For all his tedious SF language, McGuinness France visit is welcome

Morning View
Morning View

Martin McGuinness laid a wreath in Flanders yesterday to the fallen Great War soldiers.

The Sinn Fein deputy first minister had considered attending the celebrations on July 1 for the centenary of the disastrous Battle of the Somme but opted for an earlier visit with the party president Mary Lou McDonald and chair Declan Kearney.

Mr McGuinness, an ex IRA commander, used typical Sinn Fein language when he said he was attending as “a proud Irish republican to recognise the deaths of thousands of Irish men during the course of the catastrophic imperialist” war.

While he does not say which imperialists he is referring to, such talk seeks to convey the British imperialist, not the imperialism with which republicans allied themselves (of Wilhelm II, who was as culpable for war as anyone). Later republicans courted the ultimate aggressor, Hitler.

Yet Mr McGuinness probably feels that he has to speak in such terms to steady his base. His visit to France is welcome.

Sinn Fein has become increasingly involved in war remembrances. There is a simple mathematical reason why many people from republican backgrounds have relatives who served in UK armed forces: a century ago the island was still under British rule, and a significant proportion of the population served in uniform at some point in their lives.

Almost everyone has dozens of relatives when you go back three generations, and so almost everyone has such a link.

This newspaper will continue to challenge Sinn Fein in every word of its rewriting of history to justify IRA terror or when it engages in political hooliganism such as agreeing welfare reform before welshing on the deal when it thinks it might harm its Dail prospects (almost collapsing Stormont).

But increasingly there are constructive things that the party does, such as recognising Stormont and the consent principle. It is even roundly and swiftly condemning the sort of sectarianism it once fomented (ie attacks on Orange halls).

Showing respect for Catholics and Protestants who died in British uniform is another welcome stride in SF’s journey.