Gregory Campbell: I understand his family’s grief and his role in the peace process, but the truth about Martin McGuinness must be told
The passing for any family of a husband, father and grandfather is obviously a time of sadness for the family. It is entirely appropriate they are given space to grieve and those who wish to pay their respects can do so.
When it is someone as controversial as the former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, it is essential that the truth insofar as is possible, is told about the life that was lived and how it affected others.
Much has been made of his move from guns to government. Upon news of his death I was inundated by scores of media interview requests. Media wanted my reaction, given the experiences of my community in Londonderry at the hands of McGuinness’s PIRA.
However, I wanted, in deference to the immediate family, to allow that grieving process and burial to take place before commenting in detail.
Sensitivities are very important and I fully understand the grief the McGuinness family will be going through, at the same time the truth must and will be told.
Eulogies have been given and tributes paid as Martin McGuinness had undergone a dramatic transformation.
He more than any other individual brought violent Irish republicanism to the democratic table. We will probably never know, however, whether this was because he helped initiate it or responded to events that he knew were inevitable after 9/11 and the Provos being riddled with informers.
There also reached a point where the wider community was becoming more war weary after the 1969 pogroms had dragged on into the 1980s and then the ceasefires. McGuinness threw himself into the whole peace process with as much enthusiasm as he did the violence when he was the second-in-command of the Londonderry brigade of the PIRA. It is important that people understand the context of his rise to prominence.
Before 1969 there were obviously massive social problems across Northern Ireland. Londonderry was not immune from those. The communities were reasonably mixed. The West Bank had some 10,000-12,000 Protestants living mainly in mixed estates. Once the violence, orchestrated by Martin McGuinness’s IRA began, that changed. Almost 50 years later the situation remains the same. Today there are more than 60,000 citizens who live on the West Bank, only around 1,000 of them are Protestant.
There has been no comparable degree of ethnic cleansing anywhere else in modern day UK. This was not some large swathe of anonymous ‘communities’ that I refer to but MY community. Family, friends, neighbours who were intimidated, threatened and sometimes murdered as the exodus took hold.
Then the larger scale slaughter began across Northern Ireland and continued through the 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s.
The disadvantages that Martin McGuinness faced were similar to those that I faced.
Catholic and Protestant working-class communities faced the same disadvantage, the same discrimination and the same lack of opportunities. The crucial difference is that I didn’t kill anyone to try and bring about change.
It is undoubtedly the case that Northern Ireland is a transformed place compared to during the Troubles. On each occasion from the mid-1990s when we reached the proverbial ‘fork in the road’ political leaders had a choice to make, and it is most certainly the case that tough calls had to be made and were made, by both republicans and unionists.
Since then we have tried to help bring closure to the many victims of violence.
On numerous occasions I attempted to ascertain what role McGuinness played in the Claudy bomb, the murder of the census taker Joanne Mathers, the security worker Patsy Gillespie, whose murder along with five soldiers became known as the human bomb incident. I also raised the murder of two prison officers on the West Bank and many others.
On every single occasion I approached McGuinness about these atrocities he always denied participation in, and even knowledge of, any of them. This compounded the sense of grievance of many victims.
How could someone reach such a senior position within an organisation whose expertise was in killing people, without doing any of the killing, or knowing anything about those who did?
Those who have reported that his legacy will be mixed are right.
Without him and others like him there may not have been a relatively successful peace process. However, without him and others like him, we wouldn’t have needed one.