‘God speed’ was apparently what Martin McGuinness said to the Queen when they met a short time ago. I wonder what she, and the Duke of Edinburgh, would have liked to say to him?
Of all the things that the Queen should be asked to do in her Jubilee year, perhaps the most cruel has been to expect her to shake the hand of the former IRA commander and now deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. Many people bereaved by the Troubles have made gestures of almost super-human forgiveness, but few can have been so pushed towards doing so.
And McGuinness is a particularly difficult case. Not only has he still, to this day, not expressed any fulsome regret or apology for what the IRA did to the people of Northern Ireland and the rest of the country for three decades, he has also covered over, and prevaricated about, his own involvement in deepening and prolonging the Troubles. For anybody interested in just one way in which he has done this I hope I can refer people to the chapter on McGuinness in my book Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry.
Those like Mr McGuinness who were involved in drawing out the war in Northern Ireland until they got what they wanted — power for themselves — still appeal to the alleged political justice of their cause whilst simultaneously congratulating themselves on allegedly bringing about peace. It must not be forgotten, and cannot be said often enough, that were it not for the McGuinness types this very same settlement could have been reached four decades ago and thousands of families would not have been devastated unmendably.
So while all the talk is of the significance of this gesture, and most people are rightly filled with admiration for the Queen, perhaps it is worth remembering a fact which the Queen might well have been considering as she shook hands, but could hardly have said.
Murdered alongside Lord Mountbatten by the IRA bomb placed on his pleasure boat on 27th August 1979 was Paul Maxwell, a 15 year old schoolboy in his fourth year at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen. He was working on the boat to earn money as a summer job. Also killed was Lady Patricia Brabourne, the 82 year-old mother-in-law of Lord Mountbatten’s daughter who died of wounds in hospital the day after the bombing. Also, of course, Lord Mountbatten’s 14-year old grandson, Nicholas Knatchbull. If anybody doubts the life-long physical and emotional devastation such a callous and cruel action had, I would urge them to read the book by Nicholas’s twin brother, Timothy Knatchbull: From a Clear Blue Sky: surviving the Mountbatten bomb.
The Republican News described what they called the ‘execution’ of these four human beings and the physical and mental scarring of many others, as ‘a discriminate operation to bring to the attention of the English people the continuing occupation of our country.’ The paper boasted, ‘We will tear out their sentimental imperialist heart.’
‘So, Mr McGuinness. Was it worth it?’ That is the question I wish the Queen or Duke could have asked McGuinness. For the deputy first minister personally the answer would have been ‘Yes.’ For nearly everybody else, the answer is ‘No.’
Had they been allowed to have their lives, Nicholas Knatchbull would now be 47 and Paul Maxwell 48.
More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.