Melanie McDonagh wrote a piece on Friday objecting to ‘those pundits who find Mr McGuinness’s presence anywhere intolerable.’ As one such pundit I would like to exercise a right of reply. Not to pick a fight with Melanie – who was very nice about my book on ‘Bloody Sunday’ and whose judgement for that reason, among others, I would not therefore like to call into question. And not because I disagree with the blame that Melanie rightly says should be laid at the door of the Conservative Party. But to add to this last point and come back on another.

Because Melanie says in her piece:

‘…unless anyone has got any actual evidence to convict Mr McGuinness, then I think he’s better in constitutional politics and welcome at the party, than out of it.’

Which forces me to return to old, but necessary, terrain.

It is very hard indeed to come up with evidence to convict someone when successive UK governments – starting with that of John Major – have contrived to remove such evidence from the public realm. As I wrote in the Spectator three years ago when McGuinness was running for the Irish Presidency, the facts are these.

‘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.  When he returned to Ireland Hegarty was interrogated and shot, his body subsequently found bound and blindfolded.

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.’

Now to pick up Melanie’s challenge, it is all very well to taunt individuals with the challenge that we should come up with the information on McGuinness. As a former IRA commander – by his own proud admission – McGuinness was either responsible for some deaths or the most inept and incapable IRA commander in IRA history. I have reason to plump for the former possibility.

But it is rather difficult for individuals to investigate – or even bother with – all of this when our governments have continuously contrived to ensure that information is deliberately hidden, justice never happens and that McGuinness and various others among the Sinn Fein / IRA leadership remain above and beyond the laws of the land or any wider laws of justice.

Of course there may be another explanation for McGuinness’s untouchability. It may be – as I suggest in passing in my book on Bloody Sunday – that McGuinness worked for British intelligence through all or part of this period. Equally strange things have already come to light about the period.

Of course some day some people may well find out about the full story of McGuinness and the British authorities. However, certain to be released under a 100 year rule at the earliest, when that information does come out it will, sad to say, be long after Melanie, I and anybody else who cares about any of this will have long ago gone down to the dust.

Tags: IRA, Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland, Terrorism