Sometimes I wonder how serious people really are about getting to the bottom of the Martin McGuinness/IRA story, or the Gerry Adams/IRA story, or the IRA story itself.
Does anyone really think that an appearance at the Smithwick Tribunal would open the door to answers?
If they do, then they are being very naïve.
Martin McGuinness was part of the IRA organisation; a leadership figure in that group and one of the principal actors on our war stage.
I don’t know anyone with detailed knowledge or understanding of this conflict who believes he left the IRA in the 1970s.
He was a member of the Army Council and Northern Command of the IRA – an organisation that viewed the RUC and the Army as the enemy.
Hundreds of soldiers and police officers were killed.
RUC officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan are just two of the names on that long list.
And the recent suggestion that those behind the border ambush in 1989 in which their lives were taken would have needed McGuinness’ “political cover” for such an attack just beggars belief.
Look at what the IRA did over a period of several decades.
There was nothing politically sensitive in such an attack; it was part of the cold routine of conflict; part of what has been called the “long war”.
On another page, and in another chapter, you read the detail of other killings – the SAS shootings in Loughgall, Gibraltar and elsewhere.
They are different jigsaw pieces, but part of the same war picture.
There has been recent commentary also about the scale of infiltration; the suggestion being that half of the IRA’s most senior figures were being run as agents/informers.
To believe this, then we also have to believe that the intelligence agencies must have been running the wrong half.
How else are the many blind spots explained in which the Libyan arms shipments were missed, the mortar attack on Downing Street and the Brighton bomb?
In 1994 the police/intelligence world could not predict the precise terms of the IRA ceasefire; its “complete cessation of military operations”.
It did not see the London Docklands bomb that marked the end of that cessation, or the bombs the IRA got inside the Army’s Northern Ireland Headquarters in 1996.
So, the facts speak against the suggested 50% infiltration at the level of the IRA leadership, and rather suggest there was a part of the IRA organisation that was not seen or heard.
The IRA story, the Martin McGuinness story, are but pieces in a much bigger jigsaw; a jigsaw that is not going to be put together in any public inquiry.
In two recent speeches, first in Belfast and then in Dublin, the Deputy First Minister said the following: “Republicans realise that dealing with the past will not be an easy process for us; republicans inflicted much hurt during the conflict and hurt was inflicted upon republicans, but if we are to build a new future it is necessary and it is a road that I am not afraid to go down.”
And it is in those words that we see a way into the past. That is if people really want to explore the IRA story.
For Martin McGuinness to go down that road many others will have to step onto that same path; security forces, intelligence services, loyalists, politicians, including unionists, the governments British and Irish, both of whom are being asked questions about collusion, the Churches, media and others.
The IRA story will not be told or explained in isolation, in a one-incident or one-person circumstance, but only in the above wider context.
So, even if Martin McGuinness were to go to the Smithwick Tribunal it would be a pointless exercise; a complete waste of everyone’s time.
Within that inquiry, the agent ‘Stakeknife’ has been raised; a former senior IRA figure who was working for the Army.
Who answers the questions about him, and who has most to fear in those questions?
It is not Martin McGuinness or the IRA, but those who were running an agent whose task inside the IRA was the culling of other suspected informers, their interrogation and preparation for execution.
That is how dirty this war became.
McGuinness was one of the principal actors on that war stage, but only one in a much wider cast that reaches out far beyond the IRA.
So, to get his story, many others have to be told and from many different sides and angles.
The detail may not be given by individuals but in an organisational context. It may have to happen privately and not publicly, and it may require anonymity and amnesty.
As yet, none of this has been worked out.
In the transition from war to peace, McGuinness was one of the lead voices in the internal republican debates on the biggest issues of ceasefire, decommissioning, ending the armed campaign, political agreements and the endorsement of new policing.
His IRA war role gave him credibility and influence within those discussions, and this too is part of his story.
The key to finding a place for all these stories to be told and explained is in the initiative that the Sinn Fein National Chairman Declan Kearney is trying to develop; a discussion in its early stages that has as its main themes reconciliation and healing hurts.
Political unionists are more suspicious than others, want to know why now and have accused republicans of attempting to re-script the history of the Troubles.
Kearney responded to this in the latest edition of the republican newspaper An Phoblacht:
“Republicans don’t need to re-write any narratives,” he said.
And he accused political unionists of “missing the pulse…failing to recognise the importance of meaningful engagement on how we should try to address the hurt experienced by all our people during the war”.
Those words “all our people” give us the key context, and the key to the door.
The story of the past is not about one individual or one organisation, and if it is reduced to such, then the story will not be told and many doors will remain closed.
Excellent piece Brian and it goes some way to providing sustenance to the body of opinion that says we will never see justice done. Some would argue the British state was justified in its actions in order to neutralise the IRA threat. To many others it appears hypocritical and dangerously reckless behaviour. Regardless it would appear that many families on both sides and those caught in the middle will have to accept their lot.
For starters if there is to be any forum for discussing the past it must be chaired by an outside entity in order to have any credibility in the eyes of Nationalists/Republicans. How many British soldiers have served time for ‘mistakes’ they made? On the other hand you have former IRA men walking the streets with blood on their hands many with no sign of remorse.
As a young man in my early 20’s it is incredible to think of what went on ‘back in the day’ and how many people from my community felt moved to act in a violent fashion. I was 10 years old when the Belfast agreement was signed and feel privileged to be a part of a generation that never had to live with bombs/shootings/misery on a daily basis.
I would be in favour of a South African style T&R commission being set up where everyone involved would be named and shamed. Families have a right for closure and each day that passes brings with it fading memories of events in the murky past. Now is the time to act decisively to ensure we establish a process for dealing with barely closed wounds. If we don’t those wounds will fester and only serve to feed dissenting voices on either side. Some of my generation have decided that ‘war’ is the only option, I have no doubt hearing testimony from former ‘volunteers’ , RUC, UDR and soldiers may dissuade some from taking that path.
Conor – thanks for your comments. I think the most we can expect in any exploration of the past is greater explanation/information. Truth is too much to hope for, from any side never mind every side, and there are many. But I also think whatever the process, it should not just be about what happened but why it should never happen again. Keep posting.
V enjoyable and thought provoking piece. The public will never learn the truths of who/what/why happened, but we are all beginning to slowly accept that the dirty war involved deals and sacrifices which were morally repulsive. The vocabulary of forgiveness cannot ease the delivery of any lasting settlement.
Again I applaud your work in stimulating the crucial debate.
Maybe this is just my personal feeling, but it seems very odd to me that you say it is pointless for McGuinness to appear before a tribunal unless everyone else does it.
Cameron has apologised for British state collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane. We had the UK apology for Bloody Sunday. We have had other official reports revealing British state collusion with loyalists. Let there be more until all the evidence comes out!
But is there not just as good an argument to say that if Martin is happy to go to Smithwick, then this would be a strong confidence building measure in the unionist community for him to follow through on this?
ie would this not be Martin walking out Declan’s Kearney’s talk?
Surely in one sense it does not matter what comes out of such an appearance, but surely it would be a confidence building measure, bearing in mind Martin openly refused to come clean to the Saville Inquiry about the IRA’s role on Bloody Sunday.
That has not sat well with unionists nor been forgotten.
I for one fully welcome and respect the difficult path Martin has taken.
But let us look coldly at the responsibility for deaths during the Troubles;-
2148 – all republicans (PIRA 1778)
1071 – all loyalists
365 – all security forces
In other words PIRA claimed 342 lives more than all the loyalists and security forces put together.
Surely if Martin was the senior IRA leader you say he was then he is as good a person as any to give leadership to a new era of truth and openness? Who better to give a lead?
Peter Robinson has ruled out any truth commission because he believes Sinn Fein will just use it as another propaganda war.
It seems to me that you repeatedly point to the fact that more must come out about about loyalist collusion. But here make excuses to delay republicans doing just that? I dont understand the difference?
There is most definitely a very strong perception among unionists that history IS being rewritten to paint the security forces as THE villains of the Troubles.
This subject dominated the last DUP party conference eg the entire speech of the DUP Deputy Leader.
This is not a solid foundation for a stable future.
HET has made some 70 loyalist arrests but no PIRA arrests; compare those arrest figures to the proportionality of who was responsible for all deaths during the Troubles.
Meanwhile Sinn Fein will not even admit the IRA carried out Kingsmills and the leader of the Irish state repeatedly leads the world media to believe that the only person who was ever murdered during the Troubles who mattered was Pat Finucane.
Add that to the fact that there is a wide perception that there is comparatively little media coverage given to Smithwick, even though it has laid credible claims of collusion at the desk of named officers at the very highest levels of the Garda.
As Editor of eamonnmallie.com I wish to point out that Brian Rowan as a journalist, puts his name to what he posts on this website. That is in line with the ethos of the site.
Rowan, from my interpretation of what he writes is not in this article, arguing for any one side to participate more than any other side, in an information process on the past. In other words, he agrees and contends all sides should be in the same process at the same time. I respectfully suggest, if you wish to discuss this further, you should call Mr Rowan who is available to take your call.
Finally, it would be helpful if you would identify yourself in whichever exposition you engage on this website. Thanks.
Why put tweets out promoting this article and then complain when people respectfully engage – as you asked???
Brian and I have previously respectfully conversed on this website on these subjects. I do not understand your problem.
Why would it be helpful Eamonn to know exactly who I am? So that someone can direct ad hominem comments to me?
Why can my arguments not stand on their own merits?
I am uneasy about what your several objections mean regarding your attitude to freedom of speech and expression in Northern Ireland on this subject.
NPOV – I’ve just been reading some of my notes from 1989 relating to the ambush in which Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan were killed. Some days after the shootings, I was going to run a news report that one of the officers had raised a white handkerchief seconds after the attack was launched. But I withdrew the report at the request of the police and for this reason, that I was told it would be of “great distress to the widow”, already in a state of shock. I know this information emerged subsequently, but I had no wish to cause that distress and I think the danger now is that we as journalists raise expectations and hopes. I don’t believe that Martin McGuinness going to the Smithwick Tribunal would represent a confidence building gesture, nor do I think what happened in the past should be reduced to some numbers game, nor am I asking for more information from one side while making excuses for another, and nor am I interested in a blame process or playing “villains of the Troubles”. Those who know my work on these issues will understand that what I have been arguing for is an all-inclusive information/explanation process – all sides – meaning every side – involved at the same time. This is not just about Martin McGuinness “walking out Declan Kearney’s talk”. As I’ve made clear it is a walk for many, including journalists. As for coverage of the Smithwick Tribunal, in the newspaper I contribute to – the Belfast Telegraph – Alan Murray has been reporting regularly and in-depth.
Thanks barney. I don’t see it all the same way but respect and value your comments. NPOV.
NPOV – There is nothing wrong with seeing things differently or having another opinion, and whenever we get to a process that attempts to address all of this, there will be many different opinions and assessments – all of which need to be heard and included. The challenge is to design the best possible process that means maximum information is delivered by all sides and at the same time. That’s what I think, and I accept entirely that others will see and think differently.
He makes it up the sociopath as he goes along. They are not in power for being decent citizens-respectable thugs dressed up in Armani suits lol you have to laugh at them.
Ps Take the God fathers to task no more excuses, all sides guilty as sin- hate crimes sectarian murders killings blowing people to bits. 4,000 people put out over these wastersof a failed cause why did they do so much hurt and harm- what for? Power greed and empire building thrive on egos -self interests and pure greed. This country is suffering they forgotten victims- PTSD Pain and suffering – lost lives- no more dictatorship. No more fascists! No more bullies -NI needs change with respect.
Eamonnmallie.com is a home to independent thought. That is not the same as saying it is home to vulgarity, expletives, or character assassination. As Editor I will give everyone a fair hearing but I appeal to all to show respect and augment rather than detract from discussion. Thanks.