In Hot Dispute

Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein maintained the combative tone towards the media yesterday which he has adopted since launching his campaign for the presidency of the Irish Republic. The first few days of his campaign have featured a number of radio and television appearances during which he has been aggressive towards interviewers, especially when questioned about his IRA past ... He spoke of "west Brit" elements in the media and elsewhere, using the term which republicans use pejoratively about Irish people they accuse of having excessive sympathy towards Britain - David McKittrick.

Sinn Fein’s intervention in the presidential election campaign had barely taken off before it allowed instinct to take over. Maligning and sheer bad temperedness made its way into the fray, enhancing the menacing character of the party at a time when something much less abrasive would not go amiss.

Those who simply do not accept Sinn Fein’s narrative on the role of Martin McGuinness in the North’s armed conflict are being shown the party’s fangs with journalists being labelled West Brits, political opponents consigned to the sewer, and some former IRA prisoners being awarded ‘zero credibility’ when it comes to commenting on Sinn Fein. All right for shooting people with the party’s approval, doing the blanket and hunger strikes but not to have an unapproved opinion.  Heretics one and all.

There are echoes in this of the occasion when Squinter in the Andersonstown News fired a pretty strong salvo the way of the then West Belfast MP. The self proclaimed ‘how dare you’ mob hurriedly assembled a posse to pursue him and force an apology from the paper which it was all too willing to make. That tactic is not going to work with a real media outside the nasty fiefdom of West Belfast. And the old ruse of accusing people of undermining the peace process has little purchasing power simply because the media were out of the traps quicker than Sinn Fein, suggesting that McGuinness’s bid for the presidency might in fact not be advantageous to the peace process.

Despite the democratic veneer it takes little more than a scratch to expose the deep layer of totalitarian sentiment that sits right beneath the surface of tolerance forever ready to erupt at the slightest sign of disagreement. Old green shirt habits die hard. These days it may not be politically chic to pistol whip people in clubs, tie them to chairs or surround their homes with a mob. The violent sanction when used must be applied with even greater discretion and caution than before. So the fall back position of snapping, snarling and smearing comes into play even though its value is diminishing as a result of being overplayed. And even here it is noticeable that some of the more waspish allegations have been withdrawn. What is wrong seemingly is not smearing but timing.

Regardless of what some media columnists might opine Martin McGuinness has every right to run for president. It would be a serious injustice were he not to have the same right as anybody else in the contest, just as it seems ridiculous that he can stand in an election where he cannot vote. However a right to run for office does not extend to a right to run into the ground the concept of free inquiry. Protest as he might that the past is the past and should not be revisited, he may as well stand like King Canute commanding the past to go back to where it belongs. He would be on stronger ground had his party not pressed for inquiries into the past of others, justifiable as such calls might be to the victims of British state violence.

Even if the ‘truth’ that emerges from any media exploration is something to be disputed, this does little to invalidate the time honoured processes of searching for it. Labelling public discussion and scrutiny in the most pejorative of fashions reflects a sinister censorious impulse. The Sinn Fein hopeful has a choice; he does not have to accept the verdict of his scrutinisers on his past. But he cannot be allowed to deny them the right to scrutinise.

Martin McGuinness is right to ask that his role in the Northern conflict be evaluated in the round. But part of that round is his involvement in the IRA. In arguing otherwise he is really seeking to use his involvement in the peace process to mask his IRA history. That hardly amounts to having his role judged in the round, just his second half performance.

As irascible as it may well cause him to be, his account that he had left the IRA in 1974 is hotly disputed. His claims are not simply challenged because people believe them to be true but want to cause him trouble all the same. They are contested on the grounds that they fail to make the grade in terms of accuracy. They jar with the voluminous weight of accumulated historical evidence put together over 40 years.

If Sinn Fein is serious in its protest that the past should be put out to graze, it would be well advised to desist from conjuring up the malevolent spirit of Section 31 which with its censorious zeal so haunted the party for two decades. Censorship should be banished to the past not imposed upon it.


  1. Good article mackers.

    Any feeling coming up from the deepest depths to wish him well is seriously tempered by SF treatment of so many in the ranks. Second half performance of SF in the conflict was even more disgraceful than Celtic last sunday, criminal!

    The Presidential race has become entertaining, but it leaves one skitso again, when pondering might it be a good idea to vote for McGuinness just to toss him in among the southern, cozy, cute hoors.

  2. As my dear departed ole Da used to say, "it's alright for a joke but it's no laugh."

    Meaning, I think, that it would be funny if it wasn't so serious.

    Here's Marty ranting and raving because the system he wants accepted by doesn't really like him. They won't give him recognition as a peacemaker and make him Ireland's equivalent of Nelson Mandela.

    However Mandela actually spent 27 years in prison while Marty did little more than the average rioter. And that was down south.

    What is galling about all this crap, is that Marty and Gerry are trying to distance themselves from the actions of the IRA, especially the bad things that happened. The bad old days they now call it, however thanks to them in their role as peacemakers the bad old days are a thing of the past.

    So are a lot of people; including many brave IRA volunteers who, if we are to believe the twosome, died so that Marty could move from Stormont to Áras an Uachtaráin like others would move house.

  3. well if defeated he could turn his hand to model making

  4. Veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne has stunned Irish television audiences by branding Sinn Fein’s Irish presidential candidate Martin McGuinness a liar.

    Mr Byrne, who considered running for the presidency, said in an interview on TV3: “I've always been a hater of Sinn Fein and a hater of the Provisional IRA and everything they stood for — and they don't like me either.

    “I've interviewed Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams and they are so well disciplined and so well honed that no interviewer gets anywhere with them.

    “You get nowhere with them because they lie.

    “They lie all the time. They don't mind lying and they've rehearsed their lies and they've been trained to lie, and that's what they're doing.”

    Mr Byrne finished up the interview on the Midweek programme by saying that “like so many other Irish people'', he had lost interest in the presidential election.

    He said that when he looks at Mr McGuinness, he does not think “statesman and politician”, but rather “former IRA man and former gunman”.

    He went on: “Do the Irish people want this guy to be head of the armed forces and all those connotations?

    “And under the Constitution there are many, many different things about which Sinn Fein, and he will wriggle, and weasel words as usual, because they're very, very good at doing that.”

    Meanwhile, Mr McGuinness claimed yesterday that he never killed anybody when he was in the IRA. Despite being repeatedly accused of being a member of the IRA Army Council and the Provisional's chief-of-staff during the Troubles, the former IRA leader in Londonderry insisted he was never indirectly responsible for somebody being killed.

    The Mid Ulster MP said he had not run away from his past and moved on to make peace with political opponents in the unionist parties.

    Speaking in Cork the Sinn Fein candidate said "I didn't say I never fired a gun - I was in the IRA. There were battles on the streets of Derry. I've never run away from that."

    When asked if he had killed anyone, he answered: "No."When asked if had been indirectly responsible for somebody being killed, he answered: "No."

    "But I'm not going to sensationalise in interviews with something that could then be used to the detriment of the peace process and to the detriment of my colleagues within government.

    "I have made my peace with unionist leaders. And I do think some people in the media down here, some elements... need to think about peacemaking and how they make their peace with me."

    But East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said Mr McGuinness’ statement that he had never killed anyone was “amongst the most absurd he has made”.

    He also again referred to the southern media and their response to his candidacy. "And I do think some people in the media down here; some elements... need to think about peacemaking and how they make their peace with me."

    Read more: http://www.belfastte...l#ixzz1Yt3jLp00

  5. I think me ole Da's saying was actually, "It's alright for a laugh but it's no joke."

    My old mind's playing tricks on me, making me forgetful at times. I could've swore Marty was still in the IRA when I was arrested in late 1976. And he still was in it when I got out...

    My goodness McGuinness! As they say.

  6. Áras an Uachtaráin, formerly known as the Vice Regal Lodge is the natural abode of IRA leaders who took the soup and turned carreerist.

    Martin belongs there, to be honest if the choice is to be between him and some weird, elitist child of privilege who's only previous constituancy was the alumni of Trinity College, then I say let him have it. It will cause some serious introspection amongst Ireland's bourgoise. It will be funny.

    Looking at the seven candidates, there is none I would like to vote for anyway. So just for the sheer badness of it, McGuinness has my vote.

    A joke head of a joke state.


  7. Dixie thinks he is a hardliner because he spent p.o.w time in the six counties- he is actually trying to ridicule p.o.w's who done time in what he terms as the south-

  8. Rory

    i'm in a similar quandry myself. They have us all skitzo. But when i get my M.A. and am snug in a university or language academy in Asia, it would be nice to see the free state delusionists being confronted by the nordy SF delusionist, from afar of course and obviously in the Tokyo coppy of The Irish Times...naturally.

    On Dunphy's show today it was aknowledged that the GFA was, as far as southerners were concerned, a device to consolidate partition and end the shadow of violence cast across the border.

    The longer this contest goes on the more SF will be 'outed' by the FG D4 ilk like McGuinness was outed in 'the war is over' revelation at Westminster.

    Question is, will it matter....not to me in Tokyo, ill be more interested in how much i glow in the dark.

    Vote him in, southern west brits and nordy partitionists should be happy together.

  9. Rory,
    sorry to disagree, I think society would be better of with the elitist privilged child, at least we would get what it says on the tin.
    Patrick Murphy had an excellent column in the Irish News yesterday about the tale of the two Sinn Feins. The radical one in the South and the go along with anything in the North.

  10. Larry,
    that must be the longest MA in history! I thought you had passed it and just could not bear to be parted from us.

  11. Fionnual

    longest surely, i'll be 50 when i graduate. Sure you'll be relieved to know I'll lob the odd comment into the mix courtesey of the 'worldwide web'.

  12. Michaelhenry,

    for the life of me I can't understand what you are talking about, I read Dixie's post and it is as far removed from what you say as black is from white

  13. Michaelhenry,

    sorry. I read the wrong post. At times jail in the South could be much worse than in the North

  14. Larry,
    I was only having a laugh, fair play to you, there's room for improvement at any age.

    I don't think there were many jails worse than the H Blocks.
    Devils Island maybe!

  15. Nuala,

    Portlaoise was really bad for a time. The screws were into brutality in a big way. I remember Pat Ward almost died on hunger strike there

  16. Hold your horses a minute here...

    When I said 'and that was down South' regarding Marty's imprisonment I wasn't saying that prisons down there were any better or worse than in the North.

    I was saying that Marty didn't do time where the War was raging; in the North.

    However if it made mick henry's day....

  17. Mackers,
    I imagine McGuinness's disarmimg charms would have gotten him through.

    I really don't envy michaelhenry trying to defend the indefensible.

  18. Would he guy who scheduled the trains for Auschwitz be any more guilty than Marty Mc Guinness isint it time we started calling a spade a spade !

  19. Dixie,

    sometimes, often in fact, Michaelhenry is reluctant to confront the issue head on and ends up on a tangent. I think he senses many of the contradictions at play in the party's perspective. I couldn't understand what he was talking about because I read the wrong post. When I read the other post from you I got it then. Although I don't share his view. Too many of us who went through the blocks were aware of the very harsh regimes that existed in other jails

  20. Nuala,

    it was relaxed enough in Portlaoise by all accounts up until the escape which Martin didn't go on even though he was in the jail at the time. But he had probably left the IRA by then! It got really bad after that. There were prolonged hunger strikes in 1975 and 77.

  21. more from phil the scotchman

    The Felon’s Club.
    By: Phil Mac Giolla Bhain
    In my younger days I often frequented a rather exclusive gentleman’s club in North Belfast.

    I wasn’t a full member, but I did enjoy the rather distinctive ambience. The Felon’s club in New Lodge was, like its name same on Andy Town road, a social club run by chaps who had served time for political offences connected to the Irish Republican cause. For them the term “felon” was a badge of honour. I get that. It’s in my blood.

    My grandmother’s two brothers were interned in Britain in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. When they were returned to Mayo Mick Collins knew he had two men in the Wesht that he could rely on. The War of Independence IRA was gathered together and trained by the British.

    Gaol time has often acted as a university course of Irish revolutionaries. When I would return to York University where I was reading for a degree in Politics and sociology I had to get used to a much lower level of debate and erudition than I had enjoyed when exploring the Northern situation with graduates of Long Kesh in the Felon’s Club. I have one cherished memory when once refereed a heated debate between two fellas who couldn’t agree on the literary significance of Maxim Gorky!

    I rather suspect such disputes were not taking place in Loyalist establishments…

    There is a long and distinguished list of heads of state who, in their younger days, were political prisoners. As the British Empire dismembered in the mid-20th century many of those countries’ future leaders would study and prepare for the coming burden of high office in a prison cell.

    Martin McGuiness was certainly a political prisoner in 1973.

    He was sentenced to six months in the “Special Criminal Court” in Dublin.

    Refusing to recognise the non-jury court he said:

    “We have fought against the killing of our people… I am a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann and very, very proud of it!”

  22. When he was imprisoned by the Irish state they were clear and he was clear that he was in the IRA.

    Now he has unfettered access to the corridors of power at Leinster House and the Palace of Westminster.

    There isn’t, of course, anything new in any of this on the island of Ireland.

    Eamonn De Valera knew what it was to be a prisoner of the British and the Irish Free State. He was the last prisoner to be held in Kilmainham

    Sean T O’Kelly, the second President of Ireland, was also a felon in his youth. In Easter week 1916 he was staff captain to Patrick Pearse and although he avoided court-martial by the British he was arrested and interned in England.

    Both these fenian felons would later become Uachtarán na hÉireann.

    The attraction of Martin McGuiness to many ordinary people in the 26 county area wasn’t that he was once in the IRA or, by his own admission, “fired a gun”, but he isn’t seen as part of the political establishment that has beggared this society and indebted our grandchildren.

    The Northern Bank robbery of 2004 now looks like a tuck shop heist next to what was perpetrated against the Irish tax payer in the late months of 2008. The bank bailout and the “Anglo job” would have old lag Ronnie Biggs green with envy.

    I would expect British journalists and commentators to recoil in horror at the thought of a onetime street revolutionary becoming head of state in Ireland.

    However I did expect more historical awareness of Irish history from the Dublin media.

    Ok, my bad.

    In this topsy turvy world we could even be getting opinion formers within political unionism and, indeed, loyalism saying to the southern comentariat:

    “Why can’t McGuinness be your president? He could be our First Minister?”

    Northern Ireland statelet heads for its centenary. Partition is a reality on this island.

    It created two societies.

    As well as the C criminal justice being deformed to cope with the war situation journalism and the free press was also a casualty.

    It is always the first casualty and Orwellian lies had to be told about the Republican Movement if they were to be defeated.

    For a while, as Prime Ministers Thatcher’s reign of error descended into insanity, British TV viewers could see Martin McGuinness’ face and could see his lips move, but an actor had to say the words.

    In the 26 counties the censorship of Republicans was longer and much more damaging.

    During the Northern War Section 31 of the broadcasting act banned Sinn Fein representatives from the national media. There are many senior media people now, at the top of their organisations that came into the media trade after Section 31 was in force.

    Brought in in 1971 it led to the entire Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) authority being sacked that year and the imprisonment of RTÉ’s Kevin O Kelly.

    His crime was that he had interviewed IRA chief of staff Sean Mac Stiofain.

    Section 31 was it was heavily strengthened in 1977 by Labour’s Conor Cruise O’Brien.

    There probably wasn’t another democracy in Western Europe with such state censorship at the time.

    Despite it being repealed in 1993 many of them still don’t get it.

    They never left the easy world of Section 31.

    They still don’t see Sinn Fein representatives with a democratic mandate as bona fide.

    In many ways President McGuinness is the sum of all of their fears.

  23. During the Northern War Section 31 of the broadcasting act banned Sinn Fein representatives from the national media. There are many senior media people now, at the top of their organisations that came into the media trade after Section 31 was in force.

    Brought in in 1971 it led to the entire Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) authority being sacked that year and the imprisonment of RTÉ’s Kevin O Kelly.

    His crime was that he had interviewed IRA chief of staff Sean Mac Stiofain.

    Section 31 was it was heavily strengthened in 1977 by Labour’s Conor Cruise O’Brien.

    There probably wasn’t another democracy in Western Europe with such state censorship at the time.

    Despite it being repealed in 1993 many of them still don’t get it.

    They never left the easy world of Section 31.

    They still don’t see Sinn Fein representatives with a democratic mandate as bona fide.

    In many ways President McGuinness is the sum of all of their fears.

    Since McGuinness announced his candidacy the Dublin media have worked themselves up into a frenzy.

    I spoke with a good friend, Dublin based Sinn féin activist, and I said to him that his party should not attempt to interrupt the anti McGuinness elements in the media while they were self-harming. The ordinary people of the 26 counties would keep their own counsel on the matter. These are the same folk that waited for Fianna Fail in the long grass and culled 48 of their TDs at the last election.

    Forty eight…

    I think the Derry man in Áras an Uachtaráin, copper fastens the Belfast Agreement, it further reconnects North and South and it will finally, I hope, kill a nasty censorial strain within Dublin based journalism.

    Martin McGuinness is also, by a country mile, the most able of all of the candidates to an extent that it is almost unfair to make a comparison.

    It is for these reasons that he will receive my “Number One”.

    I hope that once more Uachtarán na hÉireann will be the office of First Felon.

  24. AM
    sorry i could not put up the whole
    together as im not as PC literate as you guys