A Belfast woman who came to international attention for her efforts to highlight her brother’s murder has described a tribute to Martin McGuinness by a US politician as an exercise in “myth-making”.
Catherine McCartney was reacting to the eulogy given by Congressman Richard Neal at St Peter’s Catholic church in the heart of the American capital on Tuesday, during a visit by Gerry Adams to the USA.
Ms McCartney had earned widespread coverage when she travelled to the USA and met President George W Bush in 2005, just weeks after her brother Robert – aged 33 – was murdered.
He had been beaten and stabbed outside a central Belfast pub in an attack which is widely thought to have involved IRA men.
Congressman Neal’s eulogy – which has now been obtained in full by the News Letter – speaks of the “extraordinary work Martin did to bring peace, reconciliation and justice to the island of Ireland”.
He was a man of “personal integrity” who lived a “remarkable life” and who “understood the importance of both reconciliation and forgiveness”.
It mentions his sense of humour, “devout” Catholicism, and notes that he wrote poetry and enjoyed cricket and fly fishing.
Running to over 850 words, it does not mention either the IRA or paramilitarism specifically, and at no point refers to Mr McGuinness’ long-running involvement in armed violence.
Ms McCartney, who had met Congressman Neal in 2005, said: “It’s the stuff of myth-making, isn’t it?
“You’d get a sense that Martin was totally separate from the violence that took place, and was some sort of mythical peacemaker that descended upon us all to try and help.”
She likened the eulogy’s depiction of Mr McGuinness to a description of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the strictly non-violent anti-apartheid leader from South Africa who won the Nobel Peace Prize.
She said that, at this stage of the peace process, “that sort of narrative does nothing in my view to bring people closer together from both sides”.
She said it shows a “total lack of acknowledgment of the reality of what was going on here”.
She added that bits of it had to be “deciphered”, such as a passage of the eulogy which said Mr McGuinness had encouraged Irish-Americans “to take risk (sic) for peace”.
She asked: “What does he even mean by that?”
Ms McCartney said that, today, victims are being “written out” of the history books.
According to Mr Neal’s office, “Congressman Neal has been a leader in the effort to bring peace to Northern Ireland and worked closely with Mr McGuinness in that capacity”.
Ms McCartney, 49 and now living in south-east Belfast, said: “This is my issue with a lot of people – the personal relationships between political leaders seems to me to cloud their view of what is actually happening on the ground.
“I think when you’ve got to the point you’re so blinded by your cosy relationship with the individuals involved that you fail to see those same individuals are involved in violating the rights of others, you become detrimental to the process; you’re no longer positive to it.”
She noted that Mr McGuinness had acknowledged he had held a leading position in the IRA, whereas Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has always denied being a member.
That being the case, she asked: “If this is what they’re saying about Martin, what is Gerry’s [eulogy] going to be? Are they going to push for him to be canonised?”
Ms McCartney had formerly lived in the Short Strand area of east Belfast, a republican-dominated enclave not far from the city centre.
She said most of her family are apolitical, and that she herself had only voted for Sinn Fein once; it was in the general election of 2001, and she said her vote for Sinn Fein then was an endorsement of its acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement, which she had also backed.