LORD Tebbit, one of the fiercest critics of Sinn Fein, has said that he believes the party can no longer be simply equated with the IRA.
In an in-depth interview with the News Letter, the former Cabinet minister whose wife was paralysed by the IRA’s bombing of the Tory conference in 1984, said that when he speaks of the past he refers to “IRA-Sinn Fein” but he believes that such an addendum to the party’s name is not necessary today.
The former Conservative Party chairman also said that if former IRA commander Martin McGuinness shakes the hand of the Queen next week it will be a “battlefield moment” of vast symbolic importance.
Lord Tebbit’s comments came ahead of a decision by Sinn Fein’s policy-making Ard Comhairle yesterday (Friday) which approved of the first meeting between Mr McGuinness and the Queen to take place next Wednesday at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre.
Lord Tebbit compared the former IRA commander’s anticipated meeting with the Queen to the pagan Viking chieftain Guthrum being baptised a Christian after defeat in battle by Alfred the Great in 878, something which assimilated him into the British establishment.
The former key aide of Margaret Thatcher suggested that bringing people like Mr McGuinness into the UK mainstream had a long history and said that he saw no indication that even for Sinn Fein the top priority is to remove the Irish border.
Lord Tebbit, whose wife was paralysed by the Brighton bomb 28 years ago, said that while he cannot forgive IRA commanders who refuse to acknowledge their crimes, he does believe that Sinn Fein has changed.
When asked how he felt on seeing the images of Ian Paisley and Mr McGuinness sitting together and laughing in 2007, he said: “I smiled a little. But more wars have probably ended that way than with the losing side going to jail or being executed.”
Lord Tebbit, whose daughter is married to a Dane, said that he now “pulls his leg” about how his Danish ancestors have a bad reputation in Bury St Edmunds, where Lord Tebbit lives, because they killed King Edmund in 873.
“I always say to people that King Alfred was King Alfred the Great – no other British monarch has ever received a title of that kind.
“He was Alfred the Great because he dealt with the problems of multi-culturalism. The Danes were exercising Dane law, they at that time were pagans, Alfred and the Saxons were Christians. In the great battle, the army of Guthrum, the Danish king, was destroyed and he was captured and brought to King Alfred, who, being a Christian, explained to the Danish king the virtues of Christianity and salvation and suggested to him that he might like to seek baptism.
“And, as he had a sword at his throat at the time, he saw the logic of this, and was Christened. What was left of the Danes’ Army withdrew, Alfred married one of his daughters to Guthrum’s son, hence Canute came to the throne of England much later.
“There are times when it has to be established in the long term that a war is over and if the terms have been set up right, then you may have established the peace. Very disagreeable no doubt for the Danes’ establishment, but very wise. So I guess we have to look at the island of Ireland in that way.”
Asked how he felt about the prospect of Mr McGuinness meeting the Queen and shaking her hand, he smiled and said: “That’s the battlefield moment, isn’t it?”
Lord Tebbit said that it would be a highly symbolic – and pragmatic step – and added: “It’s rather like the moment of the Danish King being baptised, isn’t it?”
He laughed and added: “We can have our doubts as to whether he understood fully the doctrine of Christianity...but he took the water.”