You talking to me?

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Travis: "You talkin' to me?". Martin: "No Travis, I'm talking to the other madman with the gun..."

The hardest part of not living in Ireland is not having access to the Sunday papers in all their chaotic, supplement-filled glory.

I miss having a big bunt of them thrown down on the breakfast table like a gauntlet every week, challenging you to digest them alongside your black pudding.

The worst of it is that I miss articles like this one by Jen O’Connell about why she won’t be voting for Martin McGuinness – not because I agree with her entirely (I don’t), but because of some of the important points it raises.

There is one in particular that never seems to see the light of day, and it gets back to the key question of all the coverage of the election- what are we being asked to believe about the candidates?

Much is made of McGuinness, what he says and when- what exactly does he think of the state he wishes to represent?  When did he leave the IRA? Who does he think he will be representing? When did he condemn the murders of Gardaí?

All these questions miss the most pertinent of all, and that is when Martin McGuinness speaks, who is he speaking to?

It’s not news to anyone that, every time Martin McGuinness opened his mouth during his political career, he was taking his life in his hands.

What most people don’t seem to realise is that he has been as much at risk from a violent split within his own ranks as he has been a target for the British or the loyalist paramilitaries.

Judged on his part in the peace process, McGuinness’s refusal to publicly condemn the IRA and its attendant atrocities is not a tacit acceptance; it is more a strategy for the preservation of both himself, the IRA and the party.

It is always taken for granted that “the Armalite and the ballot box” was a philosophy, rather than the day-to-day political reality of running Sinn Féin and the IRA for many years.

When they were speaking publicly, McGuinness and Adams weren’t speaking to us– they were speaking to them, their colleagues in the Republican movement who didn’t believe or trust the British or Irish governments, or anyone else for that matter.

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There are a few no-go areas if you wish to survive in the minefield of Republican rhetoric.

You do not tarnish the memory of certain heroes or their deeds.

You do not question the validity or legality of the armed struggle.

You do not (until recently) condemn any acts carried out in the name of either of them.

McGuinness is no Ché Guevara, nor is he a Nelson Mandela, but he has done his bit for peace.

It was Adams and McGuinness, among others, who realised that the Long War was not going to be won by either side.

It was Adams and McGuinness who delivered the IRA to the negotiating table.

It was Adams and McGuinness who created a situation where the guns of their comrades- and maybe their own- could fall silent for good.

None of this could have been delivered by John Hume, John Major or Ian Paisely.

And none of this could have been delivered had Adams and McGuinness gone around publicly condemning the very people they were trying to coax out of the shadows.

And as she mentions in her article, Jen herself has witnessed what happens when violent Republican groups split away and carry on the fight by themselves.

What happens is atrocities like Omagh- carried out by the dissident Republicans of the Real IRA, who never boarded the peace train with the rest.

For some reason, what we are still being asked to believe about McGuinness is that he is a violent and dangerous man because of his IRA past, when all the evidence points to the fact that he has put it all behind him.

As I have previously written, McGuinness is probably still unelectable for precisely the reasons Jen mentions. But even if we are never going to vote for him, we should acknowledge that the political reality in which he operated was entirely different from what most democracies would be used to.

And for their part, if Sinn Féin are ever to be properly understood in the south, and if they are ever to become electable, they need to do a better job of of explaining not just why they did what they did, but who they were talking to when they weren’t talking to the rest of us.

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