Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

A McGuinness win would reignite North struggle

For 35 years, Martin McGuinness caused the Republic of Ireland grave difficulties, involving it in his armed struggle against the British Government as well as his Protestant and Catholic neighbours. The IRA killed 198 Catholic civilians and 558 Protestants and 509 neighbours in the security forces. We do not forget Det Jerry McCabe or the release of his killers or the murder of Senator Billy Fox.

They brought violence and death into our lives, disrupting our attempts to make a modern economy work, preoccupying successive governments in protracted and complicated negotiations with administrations in the North and in Britain, eventually leading to a power-sharing solution.

The supposed achievements of this ''reluctant architect of surrender'' have been widely debated since McGuinness entered the presidential election. His deeds have become dominant, crowding out the other candidates in a debate that is showing signs of dishonesty, exaggeration and distortion.

These include preposterous analogies with the distant past, including the supposed parallels between McGuinness and Eamon de Valera, creating an imaginary Irish folklore about freedom fighters becoming democrats and then rulers.

For example, de Valera was never IRA chief and did not command, or play any active part in the 1922-23 IRA civil war against the Irish State. He broke with the IRA, founded Fianna Fail and then crushed the organisation, executing six IRA murderers and imprisoning hundreds more.

The alternative folklore prevails today, however, and is the kind of rubbish being happily, gleefully and lavishly larded out by prominent and otherwise intelligent commentators on a daily basis. This passes, often for want of better analysis, as current presidential coverage.

Much more serious, however, is the presentation of McGuinness's supposed contribution to democratic progress in Northern Ireland. He did the opposite. He resisted full democracy for as long as he could. What he did do was to make the best of a bad job, as far as Sinn Fein was concerned, eating humble pie and passing it off as a feast of achievement.

The Northern Ireland political solution is largely the creation of Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and the DUP. They concede power-sharing to the nationalists and little else. They have kept the North separate.

If and when the people in the North vote to change this, amalgamate with our currently bankrupt State and concede that the work of restoring democracy has failed there, so be it. But the current likelihood of this happening is remote.

It is what Sinn Fein still wants. And McGuinness's tortuous political life will transfer that want to the Aras should we be foolish enough to elect him president.

I wrote in detail on this during the crucial period in 2006-2007, demonstrating clearly how much Sinn Fein had to concede. It was neither profitable nor popular, after the St Andrew's talks in November of 2006, to praise Paisley. He made then a remarkable speech containing these words:

"Many of the nationalist and republican communities, despite what the IRA has done to the people of Northern Ireland, supported a party that was part and parcel of the horrors of the past. We have brought them from a place where they would have the ballot box in one hand and an Armalite in the other to a place where they can have a ballot box only.''

These were the voices he and political colleagues had to accommodate in power. This was democratic reality. Ignoring it was to condemn Northern Ireland ''for another generation''.

He achieved this against the deviousness of McGuinness's entirely different agenda. Moreover, Paisley achieved it against the wooden, wrong-headed pressures applied by Secretary of State Peter Hain and by Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern.

They failed to recognise that if they listened very carefully indeed to what Paisley was actually saying -- rather than the way in which he was regularly distorted by the media -- they would have realised that resolving the impasse lay in his hands, not in Sinn Fein's.

Paisley confronted all those in a mood for compromise. He knew this would be fatal. He prevailed. What is relevant here is the hypocrisy and cant applied to the circumstances then by McGuinness.

Paisley bluntly stated that Sinn Fein had been forced "to bow the knee to the Northern Ireland that they sought to destroy". This meant support for policing. This was recognition of Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein was beaten on the ground, beaten in security terms, beaten in argument and beaten over its half-baked policy positions. It was exposed as facile and rigid over the changes needed to adapt them to the democracy for which the Northern Ireland Assembly was then waiting.

UK and Irish leaders were afraid to take the necessary action. Paisley had to go through the circus of embarrassing both Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair for their facile dependence on formulaic solutions instead of confronting truth.

Having repeatedly gone through the routine of congratulating each other and then being kicked in the face, the Ahern-Blair team should have been more cautious and more circumspect.

At that time, McGuinness hoped that Sinn Fein would prevail and that Paisley would crumple and concede. But Paisley was tougher than McGuinness.

This toughness defeated Sinn Fein. The reluctant architect of the surrender is now standing for the presidency, talking, as he did before, of West Brit ''distortion''. His position in defeat -- achieved by Paisley's insistence on comprehensive, transparent and lasting democracy -- was to put off, for the present, Sinn Fein's failed struggle.

Sinn Fein was reluctant about embracing democracy, unwilling to integrate with the police and laws in Northern Ireland, but was forced into it. The party did not regret its past was not exclusively democratic.

And the more these practical issues of law and consent were raised, the less happy was McGuinness. He submitted to increasingly stark and unavoidable choices.

He met an intractable force, that of the DUP's concentrated and massive focus on Sinn Fein's failure to act on policing and the law. McGuinness gave in.

He pretends now that he is a changed man. Neither he nor Sinn Fein are changed. What happened was that they lost and Paisley won.

The unfortunate reality looming ahead of us, if we elect McGuinness as president, is that this struggle will in due course be renewed again by the party, reinforced and strengthened by the triumph his victory would represent.

These are the words of what McGuinness would call a ''West Brit'' member of the media. Try me. What I say is in the truth of what I write.