It is not unusual for politicians to be contentious figures- to bring forth opposing views from the public, to be adored by some and loathed by others.
Few politicians are as controversial in the United Kingdom as Martin McGuinness.
For some, he is a hero who brought the peace process to reality when he entered government with Rev. Ian Paisley, forming the most unlikely of bonds with the leader of the DUP, who had opposed the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. He helped bring Sinn Fein from the edges of the political spectrum to the very center of the Executive, ruling as Deputy First Minister for a decade, alongside three DUP First Ministers.
For others, he will always be the ‘godfather’ of the IRA, in the commanding ranks of an organisation responsible for attacks both in Northern Ireland and on the mainland of the UK. Victims of the IRA, survivors of attacks, their families and friends may take a very different view of McGuiness. Lord Tebbit, who was at the Grand Hotel in Brighton when it was attacked by the Provisional IRA during the Conservative Party Conference of 1984, and whose wife Margaret was permanently paralysed as a result of her injuries, has spoken out today with regards to McGuinness’ death. He began by stating that “the world is a sweeter and cleaner place”, and that he “was a coward…a murderer, a multi-murderer…”.
McGuinness never denounced his former position in the IRA, yet it is important to remember that he never allowed it to overplay his role as Deputy First Minister, perhaps best seen when he met Her Majesty, The Queen, on more than one occasion.
Michelle O’Neill, his successor as leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, paid tribute to “a giant of Irish politics”, whose “leadership, grace and warm personality have transformed Irish politics for the better and his impact will be felt for many years to come.”
It is, at times like this, essential to remember that unionist forces also killed Catholics and nationalists during the years of ‘The Troubles’. The Ulster Volunteer Force were responsible for one of the worst attacks during ‘The Troubles’ when fifteen Catholics died as a result of the bombing of McGurk’s Bar in Belfast. Yes, Martin McGuiness was at undoubtedly a leader of the IRA, but there is always two sides in a war.
Theresa May, in a statement released this morning, recognised that McGuiness “made an essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace”, and his former OFMDFM partner, Arlene Foster, captured the overarching feeling being portrayed by most of the media, “history will record differing views and opinions on the role Martin McGuinness played throughout the recent and not so recent past, but history will also show that his contribution to the political and peace process was significant.”
Ultimately, McGuiness was an IRA Commander, yet without him, there is little doubt that we would not have the peace process that we have today. We would not have experienced the ‘Chuckle Brothers’ relationship between McGuinness and Paisley that defied all the odds. Even when his health was declining, he took the incentive to resign his post as Deputy First Minister to trigger a snap election in Northern Ireland to return legitimacy to the Executive and institutions that he had fought to create and maintain.
Whatever your opinion of McGuinness may be, there is no doubt that he was a political giant who guided Northern Ireland down the path to the Good Friday Agreement, the St. Andrews’ Agreement and the power-sharing Executive at Stormont.