The campaigns for the Presidency in Ireland are giving rise to interesting discussions. The most interesting is about Martin Mc Guinness, one of the candidates any country would be proud to have as President.
Another is about Michael D Higgins, also a man of intellect and generosity. Maybe public discussion would be better focused on the ability of Ireland to produce such a competent line-up of possible Presidents, discussing which of them is best, rather than which of them to knock down.
Political judgements are strange at times. A man responsible for dropping atom bombs and killing tens of thousands of civilians is deemed fit to be President of the United States; a man who brought his people into a war unnecessary and illegal is deemed fit to be Prime Minister of Britain and embraced by a Pope; a man responsible for gas-bombing the Kurds – whom most people don’t even bother about – was hailed as one of the best Prime Ministers Britain ever had; the bomber of Cambodia was scarcely even questioned as worthy of Presidency.
But an Irish politician is questioned again and again and condemned if he dares to say he helped bring Ireland from a war which need not have happened into a peace which could hardly have happened without him, and is prepared to represent those who have never experienced democracy as a whole, undisturbed people.
If ever there was a time when Irish people had the need and the opportunity to talk openly, honestly and deeply about the real meaning of democracy, truth, justice and good politics, it is now. That needs courage and a forthright statement of the realities of the life Irish people had to lead for the past century. People who can justify and honour two world wars of unsurpassed cruelty, praising those who directed them, should think carefully before talking about political morality. But Irish people in the northeast made some very courageous and generous decisions in recent times, one of them being that working for a future peace is more important than engaging in a present war. Questions will have to be asked about whether in the northeast every means had been tried to bring about a fair and just society, about whether homes were really devastated not just by mobs but by governments, about whether those who engaged in a war in Ireland were more honourable or not than those who tortured, bombed, lied and stole their way through European history during the last hundred years, leaving death and sorrow for millions in their wake. But strange things happen – if we push our minds forward through future years we can imagine politicians not “admitting” connection with the IRA, but claiming it, politicians who previously condemned it. As the older people used to say when language was more colourful and subtle than now, “It’s wonderful what the whirligig of time brings round.”
Indeed it is. And if we are wise we will recognise not only that what the whirligig of time brings round is often good, but that we have been responsible for making a lot of it good. Things our grandparents would never have thought possible.
There was a great, generous woman, Simone Weil, Jewish and respectful of Christians and everyone else, who used to think about the history of her people with all its virtues, sins, triumphs and disasters. All of it, she said, good, bad, indifferent is part of what made me, it is part of me. I may like it or dislike it, but I recognise it with dignity because it is mine. A dignity we all share – just like history.