S.F. Issues Posthumous Certificate of Honor for Irish Politician with Ties to IRA

Former-IRA member Martin McGuinness was second in command when the deadly Bloody Sunday attacks rocked Ireland in 1972.

There’s certainly no shortage of people decrying the actions of politicians on Twitter, but on Sunday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed was the subject of a barrage of criticism hailing all the way from… Ireland?

The issue at hand: a certificate of honor granted posthumously on Friday to the former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness, for his “courageous service in the military” and his efforts to “secure peace for his people.”

The mayor’s office told SF Weekly Sunday night that the choice of McGuinness was made by the United Irish Societies, which selects the Honorary Grand Marshalls for the St. Patrick’s Day parade each year.

Taken at face value the certificate of honor sounds fairly unremarkable, but Martin McGuinness is a wildly controversial figure in both UK and Northern Irish history — largely because of his ties to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which campaigned for freedom from British rule, but in doing killed hundreds across the UK in the last 100 years. The IRA is most famous for using homemade bombs; they’ve been connected to explosions at pubs, hotels, parks, and London’s financial district. 

McGuinness was second in command in the IRA during the infamous Bloody Sunday attack on Derry, Ireland in 1972, where 28 civilians were shot in the skirmish and 14 died. He was sentenced to six months in prison the following year after being found near a vehicle that was packed with 250 pounds of explosives and 5,000 rounds of ammunition. 

And in 1979, McGuinness was the IRA’s chief of staff when a bomb was planted on the boat of British royalty Lord Mountbatten, Prince Charles’ grand-uncle. It killed Mountbatten, two teenage boys, and an 82-year-old baroness. That same day, 17 British soldiers were killed nearby. 

McGuinness somehow left the IRA with his reputation intact enough to run for office; he was later elected Northern Ireland’s Minister of Education and First Minister. He died in 2017. While many affected by the IRA’s attacks never warmed to him, he did claim to have reformed his opinions later in life. “There are no military solutions – dialogue and diplomacy are the only guarantee of lasting peace,” he once said, claiming his commitment as an elected official was to words, not bullets. 

Still, to choose him as the recipient of a certificate of honor halfway around the world is an odd choice,  to say the least. And it’s not going over too well.

San Francisco media has been quiet about the certificate, in part because American history doesn’t usually include a whos-who of the IRA, so the name shouldn’t ring a bell for anyone scanning the list of recent honorees. But, the Irish Times did call attention to the situation, as did the Belfast Telegraph — which is no doubt where the enraged people on Twitter 5,000 miles away heard the news. 

“I fought shoulder to shoulder with your country after the 9/11 terrorist attack,” wrote former-solider and politician Doug Beattie on Twitter, in response to a Chronicle article Breed tweeted out. “Yet you honour terrorists who butchered men, women and children in mine.”

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