According to Lord Tebbit, “the world is a sweeter and cleaner place” thanks to the death of ex-IRA terrorist Martin McGuinness, “a coward who never atoned for his crimes”.
But according to various other talking heads at the BBC and at The Guardian this morning, McGuinness was a warm, family man, a sort of latter-day Nelson Mandela, capable of great tenderness, a “formidable peacemaker” and “a very warm human being.”
Gosh, which version of reality should we believe?
Well, perhaps I can help you by pointing out that the “formidable peacemaker” accolade comes from a disgraced former Prime Minister by the name of Tony Blair; and that the even more revolting “very warm human being” tribute comes from Blair’s former chief gofer, bottlewasher, and propagandist Alastair Campbell.
Both Blair and Campbell have a very large dog in this fight. It remains a great source of pride to them that they helped mastermind the Good Friday Agreement which in their view was the glorious moment that brought peace to Northern Ireland but which others still see as a shameful and unnecessary surrender to a defeated terrorist movement, a betrayal of the Protestant majority, and a shoddy, craven, cynical – and typically Blairite – exercise in papering over the cracks which led to the overpromotion of grisly extremists like McGuinness and his fellow IRA man Gerry Adams at the expense of moderates.
Lord Tebbit inclines to the latter view. He too has a dog in this fight, having nearly been killed at the 1984 Conservative Party Conference by the Brighton bomb planted by McGuinness’s IRA associates. Worse, Lord Tebbit’s wife Margaret was paralysed in the explosion. He has spent a good chunk of his time and money since lovingly nursing her, so not a day goes by when he isn’t reminded of that moment over three decades ago that so cruelly snatched away his happiness.
But it’s not bitterness that informs his opinion so much as the intellectual integrity which we’ve long come to expect from Margaret Thatcher’s most forthright former Cabinet minister.
Lord Tebbit tells it like it is because he isn’t – and never was – one of those cringing, oily, greasy-pole-climbing surrender monkeys who believes that “politics is the art of the possible”.
Tebbo has always believed in speaking truth to power and in doing the right thing rather than settling for ugly, shaming compromise.
His view on the IRA and the Good Friday Agreement is of a piece with this. It wasn’t principle, he maintains, that drove the IRA high command to negotiate but desperation.
“He was not only a multi-murderer, he was a coward. He knew that the IRA were defeated because British intelligence had penetrated right the way up to the Army Council and that the end was coming.
“He then sought to save his own skin and he knew that it was likely he would be charged before long with several murders which he had personally committed and he decided that the only thing to do was to opt for peace.”
And, no, he definitely doesn’t accept the idea that – as is often said of that other former terrorist, Nelson Mandela – McGuinness’s change of heart was somehow noble because it led to peace.
When asked about his part in the peace process he said: “You might just as well say that if Himmler had succeeded Hitler and wiped out the Jews it would have removed the problem and there could have been peace in Europe.”
At least some people are not too stupid to get this point.
Odd rewriting of history to make Martin McGuinness a prophet of peace. Truth is IRA were totally defeated by MI5/SAS, had no other choice.
— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) March 21, 2017
Obviously, it suits most of the political class not to admit this. Even the leader of the party the IRA once tried to blow up – Theresa May – was careful not to rock the boat this morning:
While I can never condone the path he took in the earlier part of his life, Martin McGuinness ultimately played a defining role in leading the Republican movement away from violence. In doing so, he made an essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace.
Well, perhaps. But Lord Tebbit is right. McGuinness was an exceedingly nasty piece of work who never apologised for the terror he wrought as one of the IRA’s most cold-bloodedly ruthless torturers and killers.
Here’s a taste of some of his achievements as commander of the notoriously brutal Derry brigade.
The anti-British atmosphere in Londonderry was so intense that when Rifleman Joseph Hill of the Royal Green Jackets was shot and killed during rioting in the Bogside area in October 1971, IRA supporters clapped and cheered as his body was taken away. A month later, three young Catholic women were tarred and feathered before jeering crowds in the space of a few days. Their “crime” was going out with British soldiers.
Even though the Derry Brigade controlled the Catholic areas of Londonderry, it made no attempt to prevent the mob’s actions. It was only after fierce media criticism that the leadership issued a statement denying any involvement in the attacks, while reiterating its warning against Catholic women fraternising with British soldiers.
Sometimes, however, things went badly wrong: on one occasion early in 1972, bombers arrived to blow up a hotel where a Catholic wedding reception was being held. When 17-year-old Alphonsus Patten, best man to his brother, tried to intervene, he was shot in the face at point-blank range and badly wounded.
That incident drew a furious response from the Official IRA, which accused Mr McGuinness’s Provisionals of “callous cowardice”. The Derry Brigade also came in for scathing criticism in April 1981, after Joanna Mathers, a 27-year-old Protestant, was murdered while collecting completed census forms in a Loyalist area. The Provisionals denied responsibility, but IRA detainees in an H Block of the Maze prison publicly expressed their disgust at the killing.
In August 1988, when Mr McGuinness was no longer in direct operational control in Londonderry but still exercised a powerful influence, a bomb in a house in the Creggan area killed two civilians instantly, one a woman of 60, and fatally wounded another. The Provisionals had planted the bomb in the hope of luring police into a trap, stationing three men nearby to keep local people away.
This was written, presumably with a view not to upset the libel lawyers, while McGuinness was still alive. Now that he’s gone, it seems likely that much uglier detail will emerge about the man once unfondly known as the “Butcher”.
It probably won’t on the BBC, though. To the Beeb, he will always be the affable man in the chunky knit sweater who heroically brought peace to Northern Ireland.
As for the rest of us: De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum? I think we can make an exception in this man’s case…
— Moazzam Begg (@Moazzam_Begg) March 21, 2017