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Skeletons in the closet

Britain must publish the truth about Irish presidential candidate Martin McGuinness – before it’s too late

22 October 2011

5:00 PM

22 October 2011

5:00 PM

Britain must publish the truth about Irish presidential candidate Martin McGuinness – before it’s too late

Martin McGuinness is standing for the presidency of a cash-strapped Ireland. Soon after this paragraph is printed he may be among the world’s heads of state. If so he has promised to refuse the €250,000 salary and subsist on the minimum wage. It is ‘high time’, he has stated, that ‘those at the top shared the pain’. That McGuinness has had a lifelong interest in so doing is a point that should not need making. But, like his old colleague Gerry Adams, he is now trying to change history — not the future, but the past — by professing amnesia about his role in many murders over a 30-year period. Shamefully, this country is helping him do this. John Major’s government deliberately withheld the truth about McGuinness. It is time this was put right.

Last February Gerry Adams managed to win a seat in the Irish parliament for Louth. Despite his having used the constituency as a private body-dump, the people of Louth voted him in. It now looks possible that his electoral success south of the border may be superseded by his old friend-in-arms.

The current Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland was undoubtedly integral to the process which brought about a peace deal in Northern Ireland in 1998: a deal that could have been achieved 30 years earlier. But 3,500 coffins passed by before McGuinness and his friends accepted what had been on the table when the first had passed.

The pain and loss of the families who suffered from the bloody and futile conflict can never be remedied or made good. But one thing that can be done is to at least ensure that those who caused the suffering are not able politically to prosper by it. This is where someone in Britain should come in.


In 1993, The Cook Report investigated a number of murders in which McGuinness was personally involved.  Among them was the case of Frank Hegarty, whom McGuinness lured back from England in 1987. ‘Don’t worry — I’ll bring him home to you,’ McGuinness had sworn to his mother. Instead he took part in Hegarty’s interrogation and had him shot; his body was found bound and blindfolded. Hegarty was just one such victim.

In the wake of that documentary, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) set up a secret unit to investigate the charges. By late 1994 it had located at least three witnesses willing to testify to McGuinness’s involvement in the killing of Hegarty, among others. The RUC investigation was codenamed ‘Operation Taurus’. But while the painstaking investigation was going on, another process was at work. John Major’s government was in talks with Sinn Fein/IRA. The results of Operation Taurus were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions who, in a move that startled those involved, reported back that there was not a case. As one of those involved in the investigation drily remarked, this decision surely had nothing to do with ‘the incipient peace process’.

Of course it had. The legal process had been scuppered by the political one. As a pertinent memo on the police files at the time noted, ‘the UK government may soon be meeting … Mr McGuinness, to plan the future of Northern Ireland’.

Sinn Fein/IRA were aware of the investigation. The delegation told Downing Street that they would not attend talks without McGuinness and that he would not attend if the threat of prosecution hung over him. As a result, John Major’s government ordered that the relevant files should be ‘disappeared’. Which they duly were.

And there the matter has sat for nearly two decades, with the British government — which apparently believed in peace at any price — colluding in this subversion of the course of justice. In the meantime McGuinness has been able to portray himself as the architect of the peace he spent most of his career so bloodily thwarting.

Now he is heading for another career leap. He may manage it not so much because many people do not mind what he did, but because many people do not know what he did. It is too little too late, but I would like to make a suggestion for how this wrong can be slightly righted.

Political, historical and moral truth should retain some significance in our world. So this would be a good moment for one of the truisms of government to reassert itself. Yes things can be ‘lost’. But nothing stays lost. This is the moment for somebody within the system to step forward. To save the people of Ireland from the shame of voting for someone whose activities they may not be fully aware of, isn’t it high time for that which is lost to be found again?

Douglas Murray is the author of Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry (Biteback, November 2011).

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