I’m just off the Nolan Show, where my sparring partner Malachi O’Doherty managed for a time to claim that the last few days have been about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the IRA campaign. Anyone who’s ever read Malachi will know he believes it was illegitimate and never loses a chance to say so. His views are shared by thousands of unionists. Equally, there are thousands of republicans who think their campaign was not illegitimate and has direct links with the insurgency that developed in 1916 and the years following, and which will be commemorated and paid tribute to by people all over Ireland in three short years from now.
But as I say, the debate should not have been about Malachi’s red herring. It should have been about whether it was right that a law was passed last night which will eject Paul Kavanagh as special adviser to Martin McGuinness. My belief is that it should not, for several reasons.
One is that this looks suspiciously like double jeopardy, where someone gets punished for what the state pronounces a crime and then, years later, is punished again. Countries like Canada, Mexico, the US believe that protection from double jeopardy is so important, they’ve built it into their constitution. Even Britain, which a few years back jettisoned the double jeopardy protection, still requires “new and compelling evidence” before someone can be tried again. Was there new and compelling evidence in Paul Kavanagh’s case? No.
Jim Allister claimed yesterday that the bill should be known as ‘Ann’s Law’. I disagree. The two people who were true parents of last night’s bill were Jim Allister and Alasdair McDonnell. In a time when we’re told we must try to put the old quarrels of the past behind us, when we are told the emphasis must be on creating jobs, the Allister-Alasdair bill has hurled us back into the past, where old quarrels are resurrected, spitefulness and discrimination rule the day, and rather than create jobs, the law sees that someone is kicked out of his job.
But it’s not bad news for everyone. This morning the dissident republicans must be licking their lips and saying: “See? We told you so. Nothing has changed”.