The Guardian has picked up on our Martin McGuinness interview, to be published in this week’s magazine, making its “top line” his indication that Sinn Fein can work with the Tories. That is an interesting angle, but there is much more to the interview, so please find below the transcript of my discussion with the deputy first minister.
Will the recent breakthrough have the historic significance of the Good Friday Agreement?
The Good Friday Agreement was an incredible breakthrough, something that has laid the foundation stone for all that has followed. But we have seen the ongoing success of the peace process; we’ve been through the St Andrews Agreement, which obviously propelled us forward another bit. But it’s my view that the Hillsborough Agreement could see politics in the north come of age, and see us all move forward on the basis of equality and partnership.
To what extent has your own thinking changed over the decades?
I’m still an Irish republican; I absolutely believe in Irish unity and am working to achieve that. But over the course of 15 years or more, people like myself and others have been working to end the vicious cycle of conflict.
The latest polls say you are poised to become first minister. What would that mean to you?
Others are more fixated on that than I am. I am basically content doing the job I am doing at the moment. But I want to do that job in the context of institutions that are working — in terms of the power-sharing and all-Ireland institutions. I want to work with Peter Robinson as First Minister in a positive, constructive way, and leave the elections to the electorate. I don’t go to bed at night and get up in the morning thinking about any of these things. I am more concerned about how we can use the agreements that we have come to — for example, at Hillsborough Castle — in a way that benefits our entire community.
Since forming your alliance, how has your view of Ian Paisley and his values changed?
Obviously Ian Paisley and I were regarded as very bitter opponents. When we decided in March 2007 to govern together, both of us understood that we weren’t going to change our views, but that we had to work with one another if we were to end the conflict and move forward. Then things changed, I think irrevocably. And essentially then it was down to what importance you placed on human relationships and how trying to develop relationships in a civilised and cordial way could benefit the overall peace process. And I have to say from the very beginning, from the first time Ian Paisley and I sat down together, I was very pleased that we very able to build a good, healthy, positive personal relationship with each other, albeit that he knew that I was an Irish republican, and I knew that he was a unionist. It was pretty amazing we were able to strike up the relationship that we did. But I value it, and I regard Ian Paisley as a friend.
Do you think IRA terrorism on the mainland damaged the cause of a united Ireland?
War is terrible. There is nothing romantic about war and the fact that the IRA or the British army or the police force or innocent civilians lost their lives. But the reality is that we have been through a terrible conflict and the community I come from believes it has in effect been discriminated against. So we can analyse all we want the reasons why the conflict began. I come from Derry where, before the IRA fired a gunshot, Samuel Devenny was beaten to death by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and Seamus Cusack and Desmond Beattie were shot dead by the Royal Anglian Regiment. And of course we had internment, we had internees tortured, we had 14 people murdered on Bloody Sunday. Sometimes it’s like the blame for the conflict rests only at the door of Irish republicans — whereas I believe it rests at 10 Downing Street and the offices of unionist parties in the north.
Would a Tory government threaten your cause?
Well, I’ve met with Owen Paterson [the Conservative shadow Northern Ireland secretary] and David Cameron, and they made it clear that they are prepared to stand faithfully by the agreements that have been made. And that essentially means the Good Friday Agreements, the St Andrews Agreement and the Hillsborough Agreement. So I’m taking them at their word. Being involved constructively in the north of Ireland is a steep learning curve, particularly for the Tories. I think that Tony Blair brought a particular empathy to the situation, and the context of his involvement, Mo Mowlam’s involvement, and the reality that they understood that Britain’s role in the north of Ireland was as much part of the problem as anything else. And Tony Blair freely admitted that to me in a number of conversations that we’ve had. So I would hope that, given all we’ve been through over the past 15 years, it has been a very positive experience, because we are now in the stewardship of one of the most successful peace processes in the world today. I hope whatever government is elected will come at this as positively as Labour did in recent times.
Will there be a united Ireland in your lifetime?
Well, I’m working to achieve that. I believe that the agreements we have made allow us to go forward — and I’m quoting Ian Paisley — to bring to an end the old hatreds and divisions that have been so much to our detriment.
How does your faith affect your politics?
It doesn’t affect my politics at all. I understand that, in the context of being in a very important governmental position, there will be people in society who are not Christians, and there will be people in society who believe in other things, and there will be people who believe in nothing. And I have a responsibility to everybody. We have to govern by treating every single citizen equally, and so that they, too, understand that they’ll be treated equally.
So you believe Protestants are just as faithful as Catholics are?
Gerry Adams has been making this controversial film, in which he compares his own path to that of Jesus. Would you do the same thing?
I don’t make any comparisons whatsoever. I’m an Irish Catholic, I believe in Catholicism, but I’m a very broad-minded Irish Catholic. And since the peace process began, I have made very close friendships in the Presbyterian Church, and the Church of Ireland, and the Methodist Church. And some of my strongest friends are in those churches. Recently I was invited to the installation of a new minister in Christ Church in Derry. I was invited to that and I went along and sat quite happily in the congregation as my friend was installed in that church.
How do you deal with receiving death threats?
I never let it weigh me down. I have a job to do. I have a massive electoral mandate from the people who voted me into this position. Overwhelmingly, the people of Ireland support the peace process. There are unionists who have tried to bring it down; there are people associated with small, unrepresentative armed groups on the republican side who are also trying to destroy it. I’m going to do everything in my power to ensure that they don’t succeed. What I intend to ensure is that the will of the people of Ireland is respected. Those people who engage in the sort of activities that these groups have engaged in need to recognise that their actions are absolutely futile, that there is no prospect whatsoever of any advancement of any beliefs that they have in the context of the activities that they are involved in. What they need to do is let the people of Ireland have voted-for peace. The peace process provides the only credible way forward to Irish reunification. I am trying to make that happen, but the difference between them and me is that I want to do it by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.
Do you ever fear for your family’s safety?
No. If these people take action, I presume they will take it against me. And if they take action against me, well, that’s a matter for themselves. But I’m not going to let that put me off doing the work that I am doing. I am certainly not the sort of person that goes to bed at night worrying about it and I don’t get up in the morning worrying about it. I get up to do my job and I have absolutely no intention whatsoever of letting those who would try to destroy all of the good work of the past 15 years have success in intimidating me or threatening me.
Have you ever killed a man?
I made my statement to the Bloody Sunday tribunal, where I admitted that I was a member of the IRA in Derry during a very difficult period of our history. And that’s what I want to say about it. I remember, for example, I was arrested, I think in 1974, and one of the British tabloids ran a headline claiming that I had boasted that I had killed six British soldiers. I had never done anything of the sort; it was a total and absolute lie. But as a former member of the IRA, I accept all the responsibilities that are due to me. I was a member of the IRA at that time and the IRA were involved in a bitter conflict against the British army and the forces of the state. But in terms of the individual circumstances, I don’t comment on that.
SET NS Q&A QUESTIONS
What do you regret?
I regret the bitter conflict on the island of Ireland, and that many people lost their lives. I absolutely regret that the body politic failed those people, and that a blind eye was turned by successive governments in London — and by some in Dublin — to the plight of nationalists.
Is there, or was there, a plan?
The planet we live on is an extraordinary place; scientists tell us we’re unique in terms of the universe. I wonder about how we have arrived here, and who was responsible for that. So obviously there was a plan somewhere. But in terms of what I believe: I believe in Jesus Christ. There are many others throughout the world who don’t believe in Jesus Christ, but this is what I believe. I respect what they believe, and all I ask is that they respect what I believe.
Are we all doomed?
I don’t believe we’re doomed at all. Here in Ireland we’ve seen extraordinary circumstances. I’m very honoured and proud to have been part of all of the good developments that have taken place. We are looking forward to a bright future. I’m not a doom-and-gloom merchant.
Many thanks to my colleagues Alyssa McDonald and Mehdi Hasan for their help in securing the interview and to our intern Ian K Smith for transcribing it against the clock.