When someone in the Wellington Park Hotel audience last night asked Martin McGuiness whether any “middle ranking or even junior members of Sinn Fein” had joined the PSNI, the last thing I expected him to comment on was his perception of Ronan Kerr’s voting record.
Answering slowly, and in a calm matter-of-fact way, the Deputy First Minister explained
“I went down to see Nuala within hours of her son being killed. And it was very obvious from being in that household that many of the family circle were Sinn Fein voters.
And I would go so far as to say that Ronan Kerr voted for Sinn Fein, and joined the police because he wanted to be part of change and wanted to support the peace process.”
Martin McGuinness was sharing the platform with Mary-Lou McDonald and was in conversation with commentator Jude Collins at one of a number of Sinn Fein town hall events open to the public. (For me it was an interesting and warm place to shelter before the 9pm showing at the QFT as part of the Belfast Film Festival!)
The exchange begins about 31 minutes into the audio clip embedded above.
The temptation was to immediately tweet the comment. But it felt like it needed to be interpreted in context. Twitter’s 140 character limit doesn’t allow for a lot of subtlety. He wasn’t boasting or bragging. A couple of people I talked to at the event remarked that Martin McGuinness’ comments had felt inappropriate. (Conversely, the vast majority of the audience didn’t seem to bat an eyelid.)
But as a politician he was making a remarkably inappropriate statement (in my opinion) in a public forum. Is speculating – or indeed revealing – the voting habits of a dead man ever a dignified thing to do? Is it not an unnecessary politicisation? (over on his own blog, Jude Collins outlined his opinion.)
Later Martin McGuinness went on to say that he would be as outraged if a young protestant policeman was killed in the morning.
Asking Martin McGuinness about his remarks afterwards he said:
“It’s clear to me from my own first hand experiences that we are now seeing a situation where young people who are very nationalist-minded and republican-minded, who want to contribute to bring a change within policing and who want to support the peace process, have joined the police in the course of recent times. And that’s why I have made it absolutely clear that people who are prepared to do that – and I also include in that young protestants who have joined the police and do so for the best motivations – that if they are prepared to stand by the political process, the politicians have a duty to stand by them.”
But was it fair to politicise Ronan Kerr’s death by speculating on his politics?
“I don’t think I was politicising his death. It has never been contested that he was an Irishman, that he was nationalist-minded, that he was republican-minded, that he was a supporter of the GAA. So I don’t think that offends anybody. I actually think people should take encouragement from the fact that there are now young people who are motivated by the best possible ideals, prepared to join the police. And in doing so, continue to support the ongoing development of the process that has brought so much change to our society.”
(Adapted from a post earlier today over on Slugger O'Toole.)
Update – The Belfast Telegraph topped and tailed the post on Slugger and ran it as their front page headline in Tuesday night’s paper. And both the Irish News and Newsletter picked up the story too.