The news yesterday that Martin Mcguinness has died led to expressions of joy and anger from some and sorrow and appreciation from others. The fact is that every time a terrorist lays down their weapons and tries to replace them with the actions of a peacemaker, all of society should be grateful. However that does not in any way make their actions as a terrorist any less evil or offensive and if we lose sight of their acts of murder and violence we are doing them, let alone the victims of their crimes a complete disservice. My one and only extended visit to Ireland took place in the late 1980’s when we stayed in Dunmurry a town between Belfast and Lisburn with armed soldiers patrolling the Streets on a nightly basis. I had the rare opportunity to visit the Maze Prison and to meet a prisoner in H block. He was a man who had planted a bomb under a prison officers car and later wrote to the mans widow to express his sorrow for getting caught up in a crime and a way of life that he was now ashamed off. This man happened to be from the Republican side of the dispute but our week long visit included the opportunity to meet men and women on the loyalist side of the dispute and other republicans most of whom were committed to the politics of the dispute but passionately opposed to the violence being meted out by men like McGuinness and others who did not seem quite so clear in their views. The fact is that the peace which is occasionally attributed to McGuinness and others, just like the acts of terror come from communities that are a good deal more complex than simplistic blogs or newspaper articles tend to reflect. I met some men and a few women who I would not have wished to spend five minutes with alone, and others who I would happily have stayed with for weeks on my visit. Most of those who have become peacemakers and peacekeepers will never be known by name and their actions, some which are just as brave as the decision taken by McGuinness to turn away from his weapons will never be known about outside of their home areas.
I totally understand the views of Norman Tebbit and he has every right to express his feelings. The fact is that all of us have the ability to damage or strengthen communities by our actions. I am grateful that we no longer have a war on our Streets and that the level of violence in Ireland is a great deal lower than was the case in the recent past. We need to do more to eradicate it altogether and that will require men and women on both sides of the sectarian divide continuing to take a courageous stance. I do not want to equate apples with bananas, but the damage that Tebbit and his colleagues did to many communities when in Government has led to some lives being damaged and destroyed as a consequence. There will be people who feel pleased when Norman dies, just as he is pleased to see McGuinness depart this life. It is telling that McGuinness was critical of those who rejoiced at the death of Thatcher. Let us hope that at in the future we can get better at acknowledging the hard work of those who we may not know the names of, but whose actions are just as significant in ending violence in our streets or damaging division in our politics. We might then move the focus onto what each of us can do to improve our communities rather than look for people to blame.