A Methodist minister has apologised to anyone who was hurt or offended by statements issued by his church in the wake of Martin McGuinness’s retirement and death.
As reported by the News Letter on Wednesday, Rev David Clements wrote to Martin McGuinness two months ago to urge him to apologise for the “cruel things done” by the IRA.
His father, reserve Constable William Clements, was shot by the IRA at close range at the gates of Ballygawley police station on December 7, 1985, along with reserve Constable George Gilliland.
Rev Clements, who said he does not know whether Mr McGuinness had read his letter before his death last week, described how the former IRA commander’s refusal to express any regrets for his past “grieves me deeply”.
Yesterday, the News Letter suggested to Rev Clements that his letter stood in stark contrast to two statements issued by president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Bill Mullally, one after Mr McGuinness resigned, the other following his death earlier this month.
The statements (both pasted in full below) spoke of Mr McGuinness’s “honesty” and his “journey of immense courage, determination and humility”.
The latter statement, after Mr McGuinness died, made no reference whatsoever to the IRA leader’s long history of violence, often at a senior level in an organisation that murdered almost 1,800 people and planted bombs across the UK.
When asked if he had taken issue with the wording of the two statements, Rev Clements – chair of the Methodist Council on Social Responsibilty – told the News Letter he had no difficulty with the content.
However, he added that he had received criticism from some people who had “felt hurt by what was said”.
He added: “The [first] statement sent out after Martin McGuinness’s retirement came to me before it was issued, so I am happy to stand over it.
“I did not see the other statement [which did not mention IRA violence at all] until after it was released, but I do not disagree with what has been said and I don’t regret that as a church we made these remarks.
“But I am sorry to anyone who felt hurt by what was said.”
Yesterday, Rev Mullally told the News Letter: “In making these comments I was in no way ignoring Martin McGuinness’s IRA past and the great pain he caused to countless innocent families and communities.
“While these are well recorded, we cannot ignore the contribution Mr McGuinness made to peace in his latter life.”
In the first statement, issued after Mr McGuinness resigned, Rev Mullally spoke of his “honesty”.
But Ed Moloney, who has written extensively about republicans, wrote in Saturday’s News Letter that Martin McGuinness “lied repeatedly about his life in the IRA, lied more, perhaps, than Gerry Adams”.
He said: “The Sinn Fein president has repeatedly denied ever being in the IRA whereas McGuinness maintained that while he was a member in the early 1970s he quit the organisation in 1974.
“That’s one more lie than Gerry Adams has told about his life; first that he left the IRA, which he never did, and that thereafter he was never a member. Not only he did not quit in 1974 but at that time Martin McGuinness’s IRA career was really only beginning.”
Rev Clements said his letter to Mr McGuinness – urging him to apologise for the “cruel things done” by the IRA – was in part prompted by a desire to “strike a balance between being gracious and truthful”.
He explained: “On the one hand, Martin McGuinness played a significant role in the IRA, but I genuinely believe he changed in his later years and wanted to do good.
“On the other hand, we have to accept that talking about Martin McGuinness in this way can cause a lot of hurt for those who suffered at the hands of the IRA.”
• BOTH METHODIST STATEMENTS BELOW
On January 23, the President of the Methodist Church, the Rev Bill Mullally, and the Church’s Council on Social Responsibility, issued the following statement, marking the retirement of Martin McGuinness:
“With the retirement of Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland politics will be the poorer. There was an honesty about him in that he never tried to avoid his past as a leading commander of the IRA in Derry. Dealing with political leaders in Britain and Ireland was nothing new to him as he was a negotiator for the IRA with the British and Irish governments from the 1970s onwards.
“While acknowledging his past and the actions of others which led him into the IRA and the great loss of life his organisation caused very often to innocent civilians, it would be churlish not to commend and acknowledge his influence in the pursuit of peace. On a personal level, he was acutely aware of the pain and grief of the victims caused by the conflict. Encouraged by others, he put away the armalite and replaced it with the ballot box and we could say the rest is history.
“As a Church, we with others, applaud his unstinting work for peace sometimes perhaps at great personal cost. His was the hand that was held out in friendship even to thosse who continued to see him as “the enemy”. His courage and bridge-building was seen in his visits to the Somme and Flanders fields; in his historic handshakes with Queen Elizabeth II, and this was matched by Her Majesty’s historic visit to the Irish Republic where by her words and actions she held out a hand of friendship to a people who had for centuries seen Britain as the enemy.
“Friendship does not mean the betrayal of aspirations. It does mean a willingness to work together for the good of all the people and leave behind the battles of the past as there are enough battles to be fought in the present.”
• On March 21, the president of the Methodist Church in Ireland issued the following statement following the death of Martin McGuinness:
“It is with sadness that we heard this morning of the passing of Martin McGuinness following a short illness.
“His commitment to peace and reconciliation was a journey of immense courage, determination and humility.
“As talks on the restoration of power-sharing continue, let us honour Martin McGuinness’s legacy by redoubling our efforts to mend broken relationships by holding out hands of friendship and working out our differences with respect for each other so that we can move ever closer towards a tolerant, compassionate and peaceful future for all.
On behalf of the Methodist Church in Ireland, I offer our deepest sympathies to Martin’s wife Bernadette, his children, grandchildren and the wider circle of family and close friends in their time of loss and assure them of our thoughts and prayers.”