Fintan O'Toole has yet another disappointing article about Martin McGuinness in the Irish Times this week. Barring certain issues I've always respected Fintan's views, but I really feel he's embarrassed himself whenever he's said anything on the issue of this presidential election. This week his general thesis is that 'five propositions advanced by McGuinness’s defenders still remain to be dealt with.'
Now, as I said, I'm no fan of McGuinness, but this kind of carry-on is embarrassing for all concerned. How is one ever expected to take Fintan seriously again when he comes out with this series of straw men?
1. Martin McGuinness is acceptable to the DUP in the North, so it is hypocritical to suggest that he should not be president.
This rather simplifies this point, which I've not been alone in making, and Fintan deals with it through some impressive sleight of hand.
'Martin McGuinness's role as deputy first minister is a function of the unique system of government created by the Belfast Agreement,' he says, as though the Good Friday Agreement had been come into being of its own accord. It did nothing of the sort, of course: the system of government created by the Belfast Agreement was created by the negotiators of the Belfast Agreement, which included the Irish Government, and by those who ratified the Belfast Agreement, those including the Irish electorate, 94 per cent of whom voted to insert a new article 29.7 into the Constitution, subsection 1 of which states:
'The State may consent to be bound by the British-Irish Agreement done at Belfast on the 10th day of April, 1998, hereinafter called the Agreement.'
The Good Friday Agreement had been opposed by the DUP, and the results of the Northern Irish referendum on the agreement make it very clear that it was voted against by the majority of Ulster's unionists. If the DUP had to embrace McGuinness and Sinn Féin as the price of entering government, this is because it's a price we set.
The Presidency, on the other hand, says Fintan, is not party political: 'it's the personal embodiment of collective values.' Is it? Or is that just what Fintan thinks it should be? Because I've been looking quite hard at articles 12, 13, and 14 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, and I don't see anything there that says the Presidency is the personal embodiment of anything.
2. The past should be forgotten – what happened during the conflict is now irrelevant.
Fintan doesn't believe this should be the case, but can appreciate, he says, that others might take this line. Unfortunately, he says, McGuinness and his supporters are inconsistent on this, such that, he says, 'Sinn Féin doesn’t actually believe that past atrocities should be forgotten. It demands accountability for war crimes – except when they were committed by the IRA.' Again, this isn't quite true. It's not really the case that Sinn Féin makes an exception for the IRA -- it doesn't demand accountability, as far as I know, for crimes committed by the UVF, LVF, UDA, INLA, or other groups.
If anything, it seems they demand accountability only for war crimes committed by the forces of the Crown, in the name of the Crown, against the subjects of the Crown, and they do so in light of how the Good Friday Agreement did not entail any amnesty, implicit or explicit, for the perpetrators of those crimes.
3. Eamon de Valera was elected president and Martin McGuinness would be no different.
Fintan's dismissal of this point is as curt as it is simplistic:
'Where is the evidence that de Valera committed, ordered or sanctioned war crimes? His one outing as a military commander was during Easter 1916, at Boland's Mills, where there was no fighting. The War of Independence was run by Michael Collins – Dev spent much of it in the US. During the Civil War, he was undoubtedly the political figurehead of the anti-Treaty side, but he had no control over the IRA.
In February 1923, he privately complained that he could only view the war "as through a wall of glass, powerless to intervene effectively".'
Does Fintan think the 1916 Rising was an attack against a peaceable and largely undefended city? If he does, how does he get round the fact that de Valera was involved in planning and leading such an attack? More importantly, does Fintan really think that Michael Collins ran the entire War of Independence, during which atrocities certainly were committed? And does Fintan really think that de Valera, the President of the Republic, would have been incapable of breaking that war to an end had he so tried? As for the Civil War, which de Valera largely provoked -- does Fintan really think de Valera was a mere victim of circumstances? Should we accept one private and self-serving claim as a full exoneration for his part in starting a war that killed thousands of Irish people in just a couple of years?
The fact is that both Sean T. O'Kelly and Eamon de Valera opposed the new state established under the Treaty, and warred against it, with O'Kelly having been imprisoned for his opposition to the State. And both men wound up holding the Presidency, for a total of twenty-eight years between them.
4. Martin McGuinness is like Nelson Mandela.
Other than both men having had a record of friendliness with Colonel Gaddafi, and both having followed paths that took them from violence to peace, I've never been convinced that this was a particularly convincing comparison, so I'll let Fintan go on that...
5. It is preposterous to suggest, as I did last week that, as president, Martin McGuinness "could, in principle, be liable to arrest for war crimes under international law".
Yes, it is. It was preposterous then and is no less preposterous now; and comparisons this week between McGuinness and Dick Cheney don't help Fintan's very silly case.
The comparison is utterly facile: were Cheney to be tried he would be tried by the International Criminal Court for events since 2002 in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in commection with rendition. Why 2002? Because the ICC has no remit over war crimes committed before that date. Indeed, no organisation has such a remit.
Perhaps Fintan can tell us which war crimes Martin McGuinness has committed since 2002?