Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Troubles' victims don't get garlands of peacemakers, their legacy is heartbreak

By Lindy McDowell

There are many, many people who on hearing the news of the death of Martin McGuinness this week will have shed many, many tears.

None of them for Martin McGuinness.

Even if we accept that in his latter years McGuinness, along with Ian Paisley, did indeed steer the fledgling peace process on to firmer tracks, this does not eclipse the earlier campaign of terror that brought him to that point.

I have always believed that many career terrorists on both sides came to see the peace process as their pension plan.

They were getting a bit old for action. Here was the ultimate safe house.

And in the initial hype of that process amid the enthusiasm of Blair and co to welcome the former terror chiefs within, all they had to do was to agree to stop killing people to be elevated to "peacemaker".

Such was the fawning over these newly minted peacemakers, lauded and saluted as they were on all sides, that they appeared to tower over the ordinary, non-violent rest of us in terms of integrity.

I once summed the feeling up this way - just because I've never murdered anybody doesn't mean I'm a bad person.

Was Martin McGuinness a bad person?

I do not believe in a God. But if there is such a deity waiting at the Pearly Gates and if He is as wise and all-seeing as they say He is, He will be better equipped than you or I to pass judgement on McGuinness's life.

All of us who have lost someone we loved will feel for his family and his friends. But it is the victims I think of most. The victims of a sectarian terror campaign waged by the IRA of which McGuinness was a commander.

I grew up in an area which if not quite his primary fiefdom was exceptionally close.

I think today of some of the victims from those early years of bloodshed and butchery.

I think of the young man visiting his wife in hospital after she'd just given birth to their child.

He, of course, was a "legitimate target". A policeman.

But how "legitimate" the circumstances of his awful murder?

I think of the 10-year-old girl murdered with her father when a bomb was placed under the family car.

This unarmed man driving his children to school was another "legitimate target". A part-time member of the security forces.

But dear God, what was she?

I think above all of a decent man, the father of my friend at school. A part-time member of the UDR, he was a good, honourable man highly regarded by all sides of the community - a man who had friends everywhere and treated all with respect.

I have always believed he was singled out not despite this. But because of this.

He was a postman and the story I was told was that he was delivering a letter to a remote address. When he got there he found it was a derelict house.

In that moment he would have known. How many surrounded this unarmed man to kill him may never be known. But he died facing them. They put the gun to his forehead. I can't imagine what his final moments must have been like. I can't imagine what it must be like for his family to think of that, too.

Martin McGuinness outlived victims like Bobby. He outlived so many.

There is a haunting line in a song by the great Tommy Sands that echoes in my mind here.

In the song Sands tells the story of two friends, one Catholic, one Protestant, both murdered, one horrifically in "retaliation" for the murder of the other.

'For those who give the orders, they are not the ones to die.

It's Scott and young MacDonald and the likes of you and I.'

Looking back on those dark years of the Troubles it is almost hard to believe we lived through them. Awful, terrible crimes were committed on all sides.

There is a sense these days of history now folding upon itself. These latter years of relative peace to some extent obscuring the horror of our past.

The victims of those days don't get the garlands of peacemakers. Their legacy is heartbreak. A heartbreak often discreetly hidden from the rest of us, but a heartbreak that surfaces unrelentingly at times like this as key figures pass to history.

I shed a few tears for those victims I knew this week.

None for Martin McGuinness.

Belfast Telegraph


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