Gregory Campbell: The full truth has to be told about Martin McGuinness

Gregory Campbell
Gregory Campbell

The passing of a husband, father and grandfather is obviously a time of sadness for the family.

It is entirely appropriate they are given space to grieve and those who wish to pay their respects can do so and in the way they choose to do so.

Gerry Adams and  Martin McGuinness at the funeral of Patrick Kelly, 30, a reputed IRA commander in East Tyrone. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at the funeral of Patrick Kelly, 30, a reputed IRA commander in East Tyrone. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

When it is someone as controversial as the former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, it is essential that the truth insofar as is possible, is told about the life that was lived and how it affected others.

Much has been made of his move from guns to government. Upon news of his death I was inundated by many media interview requests.

They wanted my reaction, given the experiences of my community at the hands of McGuinness’s IRA.

However, I wanted in deference to the immediate family, to allow that grieving process and burial to take place before commenting in detail.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness  and party president Gerry Adams and carrying the coffin of former senior IRA commander Brian Keenan in west Belfast in 2008. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and party president Gerry Adams and carrying the coffin of former senior IRA commander Brian Keenan in west Belfast in 2008. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Sensitivities are very important and I fully understand the grief the McGuinness family will be going through, at the same time the truth must and will be told.

Eulogies have been given and tributes paid as Martin McGuinness had undergone a dramatic transformation. He more than any other individual brought violent Irish republicanism to the democratic table.

We will probably never know however, whether this was because he helped initiate it or responded to events that he knew were inevitable after 9/11 with the Provos being riddled with informers.

A point was reached where the wider community was becoming more war weary after the 1969 pogroms had dragged on into the 1980s and then the ceasefires were brought about.

Patsy Gillespie was killed in a particularly sickening IRA attack

Patsy Gillespie was killed in a particularly sickening IRA attack

McGuinness threw himself into the whole peace process with as much enthusiasm as he did the violence when he was the second-in-command of the Londonderry brigade of the PIRA.

It is important that people understand the context of his rise to prominence.

Before 1969 there were obviously massive social problems across Northern Ireland. Londonderry was not immune from those, the communities were reasonably mixed.

The West Bank had over 10,000 Protestants living mainly in mixed estates. Once the violence, orchestrated by Martin McGuinness’s IRA began, that changed.

Almost 50 years later those changed demographics remain the same. Today there are more than 60,000 citizens who live on the West Bank, only around 1,000 of them are Protestant.

There has been no comparable degree of ethnic cleansing anywhere else in modern day UK. This was not some large swathe of anonymous ‘communities’ that I refer to but MY community.

Family, friends, neighbours who were intimidated, threatened and sometimes murdered as the exodus took hold. Then the larger scale slaughter began across Northern Ireland and continued through the 1970s, 80s and into the 90s.

The disadvantages that Martin McGuinness faced were similar to those that I and others faced. Catholic and Protestant working-class communities faced the same disadvantage, the same discrimination and the same lack of opportunities. The crucial difference is that I didn’t kill anyone to try and bring about change.

It is undoubtedly the case that Northern Ireland is a transformed place compared to during the Troubles.

On each occasion from the mid 1990s when we reached the proverbial ‘fork in the road’ political leaders had a choice to make and it is most certainly the case that tough calls had to be made, and were made, by both sides to move forward.

On numerous occasions I attempted to ascertain what role McGuinness played in the Claudy bomb, the murder of the two police officers before Bloody Sunday, the murder of the census taker Joanne Mathers, the security worker Patsy Gillespie, whose murder along with five soldiers became known as the human bomb incident.

I also raised the murder of two prison officers on the West Bank and many others. On every single occasion I raised these atrocities he always denied participation in, and even knowledge of, any of them. This compounded the sense of grievance of many victims.

How could someone reach such a senior position within an organisation whose expertise was in killing people, without doing any of the killing, or knowing anything about those who did?

Then the final and ultimate insult took place. In Martin McGuinness’s last televised interview he was asked if he regretted the actions of his past and his answer was “I don’t regret any of that”. There could be no greater insult than that.

Those who have reported that his legacy will be mixed are right. Without him and others like him there may not have been a relatively successful peace process. However, without him and others like him we wouldn’t have needed one.

l Gregory Campbell is DUP MP for East Londonderry