Editorial Irish Political Review April 2017
Was Martin McGuinness a murderer who repented, promised not to do it again, and sought forgiveness and reconciliation with those whom he had mistakenly looked on as his enemies?
That is the impression BBC Radio 4 sought to convey to its listeners on the 7 am News on the morning of his death (21st March)—the main item on the bulletin being Jean McConville: followed by Peter Hain, who is now a Lord. What the Today programme says is of some consequence, as it reflects British ruling class thinking.
Lord Hain, interviewed on Radio Eireann about an hour later said that McGuinness and Gerry Adams had physically forced him into a corner at Stormont and threatened him.
What would have been the main item in the British News that morning if McGuinness had not died was an initiative taken by the Blairite Deputy Leader of the British Labour Party, Tom Watson, to wreck it rather than let it settle down under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership to be a Socialist Party once again. Hain, having helped to put the skids under his Party as a marginal Blairite, would not have been consulted by the media on the Party row. And the Party, absorbed in its own feud, would have had nothing to say about McGuinness. As a Party, it had washed its hands of Northern Ireland and cultivated ignorance of it.
Blair himself was interviewed about McGuinness around 8 am. And he brought a dose of reality into things. Martin was a military commander who became a statesman. What was astonishing about that? Isn’t it how the world works?
Maybe he didn’t put it quite like that, but by contrast with the sentimental waffle, that is what it sounded like.
Blair, for a brief moment, had been infinitely larger than the Labour Party. He had been bigger even than the Tory Party. He was a national statesman—the only one from the Labour side that has ever been since Ernest Bevin, who made it an enthusiastic warmongering Party in the late 1930s and then remade the British social structure during the War.
Blair reminded Britain that it was a war-fighting state. He set out to demonstrate that radical liberals could make war just as well as the Tories. Unfortunately he picked the wrong war to make and demonstrated only that the successful art of war-making is largely a matter of choosing the right war to make.
The amoral context in which he saw Northern Ireland deserted him when it came to Iraq. He reverted to abstract moralising about tyrants and came to grief. But his insight that war was normal for Britain, combined with the cult of personality by which he made the Labour Party a blunt instrument of his will, enabled him to deal realistically with the war-party in Northern Ireland and to negotiate a profound alteration of the devolved system—frankly intimidating David Trimble for the purpose.
So, violence pays, the BBC interviewer (John Humphries) said to him. He had the grace not to pretend to deny it
There was a War in Northern Ireland. Acts done in wartime are not equivalent to acts done in a democratic state in peace time. And wars are not fought within democratically-governed states—that is states governed by political means, in which the electorate can be as actively involved as it wants to be—from which it follows that Northern Ireland was not democratically governed.
Gerry Kelly was interviewed briefly on Radio 4. He said that McGuinness joined the IRA because there was no democratic means of reform available in Northern Ireland. The interviewer let the remark pass, rather than challenging it or agreeing with it.
It is very rarely that the BBC allows that fact to be stated in the downright manner that Gerry Kelly does well. And, when an embarrassing fact gets through in an interview, it is best to let it pass without comment. The implications of it are too awful to dwell on. And discussion of the point only makes it more memorable.
So, it is quite appropriate—if surprising—that the Irish flag was flown at half-mast over Leinster House in memory of the IRA military commander and statesman.