I am grateful to Mark Devenport, political editor of the BBC in Belfast for this information. Congressman Peter King is hosting a St Patrick’s Day breakfast in Washington tomorrow (Wednesday, March 16th) and his two principal guests are Peter Robinson, the First Minister in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government and Martin McGuinness, his deputy.
Robinson was for many years deputy to the Rev Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, NI’s extreme Unionist grouping and for many years an opponent of all things Catholic and Irish. Martin McGuinness is number two to Gerry Adams, effectively the deputy leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing.
Doubtless tomorrow’s breakfast will be heralded as another celebration of Northern Ireland’s transition from some forty years of bloodshed and terrorism to peace and political co-operation – which undoubtedly is the case.
But in the light of the controversy over Peter King’s hearings into purported American Muslim radicalization and his perceived hypocrisy given his own past as a cheerleader for IRA terrorism in Ireland, it is worth noting that not too long ago his two guests wore very different hats.
McGuinness was Chief of Staff of the IRA, that is its head honcho, from 1978 (when he took over from Gerry Adams) until 1982.
From 1984 until very recently he was the IRA’s Northern Commander, effectively its military leader responsible for directing the IRA’s day-to-day war against the British, which meant that he endorsed or organised every bombing, shooting, killing and other acts of what Peter King would regard as ‘terrorism’ if it was to happen in America rather than Northern Ireland. He was also the Chairman of the IRA’s Army Council, its supreme decision-making body, effectively the IRA chief diplomat and ambassador in dealings with outside bodies, such as the British and Irish governments.
Peter Robinson was not always a politician who preached peaceful methods. His boss, Ian Paisley, has a long history of involvement in shady Loyalist paramilitary groupings, starting with the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) back in the 1960′s when the group killed the first of what would be 3,000 plus victims of the Troubles. As Paisley’s deputy Robinson was often the man in charge of the important details. Paisley and Robinson’s most celebrated expedition into the world of terrorism came in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s, not long after the Anglo-Irish Agreement which gave the Dublin government a say in Northern Ireland’s affairs.
Amidst outrage from Loyalists and Protestants, Paisley and Robinson set up a paramilitary group called Ulster Resistance which linked up with the two major Loyalist groups, the Ulster Defence Association (estimated to have killed at least 300 people in the Troubles) and the UVF (death toll, at least 480). In its very first action, an armed group of Ulster Resistance members crossed the Border and invaded Clontibret in Co. Monaghan. Shots were fired but the group, with one exception, fled when the Irish police arrived on the scene. The sole Ulster Resistance member left behind was Peter Robinson who was arrested and charged. He later pleaded guilty to taking part in an unlawful assembly.
Ulster Resistance’s claim to fame, or infamy, came when French police arrested some of it leaders in a Paris hotel as they were negotiating a second arms deal with representatives of the apartheid government in South Africa. Using its extensive contacts in Shorts missile factory in East Belfast, Ulster Resistance had already traded missile secrets for weapons and grenades. The latter were used in Michael Stone’s famous attack on IRA mourners in a West Belfast cemetery in 1988 which killed three people. The second deal apparently involved passing over details of Shorts Blowpipe missile system, weaons that were at the centre of the Iran-Contra scandal.
When Peter King, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness break bread tomorrow in DC, doubtless they will inwardly congratulate themselves on how far their respective careers in politics have taken them. The rest of us might well reflect on another reality, that as Peter King organises his second hearing on American Muslim support for terrorism, but for their ambivalence, at least, towards terrorism or their outright support for it, none of them would be even be in Washington, never mind seated around this particular breakfast table.