A Church of Ireland minister who was twice bereaved by the IRA has spoken out after leading a service to victims of the Troubles on the same day as Martin McGuinness was buried.
The service had been organised to coincide with the day of Mr McGuinness’s funeral, and Rev Alan Irwin suggested many paramilitary victims may well have looked upon that spectacle with a kind of “disgust” – or may not even have been able to bring themselves to watch it.
He was one of three clerics at the event in Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh, the others being Presbyterian and Methodist ministers.
Its purpose was to give Troubles victims and their relatives “some degree of comfort and hope in the midst of all that’s been going on and all that’s been spoken about in the last number of days”, he said.
The service – attended by about 100 people – involved readings, observing a period of silence, and the reciting of Psalms 46 and 57, which describe the “refuge” offered by God in times of strife.
“A lot of victims were feeling maybe just left out, and feeling that maybe what’d happened to them and their lives was somehow just being forgotten,” he told the News Letter.
His message to them was about “hope” and looking forward to “a better day to come”.
He was aged about 12 when the IRA committed its first murder of one of his relatives.
His uncle Fred Irwin, a council worker and part-time UDR soldier, was fatally shot on his way to work in Dungannon on October 30, 1979.
Then on March 26, 1986, his father Thomas Irwin, a sewage plant worker and also part-time UDR man, was shot at Mountfield near Omagh.
No-one has been convicted in relation to either killing.
Rev Irwin (51 and from Lack in Fermanagh) thinks Martin McGuinness “would’ve maybe had some knowledge” about the killings, but ultimately does not know.
“Only he could’ve answered that, and he chose not to,” said Rev Irwin.
He said the murders created a “vacuum” in his life, and he found it hard to trust people. However, they ultimately strengthened his Christian faith.
He said McGuinness was not mentioned during the service, which was organised by the South East Fermanagh Foundation, and took place first in its offices and then at Lisnaskea’s Holy Trinity Church of Ireland.
“We’re led to believe he led two lives,” said Rev Irwin.
“The taking of any life through terrorism or murder is never justified.
“Since 1998, or before it, we’re told he had changed.
“And yet he had every opportunity during that time to have shown some semblance of remorse and restitution to those innocent victims.
“That didn’t happen. So I think that’s maybe what some of those victims would find quite hurtful.
“There was no trying to bring some degree of closure; at least some degree of understanding as to why [their relatives were chosen to be killed].”
Some people – including Tory peer Lord Tebbit – have gone so far as to say they hope Mr McGuinness is now in hell.
Asked about this, Rev Irwin said: “I don’t know what commitment he’s made with his Maker. If he hasn’t confessed his sins before his Creator, then ultimately he faces the eternal fires of hell, as opposed to eternal life in Heaven.
“But God will judge ultimately... At the end of the day, when it comes to death, no matter what accolade you’ve achieved in life or what glory you think you’ve achieved in life, it fades away.”
When it comes to the impact of Mr McGuinness’s funeral upon IRA victims’ families, he said: “I don’t know whether disgust is the right word to use, but they’ll just look at it and they’ll be certainly hurting in seeing the almost show that’s going on, and the great-and-the-good there.
“And yet somehow his past life has been ignored.
“I think they will find it difficult to watch, and I’d say many innocent victims – indeed many others – probably won’t even watch it when it comes on the television. They’ll switch it off.”