Martin McGuiness, Ian Paisley and the Tragedy of Northern Ireland

When the news was announced of Martin McGuinness’s death my first reaction was indifference.

The type of indifference that I felt the day that Ian Paisley died. That both these men had been directly or indirectly responsible for thousands of deaths and years of misery. Paisley by his incitement to hatred of Northern Ireland’s Catholic Community must’ve inspired many sectarian attacks and McGuiness for his role in IRA violence.

I always feel indifference when bad people die, or people I believe to have been bad people die. I think celebrating anyone’s death is vulgar and lowers the tone of public debate. But I cannot feel any genuine remorse for the death of someone who voluntarily involved themselves in Para militarism, murder of innocent civilians and never showed any meaningful remorse. To this day many victims of the IRA lay in unmarked graves and still the IRA will not disclose their location so they can have a decent burial. Martin McGuiness could have at least helped those families in locating their loved ones but did nothing.

Both McGuiness and Paisley represent everything that was bad about Northern Ireland. Paisley, nothing more than a slightly less cheap version of Abu Hamza, incited hatred against all Irish Catholics and considered the Pope to be an anti-Christ. McGuiness was at least partly responsible for all the IRA crimes in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. You would think, given the seriousness of their crimes, that they at least would be considered politically unacceptable to be First Minister and Deputy First Minister. But no, these two unrepentant sinners made their way to the top of Northern Irish politics and all the benefits and status that goes with it. Never have two political leaders been more underserving of the power they were given.

The tributes that have been paid to McGuiness this week, just like the ones that were paid to Paisley, are completely inappropriate. These two men caused misery for thousands of people and never showed any remorse. Tony Blair, another man responsible for thousands of deaths, hailed McGuiness as a peacemaker. Well had Martin McGuiness not been involved in IRA violence in the first place he needn’t have had to have made peace.

By the mid-90’s and the time of the signing of the Good Friday agreement, the different forces had fought each other to a standstill in Northern Ireland. The IRA had been penetrated by British Intelligence, the Unionist Para militaries were descending into gangsterism and the British Army had failed to defeat the IRA. Peace became everyone’s interest and characters like Paisley and McGuiness shed their pasts of incitement to hatred and violence and took up prominent positions within the Northern Irish political elite. Justice was something that could be sacrificed. Thousands of para militarists were released from prison in-spite of the seriousness of their crimes.

Both Paisley and McGuiness represent the tragedy of Northern Ireland. Men with blood on their hands who were never punished or held to account.