President McGuiness? It’s not such a horrible spectre
The erstwhile ‘Butcher of Bogside’ could prove a very compliant President of Ireland
MARTIN McGUINNESS, by his own admission formerly IRA capo in Londonderry, will be the Sinn Fein candidate in the election for president of the Republic of Ireland next month.
Known to security forces during the Troubles as the 'Butcher of the Bogside', McGuinness is currently deputy first minister in Northern Ireland's weird 'anything is better than another 30 years of bombing' devolved government. We have got used to that. But becoming President of Ireland would be an altogether different matter.
He certainly would appear to have that essential quality for a head of state, charm. At least according to those reliable character referees Ian Paisley and Jonathan Powell. Context is important though. What is charming in Downing Street or Stormont may not have been so engaging in the backstreets or darkened cellars of McGuinness's terrorist Bogside fiefdom.
It seems unlikely that he will be elected but his candidacy throws up an interesting question for the UK: is it possible for an enthusiastic supporter of killing British soldiers to become the democratically elected head of state with whom Her Majesty's Government can be on good terms?
It has been done before, certainly. Most famously, by George Washington, first President of the United States. A fierce opponent of the British army on the battlefield, he was an invariably punctilious and usually generous (except at Yorktown) observer of the customs and courtesies of war.
His treatment of colonists who remained loyal to the King was harsh but even George III conceded he was "the greatest character of the age". After the British accepted defeat in North America it was easy enough for us to establish cordial relations with the new republic under his leadership. Crucially, he never bore us a grudge.
A more recent and more difficult example is Menachem Begin, sixth Prime Minister of Israel. Begin was the leader of Irgun, a particularly violent terrorist organisation devoted to kicking the British out of Palestine in the late 1940s.
Irgun was behind the bombing of Jerusalem's King David Hotel in July 1946 (91 dead). But it was a smaller now largely forgotten outrage a year later that put both Begin and his organisation beyond the pale - the murder of two British Intelligence Corps Sergeants, Clifford Martin and Mervyn Paice.
After being kidnapped by Begin's henchmen they were entombed in a dark, sound-proofed, air-tight cell beneath the floor of a diamond-polishing factory in Netanya, on the coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Twelve square feet and less than 6ft high.
They were given some food, two oxygen cylinders and a canvas bucket. At certain intervals the door was opened, the bucket changed and some fresh air let into the cell. They were held in this way for 17 days before being hooded, bound and hanged in revenge for the execution of convicted terrorists.
According to subsequent accounts, just before the first sergeant was strung up he asked to write a message to his family – but the Irgun men kicked away the chair.
Most of the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine were appalled by this act of barbarism. Most wanted the British gone quickly and many were prepared to countenance violence against British forces and their allies, but the unnecessarily prolonged and cruel treatment of these two sergeants was going too far.
Perish the thought McGuinness's men in the Derry of the 70s and 80s ever treated anyone in this way.
More important than Irgun's brutality, at least as far as the UK was concerned, was Begin's almost pathological Anglophobia which had unforeseen consequences for the UK during the Falklands War.
Recent revelations suggest that as prime minister of Israel in 1982 Begin supplied weapons to Argentina. His hatred of the British made him sympathetic to General Galtieri's fascist Argentine junta in the 1980s – direct ideological descendants of the Peronists who gave asylum to Adolf Eichmann and other deeply unpleasant Nazis.
In office, McGuinness would not behave in this way. If the long-standing rumours of his involvement with British intelligence have any substance he may not be an Anglophobe at all.
Even if he was never on the British pay roll his security file is likely to be extensive. Either way HMG knows, to coin a phrase, where the bodies are buried. In the unlikely event that he is elected he may prove a very compliant ninth President of the Irish Republic. ·
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