What 'shock claim' about McGuinness?
A documentary by the veteran broadcaster and journalist Peter Taylor has suggested that Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister and former IRA commander, knew in advance about the Provos' plan to bomb Enniskillen. Some 11 Protestant civilians were murdered in the atrocity that has come to be known as the Poppy Day bombing.
Newspaper articles in advance of the documentary screening earlier this week flagged up this 'shock claim' about McGuinness.
Here's what shocks me.
That anyone would imagine for a moment that the IRA leadership at that time wouldn't have had an inkling what was about to happen.
Come on — are we really trying to kid ourselves that the Provie hierarchy spent the years of the Troubles sitting in some ivory tower discussing Marxist theory and admiring their Che Guevara poster collection, while somewhere out there various bands of faceless, nameless, entirely freelance murderers were bombing and shooting without any liaison whatsoever with 'the army council'?
Martin McGuinness, by his own admission, was a top terror commander. Are we expected to believe that the only 'operations' he ever had knowledge of were attacks on armed members of the security forces?
The law of averages alone would suggest otherwise. For more than 30 years the IRA carried out countless attacks just like the Enniskillen bombing. Mr Taylor, writing on the BBC website, says: "Many have long thought the (Poppy Day) bombing must have been an unauthorised, one-off operation by a local unit, believing it to be inconceivable that the IRA would mount such an attack on civilians as they remembered their dead."
'Many' Peter? Who are these 'many'?
The fact is that the bombing — to use the media cliché — bore all the hallmarks of an IRA operation precisely because it was just such an attack on civilians.
The dead the victims had been remembering were what the IRA would describe as 'British Crown forces'.
That made anyone at that parade 'legitimate targets'. Civilian casualties were inevitable on the day — you don't have to be an explosives expert to know that placing a bomb behind a wall along a parade route is more likely to kill bystanders than it is to kill marchers.
Indeed 'many' might argue Peter, that civilians were precisely the object of the attack. As they had been so often in the past.
Enniskillen wasn't the Provos' first atrocity. It wasn't their last. It wasn't the only time they massacred Protestant civilians.
Or targeted them deliberately. If Enniskillen was a mistake, what about all the other mistakes that went before?
And if Mr McGuinness and his fellow IRA chiefs knew about Enniskillen surely they also knew about the other bomb — the one that didn't go off that day? The roadside bomb aimed at Protestant children marching in a Girls' and Boys' Brigade parade.
What set Enniskillen apart was simply the international backlash that caught the IRA by surprise. And the shocking thing now is not that people are finally, finally beginning to address the question of who knew what about what was going on in Northern Ireland. But that for so very long it has suited the process better here that we didn't ask those questions.
We subject the terror chiefs on all sides to far less scrutiny and criti
cism than your average binge-drinking celeb. We allow a band of gangster yahoos on one side to style themselves as 'brigadiers' and report their every pompous utterance as if it's Nelson at Trafalgar.
On the other side we go along with the fiction that a man can rise to the very top of a terrorist gang without being party — or in any way culpable — for any of its 'operations'.
Here's an interesting point, though. If the men at the top of the IRA now regard those 'operations' as so reprehensible that they don't want to be associated with them — where does that leave the people who carried them out?
Don't ask Martin McGuinness. He told Peter Taylor he had no prior knowledge of Enniskillen.
And Gerry Adams? Gerry, of course, wasn't even in the IRA ...