Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Picture from Northern Ireland you thought you’d never see

Left to right: Rev Harold Good, John Bunting, William 'Plum' Smith, Jackie McDonald, Martin McGuinness, Harry Thompson, Winston 'Winkie' Rea, Peter Sheridan, Brian Rowan

Maybe you’ve been on another planet. Marooned on a desert island. Holed up in a marathon episode of Big Brother. Or you’ve just woken from an epic, Sleeping Beauty-scale slumber.

In any case, you’ve been out of the loop for some time and, understandably, you now want to brush up on what’s been happening re: peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

Where you left off, everybody was at each other’s throats.

Republican paramilitaries hated loyalist paramilitaries and loyalist paramilitaries hated republican paramilitaries and both the republican and loyalist paramilitaries hated the security forces and everybody hated the meejah.

But now, as you rub the sleep and bewilderment from your disbelieving eyes, what’s this?

There’s Martin McGuinness, self-confessed former IRA commander beaming like a genial granda in his comfy, casual tank-top as he rubs shoulders with the UDA’s golfing ‘brigadier’ Jackie McDonald.

Alongside Mr McDonald is UDA colleague (comrade seems so last year in peace-processing language), mustachioed William ‘Plum’ Smith, spokesman for the PUP, political wing of the UVF.

In the fractious world of loyalism there was a time when getting representatives from the UDA and UVF camps into the same frame would have been a coup in itself — never mind having representatives of both posing, the picture of matey good humour, in front of the Bobby Sands mural with the likes of Mr McGuinness and the grinning white-haired man in the lavender shirt and grey jacket.

That’s Harry Thompson (or Wee Harry as Gerry Adams calls him).

Harry is described as a long-standing Republican. Standing alongside him is Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea, who could be described as channelling UVF thinking.

The balding gentleman next in line is Peter Sheridan — the impressive head of Co-operation Ireland. In a previous life, Mr Sheridan was Assistant Chief Constable of the PSNI and served throughout the bleak years of the Troubles in the RUC.

Meanwhile, over on the extreme left of the picture, is Rev Harold Good (sans dog collar). Mr Good was a witness to the decommissioning of IRA weaponry.

Finally, standing just a little to the right in this pic, is journalist Brian Rowan who covered many of the horrors of the Troubles during a long television career.

‘Barney’, as his friends know him, may be thinning a little on top, but he still looks a lot fresher that some of the ‘former combatants’ pictured.

Overall, the hair here is grey and sparse.

There’s plenty of paunch.

You could be forgiven for assuming this was a group shot from a works’ retirement do. Or an old boys’ golf outing.

Might it bolster the argument that, for some former paramilitary players, the peace process has become a pension plan?

Who's who - left to right

1 Church witness to IRA arms decommissioning 2005 Rev Harold Good

2 UDA Inner Council brigadier John Bunting

3 Chair of 1994 Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire news conference William ‘Plum’ Smith

4 UDA Inner Council brigadier Jackie McDonald

5 Former IRA Army Council leader and now deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

6 vVeteran Belfast republican and close friend of Adams and McGuinness Harry Thompson

7 Leader of the Red Hand Commando Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea

8 Former RUC officer and PSNI assistant chief constable Peter Sheridan,

9 Journalist and author Brian Rowan, who organised and chaired Tuesday’s ‘Peace Lines and Lyrics’ event on the Falls Road

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