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2 November 2012

Being an Irish republican means never having to say you’re sorry

Martin McGuinness looked grimly at the television cameras yesterday and condemned unreservedly the murder of David Black, the 30th prison officer to be murdered in Northern Ireland since the beginning of the Troubles. "I want to make it absolutely clear that there was no point whatsoever served by this killing,” he explained. He didn’t mention that the Provos were responsible for the vast majority of those murders, but if pressed, he would no doubt explain that, in those days, there was a point.

McGuinness often becomes visibly irritated at the stupidity of those dratted dissidents in failing to grasp that when the Provos did it, it was right. But it’s hard to fault the logic of Rory Dougan, a dissident spokesman, who said a propos republican terrorism post the Good Friday Agreement: “If we were wrong now, then they were wrong for all them years: and if we are right now then they are wrong.”

I was on a panel in West Belfast a few weeks ago with Old Bailey bomber Gerry Kelly, who shot a prison officer in the head during an escape in 1983. Kelly is an MLA – a Member of the Legislative Assembly – who was briefly a junior minister. A Northern Ireland junior minister told me in the 1990s that during negotiations, Kelly’s role was to sit behind Adams and McGuinness looking fierce.

He later graduated to the negotiating front line and became an habitué of Downing Street and a visitor to Chequers. Jonathan Powell took to him. In 2009, the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue flew Kelly and Powell to the island of Mindanao to talk to the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine government about the Irish peace process. The HD Centre said they were proud to have promoted “private meetings of Eminent persons,” (Koffi Annan, Jonathan Powell, Gerry Kelly, Francesc Vendrell, a senior UN diplomat). “We couldn’t have been more fortunate than to have Jonathan and Gerry come out here especially at this time. These two belligerents, counterparts and finally friends were the key figures in bringing success to one of the most intractable and long-standing conflicts we have seen.”

Maybe they really did help with the groundwork for the 2012 agreement. But calling Kelly an “eminent person” sticks in my craw. He’s an elected provincial politician only because he was once a ruthless terrorist. And he has no remorse for killing one person and injuring hundreds in London in 1973, for badly wounding a prison officer, or for whatever he got up to in what’s euphemistically called “an active service unit” in Europe after his escape. On the panel we shared, when asked if he regretted past violence, he smirked and said “I’m a proud republican”.

That’s the thing about being an Irish terrorist-turned-politician. You never have to say you’re sorry. But until they do, it’s hard to argue with the logic of the dissident’s position.

Ruth Dudley Edwards


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