Moral Monsters

Via The Transcripts Michael Reade is joined in the studio by Anthony McIntyre, former IRA Volunteer now author, historian and political commentator, to discuss the life and times of Martin McGuinness.

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(begins time stamp ~45:45)

Michael: As you know, Martin McGuinness is going to be laid to rest today and a man who is seen by many different people in many different ways. I think we’re going to hear a different perspective on the life and times of Martin McGuinness now. Anthony McIntyre is himself a former IRA Volunteer, a former IRA prisoner. He spent eighteen years in Long Kesh, four years of that on the blanket involved in what would have been known as the ‘dirty protest’ as such and the protest that led, indeed, to the hunger strikes. You can also read Anthony McIntyre’s thoughts on his blog, The Pensive Quill. And he’s living in Drogheda these days. He’s come in to us in the studio this morning. And you won’t be going north of the border to attend the funeral of Martin McGuinness, possibly for a number of reasons, but one of the reasons being that you might be arrested yourself because of the Boston Tapes, which are now notorious.

Anthony: Well that’s – I think that’s pretty accurate you know and I also tend to joke at times: I don’t go to funerals because they won’t be going to mine and so I … but no, I’m not traveling north to the funeral and I mean I hope it passes off peacefully and that there’s no sort of ridiculous protests against it or people putting up slogans because they didn’t like him or expressions that they hope people burn in Hell which is, I think, the result of a peculiar infection from religious hatred and that we’ve seen a lot of. It’s only religious people that believe in ‘burn in Hell’. I’ve seen people saying on Facebook that they’re rejoicing in his death. And I’m not religious. I don’t rejoice in human suffering. I think if I were to welcome his death at all it’s only for the relief that he got at the end of a long process of suffering.

Michael: Anthony, yourself and Martin McGuinness had ideological differences but you’re from pretty much the same origins are you not in that, at one time, both of you would have been described as men of violence, men responsible for killings? You were sent to Long Kesh for an IRA killing yourself. When did you first get to meet Martin McGuinness?

Anthony: Well I got to meet Martin face-to-face during – I interviewed him in 1995 when I was doing a PhD and he agreed to meet me. And then I met him after that in Dublin and we discussed the interview that he had given to me. And then – I mean I found him very likable – very, very pleasant. And in later years he was very critical of me as I was of him and…

…He called you a ‘dissident’. You called him a traitor.

Anthony: Well I didn’t call him a traitor as such. I tend to avoid that sort of language. I find it very emotive. But he certainly abandoned Republicanism. And he called me a ‘dissident’. But he called me much worse. He put out falsehoods about me in relation to the McCartney Sisters and stuff and they were demonstrable falsehoods. So there was a serious ideological gulf, or at least a gulf in terms of opinion, between myself and Martin McGuinness. But yes, we did come from the same stable. We were people who believed in the use of violent Republicanism. But I would also say that Edmund Burke, the conservative philosopher, once said that people sleep easily in their beds or peacefully in their beds because rough men stand by ready to do violence on their behalf. And Martin McGuinness was a person ready to do violence. But he wasn’t a moral monster. He took up arms against British state terrorism – against a very repressive British state. As he said himself he wasn’t a Republican because the Christian Brothers made him one. Four key events made him a Republican according to his earlier testimony and that was: The RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) murder of Samuel Devenney, the Duke Street beatings of people on protest, the British Army slaying of Seamus Cusack and the British Army slaying of Desmond Beattie in Doire in 1971. So these events made – they were monstrous moral acts that made Martin McGuinness into the person that was prepared to stand up against the British and use arms against them.

Michael: And he made the point himself that people like Nelson Mandela would have taken up arms opposed to oppression and that it was commonplace and a legitimate form of opposing an occupation as he’d have seen it as indeed you did yourself.

Anthony: Very much so.

Michael: What role did he have in the IRA?

Anthony: Well I mean he started out – he was an early Commander in Doire. He later went on to lead the Doire IRA. In 1976 he became the, after his release from prison and around the autumn of 1976 when the IRA formed the Northern Command, he became its Operations Officer responsible for operations throughout The North, The Six Counties. When Gerry Adams was arrested in 1978, February 1978, Martin McGuinness was appointed Chief of Staff. And I notice in the Irish Times today Liam Clarke’s wife has said that he replaced Adams in that position as Chief of Staff of the IRA. He was Chief of Staff of the IRA from that point until October-November 1982 so he had a tenure as Chief of Staff of five years. He was our Chief of Staff at the time of the hunger strikes when Mickey Devine and Bobby Sands and the other boys died.

Michael: Because he had always said that he had left the IRA in 1974.

Anthony: He did which wasn’t true; it was a falsehood. But he did say he was in it. There’s others that deny they were ever in it. I think that – and I’ve always thought why Martin picked 1974 – and I have a belief that he knows that, given the outcome that he signed up to, it’s very, very hard to justify the IRA campaign from 1974 given that the outcome was so similar to .... he settled for something that he rejected in 1974: – the Unionists also rejected it also – very much so – I think that’s why he picked that year because he sort of knows  it's very, very hard to justify an IRA campaign post ’74.

Michael: I was talking to Dermot Ahern yesterday who was reminding us of the meetings that he had secretly with the IRA back as far as 1988 and how there continued to be contacts through the years but that the path to peace, as he saw it, was only a prospect in 1994 when Martin McGuinness came to the table.

Anthony: No, I don’t believe that to be the case. I think Gerry Adams had been sending – even the night that they were burying Jim Lynagh and Gerry Adams was speaking at Jim Lynagh’s funeral and threatening all sort of repercussions for powerful people in the British state and Ireland – that very night he was dispatching Alex Reid off to Charlie Haughey outlining the terms under which the IRA would consider a ceasefire. No, in terms of delivering the peace process I think Gerry would have been the more influential of the two and certainly in terms of the intellectual development of the peace process. I think Martin’s role in it was that as the key IRA person there was a belief that he would not let the IRA down – that he would not abandon the IRA. And he had been very, very forceful in his discourse. He had condemned earlier peace efforts. He described the efforts of Dáithí Ó Conaill and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh as shameful and accused them of selling out and that was in 1986 only eight years before the IRA ceasefire.

Michael: And that was the split.

Anthony: Yeah, well there was a split at that time, a manageable split from the point of view of Sinn Féin and the IRA…

Michael: …Yes, to Republican Sinn Féin…

…and the formation later of the Continuity IRA, yes. But I think that Martin’s role was that he was seen as the IRA leader. There were lots of people, and this happens in Republican politics – that if you start to float political ideas people will suspect you of selling out. I think when people were suspicious of Adams, or lots of people were suspicious of Gerry Adams, that Gerry was more political despite Gerry’s own military past and Martin was the guy that, you know, the rock that we could rely upon and then as Martin moves on others will come in and they’ll be the rock. And eventually you know the whole thing was whittled away. I mean Martin’s role was more of chief negotiator but he didn’t negotiate too well. And if you look at what he negotiated, and this’ll probably be what he’s remembered for, he negotiated the very thing, he negotiated into existence the very thing he spent his life fighting against: He negotiated an internal solution to the problems in The North under British sovereignty. And I mean that’s one of the reasons that I’m very critical of the political line that he and the others took because I do not see how this settlement, as much as I’m glad that the war ended, I do not see how this settlement can justify the awful violence…

…Now why do you think he did that, Anthony? I mean you said you didn’t describe him as a traitor but you clearly believe that he betrayed the beliefs and principles that led to the campaign. And that it was because Martin McGuinness was seen as a rock that he was able to take people with him which is why you see him as such a significant player in that peace process as it’s called. But if you didn’t call him a traitor you certainly insinuated that he betrayed those beliefs and ideals and that he was subordinate to the Unionists and the British occupiers.

Anthony: Well, I’m not shying away from things that I’ve called him. Probably when I’ve a drink or two in me I’ve called him worse…

Michael: …(laughs) Okay…

Anthony: …than a traitor – which even he’d probably forgive me for. But you know I’ve been very harsh in my criticisms of him but I tend, and I’m sure there’s exceptions, but I tend not to use the term ‘traitor’ because I find it very, very emotive and I think that Martin McGuinness – you see, in many ways Martin McGuinness started out life not as an ideological Republican. He says very early that he did not blame the Brit – sorry – he didn’t understand the role of Downing Street at the start of the conflict. Many Republicans would see him – you’ll find this in early discourses of Gerry Kelly and people like that whereas Adams, in a sense, was a pre-1969 Republican with some sense of Republican ideology and I think Martin came in to a conflict, was brought into it. He latched onto the IRA and the IRA’s discourse, he became a senior member of it, he articulated the struggle and the actions and justified those actions in terms of IRA ideology but ultimately he came to the position, through force of circumstance – I don’t think he ever converted to the ethics or the ethos of peace – I think he converted to the politics of the peace process which is a different thing.

I think the IRA campaign failed. It failed to coerce the British state out of Ireland. The British succeeded in bringing the IRA and Sinn Féin to the principle where they now insisted there could only be unity by consent which sort of rubbishes the IRA campaign. And I think Martin, as a key IRA leader along with others who were central to that sort of IRA life, would have knew the limitations. And the IRA were heavily penetrated and I mean the campaign – I remember being at a debate in London and John Chilcot, who had done the inquiry into the war in Iraq, a pretty substantial figure, and he had been at the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) at one time and he had said that really, by the end of the 90’s, the British were not that concerned about the IRA. That they knew they had the measure of the IRA and probably knew it less from the IRA’s operational capacity, which still existed, but from the messages that were being sent by McGuinness and Adams to them. So I think Martin did abandon all his Republican beliefs and went for the constitutional nationalist position but I don’t think he – I mean he managed the IRA defeat and he managed it quite well and he turned it into a Sinn Féin success.

Michael: Do you find it hard to believe the event that’s about to unfold today? I mean it’s one thing to imagine President Higgins attending this funeral today or Bill Clinton for that matter but it’s another thing to think of Enda Kenny or Arlene Foster or Tony Blair attending.

Anthony: Well I think that what’s happening here is that the political class, in some sense – and this is a very choreographed funeral – the political class is endorsing or authenticating really the hegemony of its position in the fact that Martin McGuinness, here we bury the man who has really authenticated everything we ever said, that there was only the – a united Ireland could never come about by coercion it could only come about by consent. And I think in that sense there’s a lot of political grandstanding going on on today at Martin’s funeral. As for Arlene Foster well – Arlene has to attend. I mean if she doesn’t attend she will confirm the perspective that many Nationalists hold of her as Bigot-in-Chief and I mean somebody has said that she’s back on her meds so she’s alright again. I mean they’re saying it facetiously but…

Michael: …(laughs) I’m sure they are. I’m sure there’s no truth in that…

Anthony: No, no. There’s no truth in it. But it’s just a facetious comment.

Michael: I apologise for laughing. I just found it funny but we distance ourselves from that comment obviously in a legal sense – just our time has kind of run out – before we leave: A lot of people are saying that Martin McGuinness will take a lot of secrets to his grave. You’ve spoken privately to Martin McGuinness. You’ve spoken to many others about Martin McGuinness and spoken about his role in the IRA and what he may or may not have been responsible for. Are those secrets on those tapes?

I’m not discussing what’s on the tapes. I mean there’s court actions and stuff but I just hope that Martin McGuinness has left many of his secrets somewhere on tapes which the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) can’t get their hands on. I know that it’s very fashionable to condemn Martin McGuinness for a lot of activities but I – and particularly I’ve seen him being condemned for Franko Hegarty’s death – and Martin McGuinness probably, in all probability, did have a hand in the death of Franko Hegarty but who killed Franko Hegarty? It was the British state with their agent at the centre of the IRA Security Department. The British state have an awful lot to answer for. They were the moral monsters that produced people like Martin McGuinness.

Michael: Okay. Anthony McIntyre, thanks for coming into us today and for the time that you have given to us. People can read more of your thoughts on The Pensive Quill blog site and thanks as I said. Good to see you.

Anthony: Thanks very much.

(ends time stamp ~ 1:00:37)


  1. Good read and seriously needed amid all the back slapping and self delusion by political leaders and media. SF have taken things to where they needed to go, it is just so sad and depressing that they had to be so deceptive and dishonest with their own people. Also that they rolled over on so many issues unnecessarily. Those who were unable to engage in the lies and self delusion all along the way will probably be glad in the end of it all that they are not tarnished with any part in the bull shit peace process. It was pure stage managed and capitulation and the logic being 'if you can't beat them join them'. Maybe in Michael Collins tradition it is considered by its advocates that total and unconditional surrender has give them the 'freedom to achieve freedom.' All very confusing but the conflict had ran it's course in any case. Martin McGuinness' death came very quickly, it was a shock at the end and sad to witness. Despite the lies, deception and spineless performance of SF I believe the course they took in ending a failed campaign was the correct one. It could have been done with more dignity and integrity, that's all. Hopefully Martin is at peace himself now and his family are coping with the loss.

  2. Anthony

    You make an interesting distinction in this interview between the motivations of Adams and McGuinness to join the IRA, contrasting one's ideological bent -- maybe family pressures too -- and the other's more visceral, immediate reaction to events in Derry, respectively. That's a distinction we do not often hear. Or at least I don't. In all the noise of this past week, with its dominant melody of McGuinness as man of violence who became a peacemaker, the dominant role of Adams and Father Reid, the true rhythm of things, was brought down in the mix. Your reference to the back channel overtures during the Loughgall funerals also pricks up the ears. Thanks again for the voluminous memory of events during the dark years. Clarity provided.

  3. Larry & Anthony

    When do you believe Adams or Adams in consultation with the kitchen cabinet made the decision to wind down the military campaign, before, during or after the hunger strikes? How could the campaign have been ended with more dignity? Simply curious what you think. These are key questions that keep rolling around of course when anyone looks at the not too distant past and considers the rise of Sinn Féin and the run down of the Provisional IRA. I'd be interested to hear what you two think.

  4. Michael,

    in consultation with the Kitchen cabinet?

    I would say as much behind their backs as behind the backs of the Army Council.

    Some people on the kitchen cabinet would have learned of new moves as they happened and were nothing more than water carriers.

    They were certainly thinking of an alternative to armed struggle by 82 but not floating it directly s a suggestion themselves. They used others for that.

    The campaign could have been ended through a ceasefire and the energy thrown into organised radical political opposition to the Northern state. A government without an opposition is dangerous. SF chose to become part of the British administration in the North and have little to show for it other than electoral success: the very thing they insisted was useless on its own.

  5. Anthony

    Nobody ever said Gerry lacked cunning -- "cute" is a word I often heard from the Falls Road folks. What a different history could have emerged had the PIRA called a ceasefire in the 80s. Could there have been a return to large scale civil rights protests similar to those in the 60s in the advent of a ceasefire in the 80s? Obviously the dynamic would have been different given the 15 previous years or so of armed conflict. What form do you think this "radical political opposition to the Northern state" should have taken? Street protests, boycotts, infiltration of the media and the like?

    Given that Irish republicanism had bolstered its international reputation with the hunger strikes, the 80s was probably a good time to return to civil rights agitation, coupled with a call to end partition or create a new all-Ireland construct. What do you think? With opposition of this sort there would be no entry of republicans into the administration of Northern Ireland -- throwing stones at the house, not entering it. That lack of cooperation, as you suggest, seems essential to preserve the "dignity" that Larry alluded to. It's all moot and counter-factual now, but imagining a radical opposition in the 80s is interesting -- a lost opportunity?

  6. AM, why would the security services allow them to abandon an ineffectual military campaign for something more promising? If SF had called a ceasefire, and the state kept on killing/arresting volunteers at the rate had they had been previously, how would this movement of been built? It would of been more prudent of the British to want SF to take ownership stake, whilst pretending they didnt, to eviscerate republicanism as a pre-condition to a bilateral ceasefire. Which it seems is exactly what took place.

  7. Michael,

    I think the war was dead on its feet by the late 70s and the northern group around Adams and Co. had a plan of some sort by then to wind it all up. Then came the Hunger Strikes and poured petrol on an all but dead fire. Probably perceived as an inconvenience by them initially. We know now they were heavily infiltrated, Donaldson was an agent for 20 years, Scap was in his prime back then too as an agent. Ousting the leadership with a charge of incompetence and almost wrecking the war effort in 1975 was just their duplicity and lies in action. Everything about them is fake, the opposite of what they profess. Duplicity and lies are SF's greatest assets. They took over in 1986 with the promise of taking the movement to the republic. They were instead taken to Stormont and a couple of decades of abuse and humiliation by the DUP. The ground swell of support after the Hunger Strikes was used not for an escalation or intensification of the armed struggle but as a way-out and into political careers and onto the gravy train for those in charge and their hangers on. If they read the writing on the wall and called it correctly, then why the need for all the lies and deception to get where they are now, which is basically nowhere regarding unity and a 32 county state? Remember we now know Martin McGuinness was in contact with Mi6 since 1973.

    The IRA/SF could have called a unilateral ceasefire without decommissioning or all the crawling and abuse they have gone out of their way to take. If the population was weary enough they would have voted for SF and their cessation without all of that dishonour. It wasn't as if they needed unionist permission to stand in elections, nor were they courting unionist votes. Taking all the abuse merely criminalised themselves in a manner the blanket men and hunger-strikers refused do. Those devoted to the Adams cult never cease to surprise me. Seanna Walsh for example seems like an intelligent enough lad, but did he really do all that time in jail to join the SDLP for the likes of Adams and his family knowing what we do now about that little lot?

    I don't believe there was any genuine canvassing of the membership for what they did. Things were leaked then it was done. Talk of Army Conventions just makes me laugh. It was all stage managed by a cult leadership - the British and their media. The more they were promoted and the more they got away with, the more cocky they got until we had McGuinness and Orde at Stormont calling people engaged in armed struggle traitors to Ireland. Bring back Scap for 1st Minister. Why not? He is one of their own.

    SF today are self serving careerists and only of use to my mind as a barometer for a sectarian head count border poll. They are devoid of integrity, but hey, that's politics, banking and financial disservices and all the rest globally these days.

  8. Mike,

    counterfactuals are hard to do given the number of moving parts.

    Broad brushing it, I imagine it would have taken the form of a broad oppositional movement somewhat similar to the Socialist Alliance movement. It would not have ended partition but it would have retained the radical substance of the republican campaign and would never at any point have identified with the Repressive State Apparatuses.

    But overall, I return to my baseline which is that there is no republican strategies for uniting Ireland, only constitutional nationalist ones which we always said were not plausible. Still, it would be churlish to complain if we were to be proved wrong.

  9. DaithiD,

    the goal of the British state was to bring the movement to the position of consent. After that it didn't much care. The Brits were not opposed to leaving Ireland but leaving it on republican terms which meant overriding the consent principle.

  10. AM, But the especially viscious way Dev and Collins turned on their former comrades wouldnt have been an option if SF were not helping administer British rule, and instead tried to build a political base independent of British rule.Also the tragedy of watching a former Republican deligitimise all that they had fought for must of been the best possible option for the British to pursue.Its all conjecture anyway, I get the consent principle was the main issue.

  11. DaithiD,

    I wonder how many former comrades there would have been had SF not have gassed republicanism.

    The Brits got the result they wanted. But republicanism had run out of road. It set itself an impossibilist task which it was not able to complete.

    Republicanism was not just an objective, it was also a method. It sought to get the Brits out without consent. It failed absolutely. Constitutional nationalism was also a method: a united Ireland but only by consent.

  12. Larry

    That's a brilliant, cogent summation of the fade-out, rust and repackage process. When I proposed much of what you described to folks in the Republic of Ireland, they played the "You're a Yank, not Irish, shut your hole" card: "What do you mean Martin's not a saint!?"


    Too many "moving parts" -- absolutely. Must remember that.

  13. Following on to previous declarations from AM that anyone who bore arms in pursuit of 'the republic' were unlikely to ever see it and that SF could neither overthrow nor reform the northern State we finally have annunciation that Irish republican ideology was dodgey right from the start anyway.

    Kind'a makes the analysis above somewhat superfluous and any further dissection redundant.

  14. Some very good points on here, especially from Larry. The republican movement was infiltrated at the highest level by British intelligence early on in it's campaign in the 1970's and the released documents from 2013 following Thatcher's death ultimately confirm that by the time of Sands electoral victory in Fermanagh South Tyrone, the PIRA acknowledged that it could not succeed militarily. The fact that the London government KNEW that elements within the PIRA were seeking ''peace'' and a ceasefire by 1981 go a long way in explaining the intransigence of their position, especially in denying republican and loyalist prisoners POW status. These counter insurgency methods of ulsterisation and criminalisation came into being because the Westminster establishment was confident it could now contain the conflict. The secretary of state in 1981 ALLUDED to all this when, following the death of Bobby Sands, he had hoped that people would now ''turn away from violence'' as it was clear they were slowly easing republicanism where they wanted them to go (electoral politics). I'm only 21 myself, but I understand historical context and know that electoral politics was supposed to be part of the armalite strategy, not a substitution for it. Adams and McGuinness (clearly only kept alive because British intelligence identified them as possessing the qualities and influence necessary to bring the PIRA to a negotiated settlement) did of course do the right thing in bringing the conflict to an end, but the extremely machiavellian and sinister way in which it was done as Larry Hughes said is completely unforgivable in my opinion. Crazy to think that an entire movement could, in hindsight, be built on a massive black lie and had been a fraud from the very beginning. Those at the top like McGuinness and Adams are judged with a different standard to those further down the pyramid and that reality turned out to be very, very convenient for MI5's two top men in Ireland.

  15. Good article as was your contribution to this week's rfe123 programme. Also very interesting comments and answers. Couple of thoughts that struck me was first the question of prisoners was very important and was used to great advantage by both PIRA and British and Irish Governments, secondly the Nationalist question has dominated Irish politics throughout our history and has put organising socialist radical politics into the background. In this regard PIRA and SF have a lot to answer. Is SF nationalist, socialist or what politics have they?