Alex Massie

McGuinness’s less than surprising attitude to booze

Text settings

James Forsyth says it is "deeply comic" for Martin McGuiness to complain:

“I am not a fan of East-Enders or Coronation Street but my wife and my children, particularly the girls, watch the programme. I am appalled at the drunkenness that is quite clear for everybody to see and all of that before the 9 o’clock watershed when children as young as 8, 9, 10 and 11 are watching. Now I regard that as irresponsible broadcasting and I think something should be done about it.”

Now of course, James is right to point out that Mr McGuiness's role in murdering countless civilians scarcely gives him the clout to act, in James' words, "a moral arbiter".

Perhaps so. But I couldn't help recalling all the hard-faced Republicans I used to meet at debates in Dublin. They were never much of a party crowd (the Unionists - at least those Unionists prepared to come to Dublin - were much more fun) and, in fact, I can't recall any of them accepting a drink, let alone cracking a joke. They were far too serious and stern-eyed for that sort of caper. No surprise: even in the mid-1990s Sinn Fein still though of itself as a revolutionary movement. The party's spokesmen all had the grim-eyed, humourless disposition characteristic of the zealot through the ages.

Then again, McGuinness's social conservatism is none too surprising either. In the first place, he belongs to a movement that sees precious little divide between the personal and the political; secondly he's an Ulsterman after all and an Ulsterman of a generation that could scarcely be considered libertine. For sure, the IRA's habit of knee-capping drug dealers was down to the organisation's desire to control organised crime for itself as well as arrogating to itself the right to be its own police force in the areas of Belfast it controlled, but there was also, it should be recognised, a moral element to it's punishment beatings as well. That might have been a secondary motivation but it was there to at least some extent in some of its activities.

Incidentally, the Times article James quotes is a useful example of how stories are trussed these days. It begins:

He has spent much of the past year in the company of an implacable public moraliser whose long career of saying no has included thunderous protests against everything from Irish flags to line-dancing.

But yesterday Belfast was asking itself whether Martin McGuinness has been spending too much time in the company of the Rev Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, after the former IRA leader condemned the “drunkenness” being depicted in television soap operas.

In a reproach of which his new boss would have been proud, Mr McGuinness said: “I have to say, I am absolutely appalled at the level of concentration around the pub in the programmes.”

Was Belfast really "asking itself" this? It seems unlikely. No matter. The important thing is that it's just a bit of fun innit? Next:

Mr McGuinness’s comments, which came after a meeting of the British-Irish Council in Dublin at which representatives from all the administrations in the British Isles discussed measures to tackle drug and alcohol misuse among young people, led to speculation that the Sinn Fein MP for Mid Ulster is succumbing to the strict Presbyterian outlook of his famously outspoken boss at the Stormont power-sharing Assembly.

Oh really? No hint of speculation is cited in the article and, as the journalist surely knows, the idea of McGuinness "succumbing" to Presbyterianism is laughable. Indeed, the very next paragraph demolishes the entire premise of the "story":

Although Mr McGuiness’s [sic] comments provoked amusement in Belfast yesterday, nobody should really be surprised – at 57, he is still some distance behind Mr Paisley in age but is known for his teetotalism and strict Catholic upbringing. He is described as highly self-disciplined, and has a traditionalist Christian background that makes him paradoxically similar to Mr Paisley.

But of course, "Teetotal McGuinness deplores TV Boozing" isn't much of a "story" is it? Nor is "Christians Have Lots in Common." Then again, the way this piece is presented is another reminder that, for most Britons, Ulster remains something of a foreign country, even as it endures as a part of the United Kingdom.



Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietynewspapers