A protestor holds up an anti-NRA sign.

The saddest thing about the pathetic statement by the NRA is the fact that nothing will now change.

Had they agreed to controls on the most deadly of weapons, some progress could have been made, but the political will in America does not exist to challenge them.

America is effectively ruled by the guns they control.

Because what is it the Second Amendment really guarantees?

In the wake of the Newton massacre last weekend, I sat beside broadcaster Tom McGuirk in an RTE radio studio.

At various points McGuirk suggested that AR-10 guns weren’t the problem, until I politely suggested that there was one thing that could have been removed from the Newton massacre that would have ensured the survival of all or most of those children – the gun.

Moments later McGuirk was talking about the importance of the British secret service and their role in the “defeat” of the IRA.

But given their modus operandi, the IRA and the NRA are not too disimilar – unelected, both nevertheless have a chilling effect on the democracies they exist in.

Like the bible, the American constitution is a document of its time, and when it was written the fledgling nation was intent on doing everything it could to protect its new-found freedom.

Hence the right to defend those freedoms – even against its own government – was enshrined in a dubioulsy-worded amendent. Noticeably, assault rifles are not mentioned, which according to some gives them carte blanche to carry them.

For what the Second Amendment essentially does is give the NRA the right to act as the American equivalent of the IRA, a kind of secretive political police force that malevolently oversees things.

Unelected, it can use fear and intimidation to exert its influence on an otherwise democratic state – much as the IRA did in its “armed struggle”.

For the gun in American history and its current politics is not about violence or machoism, even though both play their part.

For Americans, the gun is a potent symbol of freedom, rather than oppression and death. If ever there was a country that was now ruled with a ballot box and an Armalite (or one of 300 million similar weapons), America is it.

The Europeans who sailed across the Atlantic to settle on the American continet were all fleeing something. Sometimes, as in the case of the Irish, it was hunger. For others, it was religious persecution.

Some of them wanted no truck with any church; instead, they reserved the right to interpret the bible as literally and as opportunistically as they wished.

The same people now choose to interpret the American constitution in the same way – the way that suits them best, much as Irish Republicans twisted their  interpretation of history until it allowed them to bomb and shoot and maim with impunity over almost 40 years.

The discussion in America should not, therefore, centre on gun control; the discussion should centre on how to rebuild trust between the state and its citizens – if such a thing never existed.

It is doubtful that it can be done; American politics is a poisonous mass of extremism, thanks to divisive issues and elements such as abortion, the various wars fought in Asia, the Tea Party and gun control itself.

America is a nation of vested interests that are quick to act should Johnny Sixpack suddenly start demanding safety and security.

That many of the fears propagated by politicians and squawk-box commentators are unfounded make no difference; America has never seemed to have established for itself that solidarity and security go hand in hand.

It is easier to blame the nameless, faceless other than to face up to the truth.

But to do so would be to acknowledge that the Europe its forefathers left had gotten something right.

“War is over, if you want it,” sang John Lennon.

But it appears that, despite 20 dead children, the aftermath of the War of Independence, because the NRA don’t want it.

You talking to me?

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.

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.

Loving the alien- Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness, Derry, 1972.

“Running over the same old ground. 
What have we found? 
The same old fears.”

Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here”.

Such was the initial muted reaction to his candidacy, it’s as if the papers couldn’t believe that Sinn Féin would have the audacity to nominate Martin McGuinness for the presidency.

The Sunday papers came and went without much comment, but as the week wore on his opponents became more and more vocal.

The latest to question the Sinn Féin candidate’s suitability for the Aras is none other than Gay Byrne, whose rampant ego almost led him into a campaign backed by a Fianna Fáil party that bankrupted the country.

Byrne, like many others, asked the simple – and simplistic – question; how could a former terrorist with blood on his hands be our president?

The fact that Eamon de Valera was sentenced to death for his part in the 1916 Rising seems to have been forgotten.

There is not a shadow of a doubt that McGuinness was heavily involved in the IRA at a time when it was carrying out some of the worst atrocities in the history of our islands, but he is not alone.

There are plenty of other democrats guilty of war crimes still roaming the free world, many of them still in office.

But that was a different time and place. Is he likely to pick up a gun again in the near future? Hardly.

However distasteful we find it, the truth is that at certain times in history, the honest, supine law-abiding citizen has a need for men like McGuinness – the tough guys who operate in a moral grey area well beyond our own comfort zone.

The sort of men who kill people and bury them in shallow graves without a fair trial.

The sort of men who make other men drive bombs into barracks before blowing them up.

The sort of men that prime ministers declare in public that they will never negotiate with, all the while inviting them in by the back door.

Though there are undoubtedly people on both sides of the paramilitary divide that enjoyed killing for the sake of it, I’d doubt McGuinness is one of them.

At the time of the civil rights marches, many in the Republic had already abandoned the nationalist community in the north to their fate , and if there is one thing that my dealings with our cousins in the north has taught me, it is that we in the south have little or no understanding of what it was like to live there in the darkest days of the Troubles.

We’ve had our fleeting experiences of bombs on Talbot Street and army checkpoints and armed Gardaí as the IRA and the INLA robbed banks and took hostages. We didn’t care for it much.

We also failed to notice that this was what life as like in the north for the best part of thirty years, with one exception- the security forces in the north were particularly hostile to one section of the community they were tasked with protecting.

Given our limited experience and our limited attempts to understand and assist, we are in no position to pontificate either way.

McGuinness has come a long way since his days of running around Derry with a gun. The same cannot be said for the rest of us, especially in the south.

Would he be my choice as president? Probably not, but part of the peace dividend for both sides is that Sinn Féin and the IRA would only engage in peaceful democratic means in the future, and this is what McGuinness seeks to do in running for election as our president.

The candidacy of McGuinness is not Sinn Féin’s reward for embracing democracy – it is our reward for allowing them to come in from the cold. Let’s not push them out again.