Written on: 4. 10. 2011 in the category: Featured news

Some questions that we should never have to ask

A peaceful society only exists when we largely repress whatever emotions, desires, ambitions, likes and dislikes that would cause gratuitous offence or hurt or pain.

Society requires the assertion of a common virtue as a primary adhesive, binding unfriends in an agreed commonwealth of bogus esteem. Therefore the head of state of any republic must at least SEEM to be the embodiment of that adhesive, and a lifelong public adherence to the Ten Commandments is a primary requirement for such an office.

Journalists, on the other hand, are obliged neither to supply the adhesive that binds a society nor even to pretend to follow most of the commandments, though some deference to the one about not bearing false witness is generally advisable. And since most of us at one time have had the morals of a drunken polecat at a ferret orgy, we are usually ill-placed to deliver sermons on ethics. However, if only from the vantage point of a swamp, we are able to say who, like ourselves, does not embody the required morals of a president.

Martin McGuinness is such a person. He has been the beneficiary of one particularly idiotic comparison, and a dangerous one too, for all logic and truth are lost in the mud of a lazy analogy. His defenders regularly cite Nelson Mandela as a precedent: but this is a grotesque and revolting caricature. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in solitary confinement, during which time his ANC colleagues were murdered in their thousands. Martin McGuinness was imprisoned, just once, for a few months, in the free-association IRA wing in Portlaoise. He was never imprisoned by the British.

Moreover, Northern Ireland was never South Africa or Alabama. It was Northern Ireland: that’s it. It had no pass laws or apartheid system. Catholics were not made to stand in the back of the bus, and Protestants didn’t have more voting rights than Catholics.

It was, however, a gerrymandered Orange state, in which Catholics were certainly discriminated against. Whether it was more odious than the doctrinaire Catholic state alongside it, where it was almost impossible for a Protestant doctor to get a dispensary, where the universities closed on Catholic feast days, and government social policy followed the specific instructions of the Archbishop of Dublin, is less relevant than the moral absolute that such systems of social injustice cannot be corrected by violence, which is simply another form of injustice.

By the time the Provisional IRA campaign began, the long-overdue civil rights reform package was already being implemented. The B Specials had been disbanded, and the RUC was disarmed. By 1973, the Sunningdale Agreement between the Irish and British governments, which was registered with the United Nations as a treaty binding in international law, made it illegal for any Northern Ireland ever to be governed by a unionist-only administration, or for such a government to exist without an all-Ireland council. The chief constable of the RUC, Jamie Flanagan, was a Catholic. Catholic judges during this time included William Staunton, Ambrose McGonigal, Michael Nicholson, Turlough O’Donnell, Garret McGrath, William Travers, William Doyle, and Rory Conaghan. Mr Justice Conaghan, despite being a Catholic, had in 1965 become the youngest judge in Northern Ireland, and in 1972, when awarding damages to internees, had vigorously denounced the excesses of the security forces. Two years later, the IRA murdered him, as it murdered the Catholic judges Doyle, Staunton, and Travers, and tried to murder Catholic judges O’Donnell, McGrath and McGonigal. It then declared the absence of Catholic judges was proof of a biased judiciary.

Martin McGuinness was a major member of that IRA, which also rejected the Sunningdale Agreement, of which the Good Friday Agreement is merely a vulgate version, 25 years on. In that quarter century, the IRA of Martin McGuinness perpetrated atrocities such as Enniskillen, Birmingham, La Mon, White Cross, and in its campaign overall, killed over half the victims of the Troubles.

The peace process has now created a moral dystopia which routinely transforms murderers into heroes. Thus the recent obsequies for Gusty Spence, upon whose homicidal shoulders rests much of the responsibility of the Troubles, while almost no one remembered the names of his victims. Was Liam Doyle, who survived after being shot five times by Spence, ever invited to a single state reception in this Republic? How many of the relatives of victims of the UDA romper rooms or the UVF’s Shankill Butchers, or the IRA ethnic-cleansing of the Border-lands have been honoured guests of the Irish and British governments, as their tormenters have been?

We know from our history what the harvest will probably be when we till the soil with the testimony of terrorists, and plough in the blood and bone-meal of their forgotten dead. This is why we need a president of irrefutable public virtue, not an unrepentant leader from some of the most terrible episodes this country has ever known. There are some questions — such as, When did you stop beating your wife, or blowing people up? — that we should never be able to ask of a president of Ireland. If we can, then we have the wrong person.