The Corner

Kevin Myers on McGuinness, the IRA, and ‘Unprincipled Forgiveness’

Kevin Myers and I joined Radio Telefis Eireann at pretty much the same time in early 1971. We were both English-born but of Irish extraction — in my case, I had an Irish father and an English mother. Kevin was from Coventry and I was a “Liverpool Irishman” (a confusing term which means someone who is every bit as English as a Boston Irishman is American.) Our political opinions were wildly at variance: He was a left-wing Irish nationalist (Kevin subsequently became an Irish citizen) and I had recently stood as a Tory for the British parliament. But we managed to enjoy a highly argumentative friendship.

We later traveled very different paths journalistically and politically. Kevin covered a number of wars for RTE and others, in particular the Belfast “dirty war” between the Provisional IRA, the Protestant paramilitaries, and the British security forces. Do yourself a big favor and buy his memoir of that conflict, Watching the Door (Atlantic Books, 2008), which is both insightful and hilarious, at times reading like the book-of-the-film version of a 1970s British sex comedy with a title like “Erotic Confessions of a Belfast Reporter.”

We ran into each other at a Dublin party in the 1990s and discovered to my surprise that our political opinions and general outlook had more or less converged. They’re not quite identical. His Wikipedia entry sums up his approach as offering: “criticism of left-wing opinion and the ‘liberal consensus’, sometimes incorporating hyperbole, sarcasm and parody.” But style is their main difference.

Yesterday, Kevin had a column in the Irish Independent, where he’s a regular, on the handshake between the Queen and Martin McGuinness.

#more#As I say, our views are not quite identical. He does not object to the handshake as such — indeed, he speculates half-seriously that the widespread rumor might be true that McGuinness was an agent for MI5 and that the Queen might therefore be rewarding him for “secret services, secretly rendered . . . Arise, Sir Martin.” It’s unlikely, of course, but the suggestion rests on the reality that half the IRA Army Council was on MI5’s payroll. That being so, it’s not really surprising that the Provos lost the military war and had to accept a disunited Ireland.

They’re hoping to recover culturally what they lost militarily. That can only happen if everyone agrees to forgive everyone else for murders that were actually committed by the IRA and the Prod paramilitaries. These murders then become respectable military encounters over which old soldiers can reminisce nostalgically. This monstrous fiction rests, however, on what Kevin Myers calls “the concept of unprincipled forgiveness”:

Now contrary to what those creepy moral apologists for the IRA insist, Christian teaching does not demand that one forgives one’s uncontrite assailant as one forgives the repentant ones. The entire sacrament of absolution depends on unconditional repentance and a “firm purpose of amendment”, namely, an intent never to repeat the sin. It is clearly absurd to treat the unrepentant and the repentant equally. To forgive all unconditionally is to indulge an unprincipled sanctimony that liberates offenders from whatever remains of their consciences. Such “forgiveness” — whatever that term may actually mean — thereby makes more murder more possible. Why would anyone cease to kill if the bereaved repeatedly exonerate those who bereave? 

The Easter Rising of 1916 generated a myth that was used in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s to justify the murder of thousands of innocent people. Unless we are careful, the “greenwashing” of the Provo war might be used in Ireland’s uncertain future to justify sending another generation of misinformed young people out to riot and murder.

Maybe the Queen should have knighted McGuinness not with a sword but with a very long spoon.

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