Belfast Telegraph

This disturbing rewriting of our troubled past does today's generation no favours at all

Glossing over the roles of senior republicans in NI's violence is grossly misleading young people, says Alban Maginness

About this time every year, there is much media fascination with the releases of confidential government files that reveal grim secrets about our contentious past.

Of particular interest this year is that relating to the late Martin McGuinness. Given its disturbing revelations, this release may give some food for thought for those who rashly canonised him after his untimely death.

Some of them may now begin to regret their lionisation of him for his role in our troubled history.

The Irish government report, released under the 30-year rule, recorded that Bishop Edward Daly believed that Martin McGuinness, in 1986, personally arranged the rendezvous which led to the brutal murder of a suspected IRA informer.

The victim was a Derry man named Frank Hegarty, who was abducted and shot dead, having been lured home from England.

He had been an IRA quartermaster, who wished to return to Derry. His mother had discussed his safe return with McGuinness, who allegedly gave assurances that he could safely return to the city. On foot of those assurances, he did return, but was later murdered for being an alleged informer.

Bishop Daly, whose knowledge and analysis of the situation in Derry was exceptionally incisive and authoritative, said that McGuinness, at that time, was doing "reckless things". Bishop Daly was also reported to have said that McGuinness usually tried to "keep his own hands clean".

Another striking revelation from the Irish government archives is that Fr Denis Faul was "intrigued" by the theory that Gerry Adams had set up the Loughgall attack on the east Tyrone brigade of the IRA by the SAS in 1987. This has been described by Sinn Fein as "utter nonsense".

It is easy to dismiss this intriguing suggestion that captured Fr Faul's serious attention. But it is not easy to dismiss the insightful observations and thoughts of Fr Faul himself.

His was a transformative pastoral journey, starting with a sympathetic view of the IRA and their prisoners and ending with his active opposition to them over the hunger strikes.

Given his personal experience with the republican leadership, it is really important to appreciate that Fr Faul did not disregard this startling allegation about Adams's involvement in setting up for ambush by the SAS the IRA's elite and deadly east Tyrone brigade.

Whether or not Adams was involved, there is still currency in the view that the Loughgall killings were the result of an informer within the IRA's ranks.

We all know now that the British Security Services had effectively penetrated the IRA.

If it wasn't Adams, it could easily have been another senior republican figure, anxious to be rid of a group who represented a hardline faction within the IRA.

At a time when the republican movement, under Adams and McGuinness, were winding their circuitious way towards an end of the campaign, there was plenty of motivation to get rid of a tough and troublesome group of stubborn supporters of the so-called "armed struggle".

Interestingly, Newton Emerson, a witty and perceptive commentator, has recently written that, nowadays, going to Catholic secondary schools and discussing the history of the Troubles with students, he has been struck by the viewpoint of young Catholic students. "They see IRA violence as regrettable, yet inevitable, and almost certainly warranted. The idea of a 'just war' against oppression has been swallowed whole," he writes.

It is disturbing and alarming that this dangerous narrative seems to be becoming embedded in the post-Good Friday Agreement generation of young Catholics.

In order to preserve the peace, often the awful truth of past violence is erased, or ignored, and there is a marked reluctance to focus on the IRA as the greatest contributor to the unnecessary horror of the past.

In order to sustain the peace in our society, there is the profoundly fallacious notion that it is necessary to gloss over the roles of people like McGuinness, who were deeply involved in the commissioning and planning of killings by the Provisionals.

The Frank Hegarty story is only a small part of the role that he played as a senior IRA man. There is much more that could still emerge from the archives into the public realm.

In addition, there are those in our society, much like the fictional character of Winston Smith in George Orwell's classic political novel 1984, who toiled daily in the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history at the whim of the party.

Orwell's book was a withering critique of a futuristic totalitarian party, but it has contemporary relevance.

Modern Sinn Fein and their compliant sympathisers ape 1984 in a startlingly authentic fashion and their rewriting of the history of the Troubles is a frightening imitation of Winston Smith's role.

It is small wonder that the Catholic students referred to by Newton Emerson have been so grossly misled.

Belfast Telegraph

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