A PROMINENT Irish columnist has defended an article in which he challenged Martin McGuinness’s right to stand for the Irish presidency – while at the same time accepting him as deputy first minister in Northern Ireland.
Fintan O’Toole launched a blistering attack on the former IRA leader in an Irish Times article.
He said Mr McGuinness’s “personal transformation from diehard IRA leader to deputy first minister at ease with the Democratic Unionists is a remarkable story, requiring courage, skill and imagination”.
However, he also contrasted a litany of IRA atrocities with the human rights requirements of the Geneva Convention.
“The question, to put it starkly, is whether we should have a head of state who would, in principle, be liable to arrest for war crimes under international law,” he wrote on Tuesday.
Yesterday, Mr O’Toole told the News Letter there was no inconsistency in his argument.
“Martin McGuinness is currently deputy first minister directly because of the Belfast Agreement, which means the form of government there requires power-sharing with Sinn Fein,” he said.
“As the largest nationalist party Sinn Fein gets to nominate its candidate for deputy first minister.
“There has been no such deal in the Republic of Ireland and this is a completely open competition for president.
“This position is not party political, so Martin McGuinness is not standing as a Sinn Fein candidate. He is trying to transcend his party and is standing as an individual on his own record. That is a very different office.”
He listed many IRA atrocities including the massacres at Teebane and Kingsmills. The IRA, partly under the leadership of Martin McGuinness, he said, killed 644 civilians, “incinerated members of the Irish Collie Club at the La Mon Hotel; killed children, including Nicholas Knatchbull, Jonathan Ball, Tim Parry and Paul Maxwell”.
“It practised kidnapping, torture, and acts of naked sadism, such as forcing Patsy Gillespie to drive a van loaded with explosives at an army checkpoint.”
He said he would like to think that Mr McGuinness was “haunted” by some of these “obscenities”.
“But shouldn’t that private grief manifest itself in a certain tact, a reticence about pushing things too far? Shouldn’t he feel extraordinarily blessed to have been allowed to escape the consequences of the deeds he has been party to? Shouldn’t gratitude for that blessing make him think twice about the hubris of putting himself forward as the leading citizen of this state, the embodiment of its better values?”