNFORGIVEN … IRA killer can go to hell, say families … Fury as ’74 veteran faces IRA death rap”. What the Murdoch goons have not told their readers is that the man who got killed was an unarmed civilian with learning difficulties.
Still, details, eh? The Sun has to be the soldier’s friend at all times, or rather in England it does. In Ireland, the €1 Irish Sun strikes a very different tone, quoting the widow of Ian Paisley, so long the “Dr No” of the Unionist tradition, simply saying of McGuinness “IT’S NOT HOW YOU BEGIN … IT’S HOW YOU END”. The supporting article begins with a one word description of the former IRA commander: “PEACEMAKER”.
The inability of our free and fearless press to understand that Northern Ireland is a story beyond tabloid simplicity is one thing. The puke-making hypocrisy is of a different order entirely. This lamentably bad journalism serves no-one’s cause. Don’t buy the Sun.