So Martin McGuinness told a lie. Or forgot that he’d met Fr Jim Chesney. If it’s the second – that he forgot - then no blame can attach to him. I travelled over fifty miles yesterday to check if my laptop would work with a data-projector, and when I got there I discovered I’d forgotten to bring the laptop. Stupid. Incompetent. But not blameworthy.
And if Martin McGuinness told a lie? Well you know, I do that all the time and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. I lie about how I’m feeling, I lie about my reasons for doing things, I lie about how big people’s bum looks in this. Discreet lies, lies that protect people from boredom or disappointment or disillusionment. Maybe just lies that avoid my appearing an even bigger jerk than people think me already. How about you – do you always tell the truth, regardless? Mmm, I thought as much.
But but but, you say. This was Martin McGuinness lying about something very important – whether he’d ever met Jim Chesney. Oh really? What was important about that? It tells us nothing new about Fr Chesney or the Claudy bombing. Not a solitary single thing. That didn’t stop the Venerable Organ giving it front-page coverage today, or BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Good Morning Ulster’ (yes, Virginia, the impartial BBC really does like that word ‘Ulster’) was breathless with excitement as it broadcast Martin McGuinness’s ‘admission’ that he’d met Chesney.
There are three points here. The Claudy people affected by the bomb are not going to get their loved ones back whether or not Fr Jim Chesney is found to have been among those who planned and executed the bungled Claudy bombing. And the efforts to implicate Fr Chesney are notable for their total absence of evidence that the priest was involved in the bombing or even a member of the IRA. And the attempts to make Martin McGuinness a part of the Claudy bombing picture are politically motivated - a frantic attempt to dent the Deputy First Minister’s widespread popularity, even among some unionists, in the run-up to next Spring’s Assembly elections.
Whatever you do, don’t for a minute think that the dead are at the centre of this controversy. It’s the living and how they can best be damaged.