Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Martin McGuinness must manage his anger better or the hole we are all in will get bigger

Martin McGuinness speaks to the media at Sinn Fein offices in west Belfast yesterday

Martin McGuinness has made statements which it will be very hard for him to pull back from without losing face.

Yet, if he doesn't pull back in a convincing way, they threaten to throw the entire policing and political settlement into chaos.

The Deputy First Minister's prepared remarks at yesterday's Press conference – all about police cabals threatening the peace process – were often inflammatory and rash, but his most damaging comments were unscripted replies to questions from journalists.

He said Sinn Fein would "reflect" and "review" its support for policing if Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, is charged as part of the police investigation in the murder of Jean McConville (below).

Asked directly if his party would "pull out of support for policing if Gerry Adams is charged", he replied: "We're not taking any decision at this time about anything. We have always been very cool, calm and collected about how we deal with difficult situations... but I think if such a scenario does develop we will sit down and we will reflect on what will be an even more serious situation than the one that we face today."

He then urged republicans to remain calm if and until that happened, leaving listeners to wonder what would happen if the PSNI dared end the period of calm by charging Mr Adams.

There is only one way to describe these comments. They constitute direct political pressure on operational policing from a minister. Mr McGuinness should pull back, for there are only two possible outcomes if he leaves these remarks standing.

The first is that if Mr Adams is eventually charged, he and his party will have to follow through. Withdrawing or even qualifying support for policing would destroy his understanding with the DUP and make it very hard for power-sharing to continue.

Republican critics would present this as a debacle for the Sinn Fein leadership. It would cast a question mark over the peace strategy which Mr McGuinness and Mr Adams pursued to take the gun out of Irish politics, to support the PSNI and to put Sinn Fein members on the Policing Board. His own gestures, like meeting the Queen, could be made to look premature and ill-conceived if he cannot sustain support for the police, or if Stormont collapses due to a policing crisis.

The other alternative could be almost as bad. That is that Mr Adams is not charged with anything. Then some people, including many loyalists and the dissidents, will conclude that threats and string-pulling have worked for Mr McGuinness, and that Mr Adams has been released due to political pressure, not lack of evidence.

People will recall that Mr McGuinness spoke to the Prime Minister about a live police investigation, and then predicted disaster if charges were made against his friend and ally, Gerry Adams.

That would be bad for Mr McGuinness, bad for Mr Adams and bad for the rest of us. Sinn Fein is in a hole and Mr McGuinness is digging us all in deeper.

He has accused "very senior people" in the PSNI of being opposed to the peace process and engaging in "political policing".

"There is a cabal in the PSNI who have a different agenda – a negative and destructive agenda – to both the peace process and to Sinn Fein," he said.

"Their agenda (is) to effectively impact on the elections in three weeks' time. Do people think we are stupid or think that we are naive? What other conclusion can we come to than that this is a very deliberate attempt to have an impact on those elections?"

As Mike Nesbitt, the Ulster Unionist leader, said, if Mr McGuinness really believed this then he should produce the evidence. After all, his party has representation on the Policing Board and has had input into senior police appointments for several years.

Sinn Fein has often expressed support for the current Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire. This is another structure that could be used to investigate such a cabal.

The Deputy First Minister should, as he has often advised Peter Robinson, take a step back. He should look at the bigger picture.

Mr McGuinness joined the IRA in an era lacking in the checks and balances we now have on policing and justice, reforms which he himself helped negotiate. His remarks seem to hark back to that era when the old Stormont regime collapsed. He should realise that by attacking the new dispensation, he is undermining his own legacy.

The best course would be to let the police investigation run on and refer any abuses to the Ombudsman at the end of it. That is the way that a democratic politician behaves.

Mr McGuinness spoke of the need for republicans to manage the anger. "We want our party leader to lead us into the European and the local government elections and we believe that the anger – and there is a growing anger and resentment out there among the community – is something that we as Irish republicans have to manage."

Anger management – that is a good thought. And the Deputy First Minister should stick with it.