Who is McGuinness to talk of treachery?

Published in the Independent on Sunday, 15 March, 2009.

Many years ago I looked up to Martin McGuinness. Most within the ranks of the Provisional IRA did likewise. When we were just moving into our teens, he was the republican Adonis strutting the streets of Derry with martial airs, putting it up to the military might of the British with whatever armed prowess he could muster. When he travelled to London in 1972 along with five other IRA commanders for talks with the British government’s William Whitelaw, it seemed proof positive that the armed struggle which had whisked the IRA delegation across the Irish Sea would soon keep the British on their own side of it.

Later, when I went to prison to serve a life sentence for a killing carried out on behalf of the IRA and ended up on the blanket protest which led to the hunger strike deaths of ten republican volunteers including Bobby Sands, we held Martin McGuinness in no less esteem. We regarded him as our chief of staff directing a campaign that was at the time knocking over British soldiers and police officers like pins in a bowling alley.

Watching him earlier this week stand with a British chief constable and British First Minister for a British-run North of Ireland, himself now a British micro minister, I ruminated on the crossover he had made. Standing alongside these implacable opponents of everything he had at one time fought for, he was now denouncing as ‘traitors’ those who had believed him when for years he had proclaimed the IRA the cutting edge of republican resistance. Like a chastened moral dwarf in the land of the giants, there he was screaming ‘midget’ at everybody else.

My respect for him had already dwarfed in the intervening years commensurate to his diminishing republican status. I cannot claim surprise, having predicted it both publicly and privately for the last 15 years. The leadership’s ambivalent attitude to the non-republican document, the Downing Street Declaration of December 1993, was the writing on the wall. And it spelled ‘capitulation.’

Since then, beginning with an article in Fortnight, the North’s main political journal, I sought to question the direction in which the struggle was moving. For the first year things were okay. Wearing an academic hat for cover I could write and comment pretty much as I wanted. By November 1994 the squeeze was on. At an academic conference I had predicted the type of outcome we have today. Summoned to the Sinn Fein headquarters in Belfast by a friend and colleague, I was asked how it was possible for me to have arrived at such a damning indictment of the leadership’s strategy. Despite the obvious logic of the trajectory about to be embarked upon, I was rapidly becoming a ‘thought criminal’.

Not to be deterred from thinking, the following year I received the most sustained applause of the day at a packed conference in Dublin when I alerted the audience of around 1000 party members that there was only one terminus on the road we had taken - defeat. Although Martin McGuinness was at that conference, it was when Gerry Adams also clapped for me I knew the Judas kiss had been planted on my cheek.

For the next three years I found myself visited by leadership figures and ‘invited’ to be silent. They were wasting their time as much as I was wasting my own in trying to convince my fellow activists of what was afoot.

On the evening of the Good Friday Agreement, Jeremy Paxman asked me in a Belfast television studio what was my problem with the agreement. My response was as terse as it was accurate: it constituted a British declaration of intent to stay in Ireland when the IRA’s objective had been to secure a declaration of intent to withdraw. The party leadership was infuriated. That fury percolated down and soon enough nearly everybody else in the party waxed furious. I parted ways with the organisation I had been a member of for twenty five years.

The Real IRA had formed some months before the agreement. I never felt the slightest inclination to join up. It appeared inappropriately named. The Make Believe IRA seemed a more accurate way to characterise it. Not because its volunteers lacked commitment or experience, but if the Provisional IRA campaign had failed so completely there seemed nothing to suggest to me that any other IRA would reverse that situation.

Despite the killings of two British soldiers and one police officer in the past week by the combined gun power of the Real and Continuity IRAs, there is absolutely no reason for me to change my mind. Political in motivation and republican in ideology, the IRAs who picked up the baton dropped by the IRA which Martin McGuinness once led have no serious degree of republican political support. They constitute a much less robust militarily efficient organisation than the Provisional IRA.

Their sense of having been sold out by people like Martin McGuinness goes some way towards explaining why they behave as they do. But they are also sustained by the republican tradition of physical force. And within that tradition there is an unshakable belief that so long as there is a British presence in any part of Ireland republicans will always be justified in bearing arms to strike at Britain and its forces.

Those of us who have ‘been there and done that’ and who can bear testimony to the utter futility of militarism look on events with a mixture of angst and guilt. Angst because of the lives being destroyed; guilt because the logic we preached in the Provisional IRA is their logic. Treading in our footsteps they will secure the same defeat, but for Martin McGuinness to denounce them as traitors for following the example he set for decades is to commit an act of treachery against truth.


  1. As someone who when very much younger would've had mcguinness in and out of my parents,for safety and security reasons I didn't even know him as martin it was different name we were told.

    I feel the sense of frustration people have about this hypocrite. If he was on fire I wouldn't cross the road to put him out, I'd be in the shop buying a bag of sugar to help the flames.

    I know that we have differences of opinion on the merits of armed struggle. But is it more that armed struggle as a tool was effective and that it was the leadership was that let us down, the rank and file were lied to hoodwinked spun half truths the most stage managed nonsense that I have ever witnesses.

    The sell out of the republican struggle has been carried out by those who now in their own warped way would portray those who never deviated from their beliefs as traitors. As Sean Keenan a true Derry republican legend once said follow the movement not the man because the man will let you down, and Sean's words ring true more so now than ever.

  2. A country's right to unconditional independence is not open to discussion, but if it is discussed, bullets will be the language exchanged... We must use the same language [of the occupier] to be understood..."
    —Pedro Albizu Campos
    The Fenian of Latin America

    I have quoted from a compatriot who gave years of his life for Eire after the Rising in 1916. And if I may be so bold, I'm compelled to say you underestimate the formidable power of your own tradition of physical force, as well as the empowering motivation of believing that so long as there is a foreign presence in one's land the occupied feel justified in bearing arms. It is--fortunately or unfortunately depending on your views--a very human sentiment, tried & true through the histories of a multitude of nations, right up to present day nations like Palestine & Puerto Rico.

    If it turns out that Eire again will follow the same human inclinations other people's have followed, what can you advise? To all those who look to Eire for the inspiration provided by the very traditions you once preached what can you say to dissuade them?

    Thank you so much for permitting me to opine.

    Tiocfaidh ár lá.

  3. I think I forgot to add a url on my comment.If you decide to post my comment can you please add:

    thanks again.

  4. Balor, if your comment about McGuinness that ‘If he was on fire I wouldn't cross the road to put him out, I'd be in the shop buying a bag of sugar to help the flames’ – if that was said by SF about yourself you might have grounds for thinking it was hate crime. I will cite in full the comment from someone who supports SF on an earlier thread:

    ‘As an Irish Republican who has been active for over twenty years and who now supports the Sinn Fein leadership, I find it incredible how some people are aghast at Martin's traitor comments. The interesting thing is that for 25 and decreasing in years depending on when you departed the movement these same people have been calling Martin and the likes of me traitors, sell outs, cowards and even scum. I just think people believe that they have the right to say and do what they like but we are supposed to just take it.’

    Your comment confirms his/her contention that it is a two way street.

  5. Aye but I'm right and they're wrong ;o)

    I have no regard for mcguinness as a man or a politican, to me he makes gilmour look like an altar boy.

    This is a man who couldn't be honest with his own followers, never mind the public, he couldn't even come clean over bloody sunday.

    And of course it is a two way street, we will have very different outlooks, I can only balance their position against what was sold as true by them and what I know in my heart to be true, the struggle was about freedom not parity of esteem within a british parliament. So in terms of national freedom what has changed, nothing is the answer, indeed the gfa is anti republican!

    Your quote from a Sinn fein supporter is nothing less than can be expected after all if, as you did, attempt to think outside of the box you get pushed out. Milgrams 37 comes to mind!

    When you take it step further and make political headway against the provos what happens? do you end up under house arrest like Gerry McGeough on charges over 2 decades old. Or have your wife daughters and son maced then beaten in your own living as you get beaten to a pulp like Michael Donnelly one of the hooded men who suffered severe brutality as an internee at the hands of the british, only to suffer brutal treatment at the hands of the provisional movement under the control of guess who! AM, your good self also had to face those right thinking individuals in Sinn Fein when they picketed your home.

    I leave you with a wee quote from the man of the moment himself, and how he can justify his current stance and his comments about republicans after uttering these words is beyond belief.

    "British rule depends upon repression and collaboration and the Irish people should recognise that those who collaborate with Britain in exchange for a slice of the cake will implement British policy and remain silent when Irish people are murdered and oppressed. It is they who are responsible for prolonging the war in Ireland. Without the quislings, without the collaborators, we would already have reached freedom."

  6. Is it possible to put a time and place on that quote from McGuinness? I think its amazing the change in the P.S.F. leaderships political direction these days and while I know we are all allowed to change opinions as we develop the change in P.S.F. direction has been the cause of major tremors within Republican grass roots.I also remember Mackers being critisised for "not allowing people to change" as he used to hang various leaders on their past words but I can see where Mackers was coming from as it wasnt just about people changing it was more fundamental than that as he was talking about a leadership trying to rewrite the republican tradition into their own version and yet it was their first preachings that got people killed and in turn directed Republicans to kill which is why today so many republicans are badly messed up in their heads! I can mind reading something Brendan Hughes said about how Mackers and Tommy Gorman had shown great moral courage at a time most of us were afraid to and I have to acknowledge that as well and I hope Mackers keeps on provoking us to think and debate on issues that affect us all...keep up the good work Mackers!

  7. The McGuinness Quote details are:
    Bodenstown, June 26 1986 (AP/RN)

    Here's a few more eye openers
    "The IRA Needs no political mandate,it derives its mandate from the presence of the British in the six counties"
    Gerry Adams 1986

    "There can be no such things as an Irish nationalist accepting the loyalist veto and partition. You cannot claim to be an Irish nationalist if you consent to an internal six county settlement and if you are willing to negotiate the state of Irish society with a foreign government."

    - Gerry Adams, November 22 1984 (AP/RN)

    -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

    "No Irish nationalist could support any treaty which institutionalizes British government claims to a part of Irish national territory. Indeed, the term - 'constitutional nationalism'- used by Mr.Mallon (SDLP) and his colleagues to describe their political philosophy is a contradiction in terms. The only constitutional nationalist in Ireland today is Sean McBride. He puts his nationalism within a framework of Irish constitutionality. Mr. Mallon, however, puts his within the framework of British constitutionality. Irish nationalism within British constitutionality is a contradiction in terms."

    - Gerry Adams, 1986
    ("The Politics of Irish Freedom", Gerry Adams, Brandon Book Publishers, Ltd., Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland 1986, page 112, lines 26-35. NOTE: REMOVED FROM 1995 and 1996 EDITIONS).

    "Armed struggle is a necessary and morally correct form of resistance in the six counties against a government whose presence is rejected by the vast majority of the Irish people".

    "There is those who tells us that the British Government will not be removed by armed struggle. As has been said before, the history of Ireland and of British colonial involvement throughout the world tells us that they will not be moved by anything else".

    - Gerry Adams, 1986 (1986 Ard Fheis, AP/RN)

    -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

    "Republicans are prepared to work an executive. We are really prepared to administer British rule in Ireland for the foreseeable future. The very principle of partition is accepted, and if the Unionists had had that in the 1920s they would have been laughing."

    - Francie Molloy, Provisional Sinn Fein, March 28 1999 (London Sunday Times)

  8. Aoife, something not open to discussion seems fascistic to me

  9. Balor, I am only too well aware of the lies and the intimidation. I don’t believe any of it invalidates what I had to say in relation to your comment