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Sunday 16 October 2011

Victims of Troubles haven't gone away, you know

If Martin McGuinness became President it could be disastrous for tourism here, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Poor Martin McGuinness. It's difficult for an ill-tempered man to keep his cool when journalists are asking him questions he doesn't want to hear and the bereaved are queuing up to remind him of murders he wants us to forget. By taking Miriam O'Callaghan aside to rebuke her for lese majeste and getting Shinners to complain, he hopes other journalists will be intimidated into quiescence, and that RTE will be more craven than usual.

Presumably his handlers will seek to protect him from the embarrassment of meeting another David Kelly. The trouble is, Martin, the victims haven't gone away, you know. And there are plenty of them -- abroad as well as at home. Despite your pleas, they haven't moved on and they're beginning to speak out.

If McGuinness becomes President, foreign visits will be an interesting problem for the Department of Foreign Affairs for -- despite his heroic lying -- foreign governments believe that he has been a senior IRA leader for most of his life.

There are many European countries that experienced IRA bombings and shootings, usually directed at British soldiers but no less shocking for that. Germany was particularly outraged over the 1989 killing in Dortmund of Heidi Hazell, the civilian German wife of a British soldier. The IRA response was to warn civilians "to keep well clear of British military personnel".

Murders on Dutch soil included those of two Australians, Stephen Melrose and Nick Spanos, two young lawyers on holiday in 1990, who were mistaken for British servicemen and shot dead. The IRA's statement of regret (it doesn't do apologies) was described by the Australian prime minister as "twisted, too late and meaningless". Ten years later, that was why another Australian prime minister refused to meet Gerry Adams.

I can't see the King of Spain wanting to entertain McGuinnness. Not only have the IRA been best friends with the terrorists of Eta, who caused the country such suffering, but the king takes a close interest in victims of terrorism. While the two Spaniards who died in Omagh in 1998 were victims of the Real IRA, the king has met Michael Gallagher, the spokesman for those who took the civil case against the bombers, and he will know that Martin McGuinness publicly refused to ask his supporters to help the police to find the murderers.

There are angry victims in America too. The 1983 bomb outside Harrods killed 31-year-old Kenneth Salvesden: an injured American is one of those seeking compensation from Libya for providing the IRA with Semtex. And because Gaddafi's Libya was behind the Lockerbie catastrophe, many Americans now know that he funded and armed the Provos, of whom McGuinness is so proud. What with the recent regime change in Libya, that's another country that wouldn't want to roll out the red carpet for McGuinness.

It'll be time soon for a state visit to the United Kingdom. Now the Queen is a dutiful woman who has had to entertain some monsters in her time, but a Conservative-led government is unlikely to ask her to drive down the Mall with someone who, it is claimed, was a top man in the IRA whenin1979 it blew up her cousin, Lord Mountbatten, in 1984 when it killed five with a bomb in Brighton during a party conference in a bid to murder Margaret Thatcher, and in 1991 when it tried to wipe out the British cabinet by firing mortars at Downing Street.

The Government knows that thousands of British citizens bereaved and injured by the IRA believe that along with Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness is the cause of their misery. They may think he became a man of peace when it suited him, but they're damn sure he was a man of war for decades.

Come to think of it, if McGuinness becomes President, the Government will have more to worry about abroad than victims accusing their head of state of being a killer. It could have a disastrous effect on tourism. The English love the Irish and don't hold us responsible for our terrorists. However, if we give the Provisional IRA retrospective legitimacy by making its erstwhile chief-of-staff President, a large number of ordinary English people will not feel comfortable visiting Ireland.They're a tolerant people, but they have their limits.

Oh, by the way, if you see McGuinness in the street, ask him why Sinn Fein keeps demanding more inquiries into alleged state collusion in killings while simultaneously insisting he shouldn't be asked about his IRA past. Don't forget to wear your running shoes. He's not beautiful when he's angry.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards