Denis Bradley believes the weary narrative of IRA ‘hawk’ Martin McGuinness undergoing a Damascene conversion before becoming a champion of the peace process is far too simplistic and says there were always dove-like aspects to the late republican leader.
The former priest and life-long peace advocate, whose own people were neighbours of Mr. McGuinness’ mother’s folk from the Illies, first got to know the future Sinn Féin leader when he movedto the Long Tower parish in 1970.
Reflecting on the former IRA leader’s remarkable life, yesterday, Mr. Bradley said Mr. McGuinness, while drawn into a leading military role almost from the commencement of the modern day Troubles, had always displayed an aversion to death and destruction for its own sake.
“I don’t think he was as hawkish as people make him out to be at times,” said Mr. Bradley.
“For this reason: using people like me, and other priests and other intermediaries, and so forth, was a sign that while he was not going to turn his back on, and he had, to my mind, an over-commitment to the republican movement, I realised he didn’t like violence and he didn’t like injury and death and destruction for the sake of it. When it could be avoided he did it.”
After moving to the Long Tower in 1970, Mr. Bradley got to know Mr. McGuinness as a parishioner. Though not a member of the local youth club, he was “part of that gang that hung around”.
“Like hundreds of others he got involved in the IRA. Because I knew his mother and I used to call to the house the odd time, I got to know him, and he got to know me,” said Mr. Bradley.
After Bloody Sunday, by which time Mr. McGuinness had already risen to Adjutant of the Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA, the Troubles, the death and the destruction, spiralled drastically.
“The fire got out of control. There was a fire always burning a bit but this was really like a mass wood forest fire,” said Mr. Bradley.
During the course of the 1970s Mr. McGuinness’ influence within the republican movement grew.
It was during this time that Mr. Bradley experienced the dove-like aspects, which belied his reputation as an IRA militarist.
“I suppose because of our background and our knowledge of each other, both family-wise and personally, I used him and he used me.
“And what I mean by the word ‘used’ is that I would have asked favours of him for things not to happen and people to be allowed to do things in the sense of ‘leave them alone, don’t touch them’, and he used me, in the sense of an intermediary with the cops and the army in various situations and he even used me to say, ‘look, try to sort that situation out, somebody’s doing something, it’s not good and he’s going to get himself into trouble’.”
Mr. Bradley believes Mr. McGuinness actively used his influence within the IRA to save people’s lives on several occasions.
“I remember him using me a couple of times too to tell me certain situations were happening, like somebody was in danger of being killed by the IRA and could I sort it out, intervene in some kind of way.
“We used each other within those narrow confines, in which we were capable of doing something, within a broader context where violence was happening on a daily basis.”
For these reasons, Mr. Bradley believes the familiar account of a one-time warlord transformed to peace-maker, is too trite.
“I heard someone describing him as, ‘Paul falling off a white horse’. I don’t think it was a Pauline conversion.
“He was certainly determined, even ruthless, call him that, but walking beside that, hand-in-hand with that, was a desire to see peace, was a desire to overcome the violence, to get past the violence, and that grew as he grew, that matured as he matured.
“So it wasn’t falling off a horse, it wasn’t a Pauline conversion.”
Mr. Bradley believes Mr. McGuinness was on a long journey.
“It was a gradual evolution from a state that he didn’t make, and the reason why I defend him, is that it wasn’t of his making. He was born into it, a place and time, when it was inevitable, because most of his mates, his school friends, joined the IRA at the same time, a good deal were killed, and that was the conflict in which we were in.”