Belfast Telegraph

Martin McGuinness will be remembered not for the peace, but chaos he left behind

By Kathryn Johnston

By now, we should be used to marking the 'decade of commemorations'. This year marks multiple anniversaries - anniversaries which cast a long shadow.

On October 5, 1968, the world woke up to the events at Duke Street roundabout, Derry, where an RTE cameraman, the late Gay O'Brien, had filmed as the RUC baton-charged a group of peaceful protesters, including Gerry Fitt, as they marched for their civil rights.

Martin McGuinness was that same October convicted of disorderly behaviour and fined £50 for shouting at British soldiers during a protest at Strand Road barracks. By 1972 and Bloody Sunday, he had already set out on the path which was to see him become a senior IRA commander for the next 30 years or so.

This year, of course, marks the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, which set the seal on almost 20 years of a power-sharing Assembly at Stormont. By this time, McGuinness was Sinn Fein's chief negotiator in the talks.

And it is a year ago today that Martin McGuinness, former deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive, died in hospital after a short illness. At the time of his death, former US President Bill Clinton noted that he was the one who personally oversaw the Agreement's arms decommissioning. In short, he delivered the IRA.

This is neither the time nor the place to reflect on his past. Those who want to study his life and career can read the book that I and my late husband, Liam Clarke, the former Political Editor of the Belfast Telegraph, wrote: From Guns to Government, An Unauthorised Biography of Martin McGuinness.

So what binds this bleak trinity of anniversaries together?

It is as simple as it is deplorable.

There was a deep, deep democratic deficit in 1968.

And the 30 years of terror that followed devastated and scarred so many lives, families and hopes.

When the Agreement was signed in 1998, it was tipped to end the democratic deficit we had been struggling through.

That was the day that Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair told us all on the steps of Stormont that, while he wasn't one for soundbites, 'I feel the hand of history on my shoulder, I really do.' In retrospect, he seemed to have been tempting fate. The two decades between 1998 and 2018, which started with such hope, have ended in the failure of Stormont and led to yet another democratic deficit.

A couple of months before his death, on January 9, 2017, McGuinness plunged us into our current crisis when he resigned as deputy First Minister of the Assembly because First Minister Arlene Foster refused to temporarily step aside to allow an independent inquiry into the RHI scandal.

Since then, the Northern Ireland Assembly has been marked by failed talks, election after election and, finally, suspension.

There are those who claim that if Martin McGuinness were still alive, this situation would have been resolved and the Assembly would have been up and running today. In the Belfast Telegraph, in a series of interviews with Liam Clarke in 2011, Martin McGuinness said: 'I am an Irish republican and I want to see a 32-county republic but I am also a very pragmatic Irish republican ... We need to continue to be involved in seeking out imaginative solutions.'

McGuinness was an affable and likeable man, with the shrewd calculation of a born politician.

But he was also an IRA commander, deeply committed to the republican struggle. If Martin McGuinness were here with us today, there is no doubt that he would be adopting the same intransigent position as Michelle O'Neill.

The truth is that both the DUP and Sinn Fein are in a jam.

Like Macbeth, in terms of negotiating a shared programme of government, they are both 'in blood stepped in so far, that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er.'

McGuinness's legacy should have been that of a guardian of the peace process. Instead, he will be remembered for the chaos that followed his resignation.

And, of course, all those who every year quietly commemorate the anniversary of the deaths of their loved ones will remember him for his denial of the misery and suffering inflicted by the IRA under his leadership.

Kathryn Johnston co-wrote From Guns to Government, An Unauthorised Biography of Martin McGuinness

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph