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Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

McGuinness' lies corrupt politics

(by Liam Clarke, News Letter)

In most democracies, Martin McGuinness would face an official inquiry for bringing the office of First and Deputy First Minister into disrepute.

It's not so much that he was an IRA leader; everybody knows that terrorists can become politicians or even statesmen – it's better than the alternative of staying terrorists.

The problem with McGuinness is that his constant denials of his past are believed by neither his friends nor his foes. They not only undermine his own credibility but also make a mockery of Sinn Féin's demands for the truth about the past.

This week Peter Taylor, the respected BBC journalist, made the unsurprising claim that as head of the IRA's Northern Command McGuinness sanctioned the Enniskillen bombing.

"The allegations made in this programme are completely false and are entirely based on untrue briefings from faceless individuals in the intelligence apparatus long hostile to Sinn Féin" McGuinness blustered after refusing to appear on air, dismissing claims linking him to the IRA Northern Command as "a securocrat fantasy".

Is McGuinness implying that the PSNI and Garda officers who Taylor interviewed should be dismissed out of hand? If so, then how can Sinn Féin support the police?

Questioning everybody's motives is just McGuinness's stock response to criticism. When my wife Kathy Johnston and I wrote a biography of him, the script was very similar -a solicitor's letter when we asked for an interview to check facts; venomous attacks on our motives and sources when we published.

We carried a similar account of McGuinness's role in Enniskillen. Following the importation of weaponry from Libya, McGuinness and Adams devised the "ballot and armalite" strategy, which enabled them to make political changes, such as the dropping of abstentionism, while still giving the IRA hard men their head.

We wrote that on 20th October 1986, McGuinness was arrested near Smithborough, Co Monaghan, where, Gardai believed, he had just been appointed OC of the IRA Northern Command with a brief to escalate the campaign.

Last year Brendan "the Dark" Hughes, a former senior IRA man, added to the picture. He told me he had carried out an internal review of the IRA's capacity in 1986. Hughes concluded that, although well armed, the IRA lacked the training to successfully escalate its campaign. He was overruled at a Northern Command meeting in Donegal, where McGuinness insisted on upping the violence. The result was the failed attack on Loughgall police station of May 1987 in which 8 IRA men, all the top operators in East Tyrone, and two innocent passersby, were cut down by the SAS.

Fermanagh IRA then received McGuinness's permission to target three Poppy Day commemorations, including Enniskillen. Taylor states that McGuinness visited Fermanagh shortly before the massacre; we found that three weeks later, as part of the investigation, McGuinness's home in Londonderry was raided.

These cynical, ill conceived attacks continued as the IRA kept widening its list of targets to include civil servants and people who supplied goods to the security forces. By the end of the year the Irish Congress of Trades Unions estimated that 40,000 people now fell into the category of legitimate targets, but still the IRA kept killing people not on the list.

This all happened on McGuinness's watch and was part of a political strategy which claimed many lives. It's hard for him to discuss it now but in 2003, when he gave evidence at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, McGuinness had the perfect opportunity to put the record straight about his membership of the IRA.

Under Lord Saville's rules, a witness could not have been prosecuted on the basis of any statement made in the Inquiry. If McGuinness had told the truth, even in broad outline, he could later have referred Taylor and other questioners back to his evidence, thus gaining respect. Instead he insisted under cross examination "I left the IRA in the early part of the 1970s."

When I put it to Hughes that his recollection of McGuinness's insistence on more attacks in 1986 contradicted McGuinness's sworn evidence that he had resigned from the IRA in the 70s, Hughes replied ""He will have to answer that question himself. When people get caught up in lies, they have to continue with the lies."

"Continuing with lies" may be the least risky option for McGuinness, but it corrupts the entire political process.

April 25, 2008

This article appeared in the April 24, 2008 edition of the News Letter.