Belfast Telegraph

Why Star Trek actor Colm Meaney is on another planet in McGuinness row

Colm Meaney has all the political insight of a block of wood, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

It's a strange feeling when one of the crew of Star Trek takes time out from fighting Klingons to tell you that you should be ashamed of yourself because you never shot anyone. Step forward Starfleet chief Miles O'Brien (aka Irish actor Colm Meaney), who told the Guardian newspaper: "I totally, totally understand where (Martin) McGuinness was coming from when he said that when his community was attacked, he would have been ashamed if he hadn't joined the IRA."

Oh, really? Do put down that phaser and tell us more, chief, because some of us were actually members of that community during the same period and, sorry to disappoint you, we mostly didn't join the Provisional IRA, or the Official IRA, or the Irish National Liberation Army, or Judean People's Front, or any of the other republican terror groups prepared to wade through blood - almost always someone else's - to get their glorious united Ireland.

Of course, we only had the benefit of silly things to guide our choices, such as personal experience and a working moral conscience, rather than watching events unfold from 5,000 miles away in Los Angeles, while giving the world such made-for-TV delights as The Magical World of The Leprachauns, alongside Whoopi Goldberg as the Grand Banshee.

Perhaps if Colm had been around back then to show us the error of our ways, we'd have seen the light, too, because clearly his experience of playing the role of Martin McGuinness in the new movie The Journey, alongside Timothy Spall as the Rev Ian Paisley, has given him a far greater insight into the Troubles than any of us little folk who actually, you know, lived through it.

That must be what also gives him the right to denounce "these f*****s, these revisionists", who, right up until his final illness, had the cheek to keep asking the former deputy First Minister awkward questions about the men, women and children whose murders he ordered while in charge of the IRA, such as the 11 innocent victims whose lives were snuffed out at the cenotaph on Remembrance Day in Enniskillen.

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That happened in 1987, when Colm could be found starring alongside Kenny Rogers in The Gambler Part III: The Legend Continues, in which, according to film website Imdb, a brave band of brothers gets together to fight for the American Indians. Must have been almost like the real thing, eh Colm?

Meaney's entire argument, if it can be called that, seems to stem from the fact that McGuinness didn't create the situation in Northern Ireland, but was merely "born into this".

Well, this may be news in Hollywood, but none of us created the situation. We were all dropped into it by chance. That's how the whole 'being born' thing works. That does not excuse any of the choices that we subsequently made.

Colm falls into the classic trap of talking as if everyone who was affected by the violence in Northern Ireland must, therefore, have been compelled into perpetrating more of it against other people. How many times do we have to go through this? My home was raided many times by British soldiers as a child; I saw people I cared about being manhandled by armed men twice their size. I knew people who were wounded and killed by loyalists. My own home was blown up by a loyalist bomb. I was well aware of what was happening.

There were plenty of others in the same situation, many of whom took to the comments board on the Guardian to describe their own experiences.

"I was born into the Troubles and I never killed anyone. In fact, I don't know anyone who did," explained one. "Thousands shared McGuinness's experiences and they didn't become terrorists. McGuinness and Paisley were not peacemakers. The peacemakers were the hundreds of thousands who refused to be part of their squalid world, who refused to surrender their humanity. We just had to wait for them to catch up."

Are we all supposed to apologise to Mr Hollywood now just because we didn't look at all the bloodshed and mayhem and think to ourselves: "You know what would really help in this situation? More bombs. More guns. More funerals."

If that's what he expects, then Colm will wait a long time, because, as another reader pointed out: "You do not 'defend your community' by having no-warning bombs placed in English pubs. You do not 'defend your community' by taking a family hostage and forcing the father to drive a bomb to a British Army checkpoint and then blow him and the soldiers to smithereens."

Colm Meaney is 63 years old. He's had long enough on this planet to figure these simple truths out for himself.

They shouldn't need to be pointed out to him repeatedly by people who, unlike him, lived through these dark times.

Will doing it again make a blind bit of difference? Probably not.

Meaney has long been a supporter of Sinn Fein and campaigned for McGuinness when the Derry man stood unsuccessfully for the Irish presidency in 2011.

Throughout, he insists that he never supported IRA violence and concedes that it took republicans far too long to realise the futility of so-called 'armed struggle', and we must take his word for that; but he should honestly ask himself why, as he admits in the Guardian while promoting his new film about the unlikely friendship between McGuinness and Paisley, he would never have said as much to the men he chummily calls "Gerry, or Martin".

Thankfully, there were people, like Seamus Mallon, who were brave enough to tell McGuinness and Adams at the time that they were wrong. Many were bullied and intimidated and driven out of their communities as a result - and sometimes worse. They deserve respect rather than being dismissed as "these f*****s, these revisionists".

He may be no Brendan Gleeson, but Colm Meaney does possess a great gift for comedy and knowing that he has the political insight of a block of wood won't stop me for one second admiring and enjoying his work as an actor.

But Colm needs to know that "these f*****s" were right and the fact it took McGuinness and others so long to realise it - if they ever did, rather than simply realising their beloved Provos were beaten - is at least as important as the fact they finally decided to try talking to their neighbours rather than blowing them to pieces.

The Belfast Agreement was 'Sunningdale for slow learners', but the slow learners clearly still have some catching up to do.

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