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Martin McGuinness: one last small service

John McAnulty

25 March 2017

On his deathbed Martin McGuinness was able to provide one last small service for Sinn Fein. 

The normal coverage of his politics by a largely critical and hostile press was replaced by a flood of hagiography about McGuinness, part saint, part statesman, who led the path to peace.

What was quite clear from the coverage by both the capitalist press and by Sinn Fein was that what was being celebrated was not the early McGuinness but the late one. The “terrorist” had seen the light and embraced democratic politics. Even then capitalists ignored the fact that this embrace of constitutional nationalism had failed and that he died among the ruins of the Stormont he helped to construct. For Sinn Fein the beatification of McGuinness after his the death was a celebration of their own journey - yet again a justification for Adams all the rest who went from opposition to Britain rule to administration for British state and comfortable membership of a nationalist family of church and state. 

More importantly it paves the way to revive the failed Stormont experiment. If Arlene Forster could be gracious enough to reluctantly nod to the shade of Martin, then Sinn Fein would make every effort to cast aside the RHI scandal and the history of DUP insult and sectarian triumphalism and strike a new deal. The applause for Foster’s appearance at the funeral of a man she had worked with for a decade and who had been her partner in government was truly cringe worthy, only outmatched by the applause when the Saville Report said that some soldiers were to blame for the crimes of the state on Bloody Sunday.

In fact the journey from armed struggle to constitutional nationalism it not some special quality of Martin McGuinness. It is as old as the hills in Ireland. Inside an ongoing anti-imperialist struggle is hidden the Irish class struggle. Early on in the recent troubles McGuinness and Sinn Fein surrendered to the Catholic Church and to the Catholic bourgeoisie represented by the Derry Traders Association. 

All the other stops on his path were then inevitable.

The sticking plaster provided by the glorification of Martin McGuinness will not last long. It was carefully choreographed; Tony Blair was persuaded to stay away and the smiley face of imperialism represented by Bill Clinton stepped out behind his coffin.  No-one remarked that he was delivered in the private airplane of leading gombeen capitalist Denis O’Brien or on the need for Clinton to turn up ten years into the settlement to urge Sinn Fein to finish the job.

But back in the real world nothing has changed. Arlene Foster has been criticised for attending the funeral and will find it more or less impossible to deliver any meaningful concessions. Adams has demanded that London and Dublin step forward and deliver the guarantees of the Good Friday agreement. Yet Sinn Fein itself was unconcerned about state murder, about corruption or about the Irish language until their own members revolted. The governments have shrugged their shoulders and are unlikely to provide anything more than some camouflage for a Sinn Fein retreat. The ball is in Adams’ court. Are they better off in their search for a place in the Dublin government as a party of government or a party of protest?

Yet from now on Sinn Fein will be in a much weaker position in the North. The ruthless discipline that McGuinness exercised and the credibility that his past drew from his supporters will be now replaced by the perfectly ordinary and everyday nationalism personified by Michelle O’Neill that will become less and less credible as a means meeting the needs of workers.

In the hundreds of gallons of print ink spent in in covering Martin’s death only a tiny fraction will ever mention the central political fact. That is that the process he devoted the final part of his life to ended in failure*. That failure will continue to dominate the political landscape as a ramshackle sectarian construction attempts to navigate the waters of austerity, Brexit and a renewed partition in Ireland.

*See: Martin McGuinness: a political obituary at;

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