As his supporters mourn Martin McGuinness, I think of the people he mercilessly sent to an early grave. People such as Patsy Gillespie, whom McGuinness turned into a human bomb.
It was soon after midnight on October 24, 1990, that the IRA men arrived at Gillespie’s house. That he was a Catholic was irrelevant. Under McGuinness’s leadership of the terrorist organisation, the list of ‘legitimate targets’ — those deemed fair game for murder — had been expanded to include civil servants and anyone working for the security forces or supplying them with services of any kind.
Gillespie’s misfortune was to be a 42-year-old cleaner at an Army barracks in Londonderry.
The IRA took his wife Kathleen and their daughter Jennifer hostage, and bundled him away separately. ‘[He] said: “Everything will be all right, don’t worry,” ’ Kathleen recalled later. ‘I think I knew then that he wasn’t coming back.’
Gillespie was strapped into a van full of explosives and ordered to drive to an Army border checkpoint. When he got there, he tried to escape to warn the soldiers of the bomb, but the IRA had linked a detonation device to the courtesy light that came on in the van when the door opened.
Five soldiers were killed and the largest part of Gillespie left for Kathleen to bury was half a hand.
Conducting Gillespie’s funeral, Bishop Edward Daly of Derry said the IRA had ‘crossed a new threshold of evil … Some of them may even still engage in the hypocrisy of coming to church, but their lives and their works proclaim clearly that they follow Satan’.
Practising Catholic though he was, McGuinness was unmoved. Like all fanatics, he was convinced of the righteousness of his cause. Anyone and everyone who got in the way was expendable.
The IRA statement said they did not regard Gillespie as a civilian, but as ‘a part of the British war machine’, and McGuinness said that the death was an inevitable consequence of Britain’s refusal to accept Ireland’s right to self-determination.
No one was ever brought to justice for Patsy Gillespie’s murder. But since the Republicans were ambitious to do well in politics at the time, they could not ignore public revulsion.
That is why, reluctantly, McGuinness did not repeat his human bomb experiment. (However, when in 2001 the IRA set up a training camp in Colombia for the FARC guerilla movement, in exchange for a substantial amount of drug money, they taught them about turning humans into ‘proxy bombs’ just like poor Patsy.)
This is the Martin McGuinness who is today the subject of glowing tributes as a peacemaker — a man who insisted he had left the IRA in 1974 even as he was still authorising murders as one of its leaders well into the Nineties.
Anyone speaking ill of him will be labelled a purveyor of hate who is anti-peace — something I’ve often been accused of by IRA members, apologists and fellow travellers, including McGuinness himself.
But I’ll take that abuse on the chin, for I want the world to know the truth. Martin McGuinness — a man of ability, certainly, as well as courage and charm — was a stony-hearted mass murderer, who killed, tortured and destroyed for a futile cause and got away with it.
I met him a few times and can testify to his remarkable ability to convey friendliness with his smile — as well as menace with his eyes.
Bishop Edward Daly after his retirement described McGuinness as, in many ways, ‘an exemplary man . . . a good father, a good husband, a strong churchgoer . . . my only quarrel with Martin was with the legitimacy and morality of using violence for political purposes’.
The trouble is that it was a very big quarrel. From the early Seventies, McGuinness, his comrade-in-arms, Gerry Adams, and their little group of ruthless fanatics set out to bomb and shoot Unionists into a United Ireland.
In the process they set back any hope of unity for decades, they killed and injured thousands, sowed hate among neighbours and then set about creating a great lie to cover up their past.
Over many decades of writing about Northern Ireland, I have come to know several people who were drawn into terrorism as youngsters. Many later underwent a conversion, but for McGuinness it became a lifelong vocation.
Even when at 66, as deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, he was stricken with the debilitating disease that killed him, he was still one of those directing the remnants of the IRA as well as Sinn Fein, their political wing.
Though it suits the self-deluding to claim he opted for peace rather than war in the Nineties for entirely admirable motives, in fact, by then, the IRA had been defeated by a combination of the British Army, the Royal Irish Constabulary and MI5, and its leaders knew the game was up.
McGuinness and his fellow killers were adept at blaming everyone else for the suffering they inflicted.
In 2001, when he had achieved respectability and was Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, he explained how a senior Protestant clergyman had told him that ‘this situation would move along an awful lot easier if you would say you are sorry for the events of the past 30 years’.
McGuinness had replied: ‘The responsibility lies with successive British governments, right through those decades, who turned their heads away from what was happening in the North of Ireland. It is very easy to blame a little black boy in Soweto or to blame a little Catholic in the Bogside.’
That was classic McGuinness, and classic unrepentant IRA, masters of what in Northern Ireland had become known as ‘whataboutery’, the attempt to evade any responsibility by pointing the finger at someone else.
It was also a classic example of what has become known as MOPE, the spinning of the narrative that the Irish were the Most Oppressed People Ever.
It is an obscenity to compare South African apartheid, where black people had no democratic rights, with mean-spirited and petty discrimination in Northern Ireland, where the ballot box rules. But Irish republicans do it all the time.
McGuinness was born into a peaceable Republican family in Londonderry’s Bogside in 1950 and became radicalised during the clashes between nationalist civil rights marchers, loyalist mobs and police in the late Sixties — with British soldiers sent in to restore peace in mid-1969.
He quickly began killing for the IRA — an occupation for which he proved to be pitilessness, along with having an instinct for self- preservation that would put his colleagues rather than himself in danger.
A former colleague later told of a heated argument in 1970, after a furious McGuinness heard that a plan to blow up an Army patrol had been countermanded by HQ: ‘Martin was a gunman, who had a primitive philosophy of physical force about the soldiers — send them home in boxes and free Ireland.’
Not long afterwards, McGuinness joined the breakaway group the Provisional IRA, in which he rose so quickly that at 22, during a supposed ceasefire, he was part of a delegation sent to a fruitless secret meeting with Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State Willie Whitelaw on how to end violence.
Yet violence was his stock in trade. Briefly an apprentice butcher, he would soon be nicknamed the Butcher of Bogside, who kept his own community obedient through beatings, knee-cappings and executions.
It was in January 1972, when McGuinness was acting Derry Commander, that he was involved in Bloody Sunday, when members of the Parachute Regiment fired on an illegal protest march in the Bogside and killed 14 people.
Almost 40 years later, in 2010, the Saville Inquiry (which cost more than £200 million and was set up by Tony Blair as a bribe to McGuinness to give up his violent path) found the civilians had not posed a threat and there was no justification for the soldiers opening fire.
What it also concluded was that McGuinness had been ‘engaged in paramilitary activity’ that day — possibly overseeing the movement of Provisional IRA arms caches —and was probably armed with a sub-machine gun.
The extent of McGuinness’s mendacity and hypocrisy over the Saville Inquiry was breathtaking.
While calling on everyone to assist the inquiry, he delayed his own appearance as a witness for as long as possible, ensured those witnesses who might embarrass him were intimidated into lies or silence, and was determinedly unhelpful in giving evidence even as he was continuing to demand full disclosure from the state.
After Bloody Sunday, he was among those in the IRA bent on revenge, which is why in July 1972 car bombs in the small village of Claudy killed nine civilians, including an eight-year-old girl cleaning the windows of her family’s shop.
He disappeared across the border for a while along with one of the perpetrators. Imprisoned in 1973 and 1974 briefly for IRA membership, he was soon back home, where, like Adams, he would be protected from soldiers and police all his life by MI5, who thought the two of them more reasonable than their likely replacements.
When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, the IRA were in search of propaganda victories — and on the same day that 18 soldiers were blown up in Warrenpoint, they murdered Lord Mountbatten along with three others.
After the bomber, Thomas McMahon, was released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, McGuinness was one of those cheering and applauding him at a celebratory party.
Perhaps one of the most revolting examples of McGuinness’s cold-blooded ruthlessness came with the murder of Frank Hegarty in May 1986.
An Army informer, Hegarty had told the security forces about an IRA arms dump of Libyan weapons on the border and had to flee to England when the Gardai (Irish police) raided it.
McGuinness visited Hegarty’s widowed mother and talked on the phone to the frightened and homesick 45-year-old, assuring him he was not under suspicion from the IRA and promising him he would be safe if he returned.
‘He came across as a warm and sincere man, someone you could trust,’ remembered members of his family.
Convinced by him, Hegarty escaped his British handlers in April and arrived back at his mother’s house in Derry. McGuinness was soon calling and asking to talk to him. In time, Hegarty agreed to do so.
Hegarty’s sisters later claimed that ‘on one visit in May, McGuinness said that Frank had to meet the IRA in Co. Donegal to straighten things out’. He went and was never seen again.
He was found shot dead on a country road in Tyrone days later after brutal interrogation, his hands bound behind his back and his eyes taped. Annually, his family place a notice in the local paper saying he had been ‘betrayed by the Judas goat’.
As a key member of the seven-man Army Council — on which he remained for the rest of his life — McGuinness would have authorised the Brighton bombing during the Tory conference on October 12, 1984, in which five people died and Norman Tebbit’s wife Margaret was left paralysed.
The charge sheet against him is relentless: McGuinness was in overall command of the IRA Army Council when he authorised the Remembrance Day bomb in Enniskillen in 1987 that killed 11 and injured more than 60.
The outrage this caused worldwide damage to Sinn Fein — and made sure McGuinness was more careful about future targets. But the murders went on even while McGuinness and Adams were being hailed as peace-makers.
The truth is they had lost their war and were forced to accept the bomb would never win over the ballot box, that the violence they had unleashed over the decades would not lead to a united Ireland.
Funding for the IRA was also becoming more difficult following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 which brought home the true horror of terrorism to America, a long-standing provider of IRA funds.
The only solution for McGuinness was to portray himself cynically as a man of peace — and with his gift for skilful propaganda he was soon seen as a key player in negotiating a peaceful settlement for Northern Ireland.
So important, conveniently, that when in the Nineties the RUC had amassed sufficient evidence to bring prosecutions for his involvement in several murders, McGuinness was considered too valuable to the peace process to be brought to justice. In other words, many believe, he had become a man of peace to save his own skin.
As Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator in the run-up to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement — which set out arrangements for a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland — he was in pole position to seize power.
He did so with the Rev Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party, the notorious Protestant hardliner who had initially rejected the Agreement, but was ready to make a deal — after all, he had wanted to be top dog all his life.
McGuinness played this vain old man quite brilliantly, and Paisley became First Minister while McGuinness was Deputy First Minister. Paisley the laughing bigot and McGuinness the Bogside butcher formed an unlikely partnership and became known as the Chuckle brothers.
Over ten years, through his diplomatic and self-effacing handling of Paisley and his two successors, McGuinness kept the power-sharing government afloat.
The reward was to give Sinn Fein a reputation for reliability that played so well in the Republic that he won 14 per cent of the vote in the presidential election in 2011.
But then, this January, McGuinness had to resign through illness, and the eulogies started.
Yesterday, his family appealed for privacy in the wake of his death. But remember, privacy was never a prerogative offered to the many tens of thousands of broken-hearted parents, spouses and children in these two islands — people such as Kathleen Gillespie and her children — whose lives were devastated by Martin McGuinness, the Bogside Butcher.