Comment & Analysis

Martin McGuinness: many tributes but still much divided opinions
Martin McGuinness turned away from the path of violence towards the path of peace and reconciliation", writes Mary Kenny

Martin McGuinness shakes hands with Queen Elizabeth II.

There is little doubt that opinions about Martin McGuinness remained divided at the time of his death. Norman Tebbit, the Conservative peer, could neither forget nor forgive the Brighton bomb of 1984, which crippled his wife Margaret for life. Lord Tebbit said “the world was a sweeter place” without Martin McGuinness: he added that repentance must be the precursor of forgiveness and he had not seen signs of repentance for McGuinness’s leading role in the IRA.

Yet, who is any of us to judge? We don’t know what goes on in any man’s heart. And if the New Testament tells us “by their fruits ye shall know them”, Martin McGuinness did turn away from the path of violence towards the path of peace and reconciliation. 

Pragmatic

Some political commentators saw McGuinness’ change of direction as a pragmatic move. The IRA, frankly, lost their war, and the shoot-out at Lough Gall with the SAS in 1992 showed it: the Provo network was wholly penetrated by British intelligence. 

Yet I think McGuinness was moving towards a change of heart anyway, and I wonder how much he was influenced in this not only by his childhood faith – he was christened James Martin Pacelli, after Pius XII – but also by the ecumenical relations he built with members of all Christian Churches in Derry.

It will take a historical perspective to sum up his life, but despite many positive tributes paid, Lord Tebbit is not alone in his acrimony. Some of the comments posted on British social media have been most unforgiving. 

I suspect that Prince Philip is of the Tebbit tendency. When Queen Elizabeth smiled and shook hands with Martin McGuinness in Belfast in 2012, Philip (Mountbatten’s nephew) looked thunder and refrained from offering his hand. 

Hostility

Martin met the Queen on several other occasions, and she could be wryly witty in response to his informal affability. “How are you keeping?” he chatted to her not long since. “Still alive!” she quipped – as though to say she had survived long years of republican hostility.

The BBC veteran war reporter John Simpson recalled being in Derry at the time of Margaret Thatcher’s death, where there was much jubilation expressed at her passing. Mr McGuinness reproached those celebrating saying that every death should be mourned. Indeed so.

 

State can’t dictate what women wear

Theresa May has decisively rejected following France, Germany and Switzerland in banning women from wearing the burka or the niqab in public. “What a woman wears is a woman’s choice,” she said, thus upholding both liberty and faith values. 

There are certain conditions where a woman may be asked to remove a veil from her face – in court, and for security purposes. But the British Prime Minister is absolutely right: it is not the state’s job to dictate what citizens may wear. And, as she added, neither should the state ever discriminate against people on grounds of religion. Quite so. 

 

An open mind on ecology

Ecology politics are often associated with anti-population movements – many green parties supported China’s cruel one-child policies. But still, we should keep an open mind, and I was much impressed by a French ecology-movement documentary called Demain (Tomorrow), made by Melanie Laurent. 

It’s so positive, so constructive about how we can support the planet. Organic farming can be much more efficient than industrial farming, for example. Rust-belt Detroit is being rescued by the cultivation of allotment agriculture. Locations are inventing their own currencies to support local trade – Bristol has its own pound, and it works. 

There are some hippy moments in Demain, but it’s well worth seeing – especially for anyone interested in rural regeneration.