Did you see where the Tories invited an ex-IRA man to talk at their annual party conference? The VO has a photograph of him this morning and you’ll probably recognise him, since besides being a former IRA man, he’s also Deputy First Minister of this state. The VO, naturally emphasises that he was once in the IRA.
Should Martin McGuinness have been invited? Well that’s a matter for the Tories. Norman Tebbit, who along with his wife was caught up in the IRA bomb at the Brighton Tory Party conference in 1984, thinks not. The majority of the Tory Party, presumably, think it was right to invite him, and even in the Tory Party, the majority usually have the final say.
Why was he invited? Ah – a much more interesting question. Difficult to put into words but probably as a visible sign that this Tory government isn’t, if at all possible, going to set itself on a collision course with the Irish nationalists of the north. It’s saying ‘I know there was a time when we’d have cheerfully killed this man but that time is past. We accept him as a politician and welcome his contribution to healing old wounds’. And of course the desire to be nice to Irish republicans like McGuinness is sharpened by the fact that dissident republicans are looking more and more successful in their attacks on targets of different kinds. There’s no one speaks with greater firmness and self-confidence after such attacks than Martin McGuinness.
Changed times? You betcha. Twenty-one years ago, in 1989, the VO used an editorial column to explain right and wrong to its readers:
‘To admit Gerry Adams and colleagues to the public halls of civilized democratic debate is increasingly and properly perceived as deeply offensive and repugnant to Christian and humanitarian standards’.
Reads a bit like a press release from a Tory Party conference back then, doesn't it?