Unionists have expressed outrage at a gravestone erected for former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as republicans gathered to remember him a month after his passing.
The first line on the dedication on Mr McGuinness’s recently unveiled Celtic cross gravestone in Derry reads ‘Oglach [Volunteer] Martin McGuinness, Oglaigh na h-Eireann [IRA]. Below this is a line reading “MP, MLA, Minister”, referring to his political positions at Stormont and Westminster.
Mr McGuinness died last month from a rare systemic disease at the age of 66.
As the memorial was unveiled by Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald last weekend, she described him as “one of the greatest republican leaders Ireland has ever seen”.
Mr McGuinness’s sons Emmett and Fiachra and daughters Fionnuala and Grainne were present at the ceremony, which took place at the Sinn Fein Easter commemoration in Derry City Cemetery.
Mary Lou McDonald was the main speaker at the event.
“Our great leader and friend lies here now,” she said. “Martin McGuinness, whose heart came alive and kept faith with the Bogside.
“Martin McGuinness, a faithful son of Ireland. Martin McGuinness who fought, who made peace and who will never be forgotten. Martin led from the front, he took risks for freedom and risks to build the peace.
“We are stronger because of him, braver because of him, closer to reconciliation and freedom.”
But Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie said those who believed Mr McGuinness had “undergone a transformation” had been “duped” and that his headstone reflected that he “hadn’t moved on from his IRA past”.
“I am not surprised. Martin McGuinness may well have become a statesman, he may well have become a politician in the eyes of many, but the reality was that he was, until the day he died, an IRA volunteer,” he said.
“What they have put on his headstone trumps everything that people think about this man. Martin McGuinness didn’t move on from his IRA background, he remained linked to the IRA until the day he died and the headstone clearly reflects that past.”
There were also negative comments on the gravestone by hardline republicans who were angered by the reference to Mr McGuinness’s role as a British minister on his grave, which lies within the heart of the cemetery’s republican plot.
And a controversy has also continued over the manner of his funeral, which bore none of the traditional IRA symbolism, expect for an Irish tricolour flag which was draped over his coffin.
The absence of traditional elements such as a beret and gloves was seen as proof by some that Mr McGuinness had moved away from IRA activity, while others claimed they had been left out so that international political dignitaries could attend without being embarrassed.
However, even the presence of the Irish flag on the coffin provoked a controversy. The Catholic Church in Derry, which has long banned the traditions of IRA funerals in its ceremonies, was forced to explain why it allowed an apparent exception to their rule by allowing the Irish tricolour to cover the coffin of Mr McGuinness throughout the funeral.
Bishop Donal McKeown said that Mr McGuinness was treated similarly to a president or taoiseach, “in recognition, not of an individual, but of a position that they held in public life,” he said.
“The diocese was thus following the practice that has been standard and custom in Ireland for almost a century.”
East Derry DUP MP Gregory Campbell insisted that “what happened at the funeral was just a day and a moment in time”, but that the headstone conveyed the real truth.
“Given the lengths that people went to at the actual funeral to try and elevate Martin McGuinness and try to allot him the status of a statesman, I think that most people will now see what the real and lasting tribute really is,” he added.
BACK TO BIGOTRY
Meanwhile, one of the DUP figures who was lauded for his kind words for Mr McGuinness following his passing, has returned to form.
Ian Paisley Jr MP provoked anger when he said at the Westminster parliament that those involved in a ‘shoot-to-kill’ ambush of an unarmed IRA Volunteer should be given medals, rather than investigated. He was echoing calls by fellow DUP MP Jim Shannon who described IRA hero Colum Marks as “odious, filthy, scum”.
Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady has branded the comments of the MPs as “disgraceful”
“Not only do such crass and disgusting comments add to the hurt of the Marks family, they are also an insult to all those who knew Colum and hold him in high regard,” he said.
“No one can be above or beyond the law. This is a further indication of the DUP’s attempts to whitewash the past and it is symptomatic of their abject failure to deal with the legacy of the conflict.”
* The month’s mind Mass for former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness will take place next week. The Mass will be celebrated at St Columba’s Church, Long Tower in Derry at 7.30pm on Wednesday April 26.
Sinn Fein supporters will also gather in St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York on Monday April 24th at 6:30pm for a commemorative mass. A eulogy will be delivered by former US Senator George Mitchell.