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Leading You Back To The Start
We don't believe that winning elections and winning any amount of votes will bring freedom to Ireland - at the end of the day it will be the cutting edge of the IRA that will bring freedom … Freedom can only be gained at the point of an IRA rifle and I apologise to no one for saying that we support and admire the freedom fighters of the IRA - Martin McGuinness

Anthony McIntyre • 31/10/2002

BBC Spotlight yesterday evening was devoted to profiling Martin McGuinness. Unlike television documentaries from a bygone era in which Provisional republicanism was still considered a threat to the British state and McGuinness public enemy No 1, last night’s broadcast was in soft focus. The dissonance between two previous programmes - Real Lives in 1985 and the Cooke Report in 1993 - and Spotlight 2002 could hardly have been more graphic. The powers that be wish to see McGuinness locked in Stormont and not in the H-Blocks. Safer that Irish politicians deprive Irish people of acute hospital facilities than the British having to do so themselves. And the BBC is not renowned for straying off state side and making the uncomfortable journey across the tracks. Better that republicanism is depicted in its Good Friday mode. The Bloody Friday variety would make it difficult for longstanding opponents to do some partitionist business.

In this sense critics might muse that last night’s broadcast was more Spot the Light than Spotlight. From whatever perspective other than that of British institutional power seeking to coalesce with a republican leadership eager to become institutionalised, the producers ensured a dimmer switch regulated the investigative beam. Ed Moloney hardly came in from the USA to limit his input to the largely anodyne observations that the producers allowed their audience to hear. The only critical voice who could lay claim to previous republican baggage was a former British state agent, Willie Carlin.

The programme was not without some balance. The producers could never have justified a televised equivalent of Before The Dawn. Even in today’s peace process-driven media where frequently success means sycophancy, McGuinness being allowed to avoid the question of IRA membership would have earned Spotlight a slot next to Fools and Horses. The Derry politician performed well but only in the manner of shadow boxing where the sole contestant remains undisputed champion for ever and a day. No real punch was ever going to come. Despite all the waffle about securocrats, few in the establishment want to see the Good Friday Agreement champion knocked out of the ring. As Eamonn McCann puts it 'there is no fundamental contradiction between the politics of the Provo leadership and of the British ruling class.'

Unionists of course would bemoan that this or that particular incident never came to be highlighted. Most are probably seething that the human bomb - where, in our peculiar Provisional version, we innovatively force others to commit suicide - was not dealt with in any detail. And had it been, today’s unionist discourse would have burst at the seams, gorged on a verbosity focusing almost exclusively on the possibility of Osama bin Laden as future education minister for Scotland.

Those republicans who have never seen anything in the peace process other than a bunch of self-serving leadership lies will hardly be interested in one-eyed unionism’s particular take on events. They will perhaps fulminate at the easy time McGuinness got on the question of republicanism’s somersaults. Was it really the same Martin McGuinness who said?:

I can give a commitment on behalf of the leadership that we have absolutely no intention of going to Westminster or Stormont … Our position is clear and it will never, never, never change. The war against British rule must continue until freedom is achieved… Don’t go my friends. We will lead you to the Republic.

A mere six months after these comments eight IRA volunteers went to early graves at Loughall. How many, we may ask, faced their deaths with those words ringing in their ears? And would they still have ventured out on that Bad Friday had they been presented with a more honest account of leadership intentions? An account that would go something like this:

I can give a commitment on behalf of the leadership that we have absolutely no intention of going to the Republic or even Joint Authority… Our position is clear and will never, never, never change. The war against British rule must continue until partition is secured through our consent. Don’t go my friends. We will lead you to Stormont.

The only uncomfortable moment for the former education minister came when he was asked at what point he had left the IRA. Rather than refusing to be drawn on the matter, he awkwardly parried the question by deferring to Saville. But at least he avoided the public ridicule which frequently greets his party leader each time he protests that he was never a member of the organisation.

Still, paradoxically - but entirely consistent with the nonsenses and myths that underpin the peace process - McGuinness’s admission that he was once a member of the IRA may add weight to the Sinn Fein president’s claims that he was never in it - he had no reason to infiltrate it on behalf of peace seeking Sinn Fein, Martin was there already trying to build a peace process.

While Deaglan de Breadun, formerly Northern editor of the Irish Times, described Gerry Adams as the architect and Martin McGuiness as the engineer, the latter’s respect for his party leader while evident was qualified by his wish to stress that he was no flunkey merely there to hold the umbrella over Adams’s head when it rained. The Ballymurphy man had learned a lot from the Bogsider we were told. Nevertheless, McGuinness went as far as to explain how he would trust the party leader with his life. Brave man Martin. More faith than me.




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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

3 November 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Addressing Organised Crime
Billy Mitchell


Leading You Back To The Start
Anthony McIntyre



Carrie Twomey


Review: A Secret History of the IRA
Deaglan O Donghaile


Review: Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of Conflict in Northern Ireland
Buffy Maguire


Yes, Palestine Is Still The Issue
Aine Fox


Support & Solidarity
Davy Carlin


31 October 2002


The Real IRA
Eamonn McCann


A Stick To Be Beaten With
Anthony McIntyre


A Modest Proposal

Tommy Gorman


Minimum Wage or the Abolition of Wage Labour?
Liam O Ruairc




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The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
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