Forgetting Over Memory

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting – Milan Kundera

There must be easier tasks than trying to reconcile the new Martin McGuinness with his old self. Having observed him from the that bygone era when he was described as the single biggest threat to the British state (long before Jonathan Powell awarded the accolade to the late Brian Keenan) to the present where he has come to be regarded as a linchpin of the British administration in the North has been a flip flop experience. A comparable event would be watching Ian Paisley celebrate mass for the late John Paul II in Rome’s St Peter’s Basilica.

A member of the British Police Service of Northern Ireland journeying in his car narrowly escapes death, the result of a booby trap bomb attached to his vehicle by republicans who believe, perhaps because somebody in authority told them, that ‘our position is clear and it will never never never change. The war against British rule must continue until freedom is achieved.’ McGuinness now a Stormont micro minister exercising some power devolved by the British rushes to condemn those who carried out the attack. In a less than laudable victory for forgetting over memory he further calls for anyone with information about the attack to inform the British police about it. Names like Franko Hegarty and Paddy Flood spring to mind as I ponder on who might have sent them to their graves for supposedly doing just that - providing information to the British police.

Being critical of the attack is fine. It stood not even a snowball’s chance in hell of gaining anything. Had the bombers succeeded in their intent their sole achievement would have been the inclusion of one more statistic in the excellent Lost Lives tome. Measured on a republican index, not much more than McGuinness and his colleagues achieved despite countless bombs under cars.

The grounds on which McGuinness made the condemnation, rather than being critical per se, are what animated the face pullers and more than a few others. Visiting the injured cop in hospital McGuinness said the bombers were ‘without mandate and represented no one.’ This set him up for a well planted kick in the swingers from Fionnuala O’Connor who commented that ‘when McGuinness led the IRA's bombers most people thought the same of him and the IRA.’

The charade quickly becomes full blown pantomime when it is considered that McGuinness only ever admits to having been a member of the IRA at a time when its political wing had not a solitary vote. This leaves him by his own admission having served as a leader of an organisation which ‘without mandate’ placed bombs beneath the cars of British police officers in the North.

McGuinness’s call for informers to come forward echoes that of the former Official IRA chief of Staff, Cathal Goulding, who in the autumn of 1983 can be found supporting the supergrass system then in use in the North. That too was supposed to advance republicanism. Then McGuinness and his circle blew raspberries at Goulding’s suggestion. Today the Goulding perspective is given a fair wind rather than a foul one because the Provisional movement now resembles the Officials in everything but decommissioning – the Official IRA never having surrendered its weapons.

The one serious difference that armed struggle republicans see in Martin McGuinness is that from being a senior figure in a movement that sentenced many people to death for informing on republicans to a British police service in the North, he has become a strong supporter of those willing to inform on republicans to a British police service in the North.

Regrettably, armed republicanism in its insular world is unlikely to listen to anyone urging it to quit clinging to the wreckage of a failed armed struggle. But the chances of it ever listening to those who once urged republicans to bomb the Brits but who now propose touting to the Brits are as slim as the probability of bombing their way to a united Ireland. A different Sinn Fein leadership - from the current bomb damaged one - making the case would at least shorten the odds.

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