Political Celebrity Martin McGuinness

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Political Celebrity Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness: A Psychological Analysis of his life in Politics

Early Adolescence: Conformity and Obedience

James Martin Pacelli McGuinness played a leading role in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and subsequently became Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister (2011 -2017). A senior Republican politician who as a teenager in Londonderry’s Bogside, was fully aware of his proud Irish Identity and the intrinsic belief that the Island of Ireland would one day become one. He was a visionary in every sense of the word, with teenage stamina and an astute awareness of the existence of two major identities living in Northern Ireland. His thinking patterns were very precocious even at that early age, as an uneducated schoolboy struggling to pass the 11 plus examination to grammar school, but like thousands of other children, was unsuccessful. Brought up as a Roman Catholic in his Bogside neighbourhood Martin would have been seen as a conformist to religious ideological beliefs in God. In his early adolescence he would like his peers, have been in a state of identity moratorium facing the penultimate challenges of identity confusion and exploring other possible roles and identity statuses before making a rational decision which one to adhere to. To be an academic was not altogether in his long term career plan. He was much more a traditionalist following a vocational route into the trade as a butcher’s assistant. At this time the social influence of his nationalist peers around the vicinity of Celtic Park would have formed a significant impression upon the young man, though still having formed a cohesive attachment to his parents. He would have been fully aware of the social and class consciousness that prevailed throughout Ulster and particularly the role Protestants played in the dichotomous nature of culture and British heritage in Ulster, sharing personal and group identities of Protestant and Catholic. By the time he had reached middle adolescence, the separation from parents became more salient as he explored other possible identities, but the most dominant one was to be a strict conformist to Irish National Identity and the spirit of Republicanism. He had little choice in the matter as at the time one either obeyed the leadership of one’s political party or deferred to another alliance. At the psychological level he would have found solace and inner strength in his strict adherence to a nationalist political ideology. There would inevitably have been an experience of the turbulence associated with discovering his self and identity, the stresses and strains of anxiety, but a strive towards independence and a respect of nationalist authority and dominance. Martin McGuinness’s sense of self awareness or self perceived competence was to gather momentum as he was in what we call a foreclosed identity status. These individuals according to Erikson the American Psychologist make a commitment to ideological beliefs based on family or social expectations, in his case anchored in Irish ethnic identity and all things pertaining to it. The personality type is one which makes preferences not to explore alternative identities but to settle for that dominant belief system associated in his case with Irish Republicanism.

Religious Ideology

I have been speaking recently at various media venues about Celebrity culture and status, charisma and Celebrity worship, but more of that later. In his early life attending the Mass at his local Roman Catholic Church, we can see a person who as a young adult, had developed a razor sharp personality as a political activist, absorbing the rhetoric associated with the defence of all things nationalist and the love of the Irish language and his highly esteemed and adored godfathers of republican violence. Seen by many Protestants in Ulster prior to his death as a human enigma, shrewd and toughminded, his personality type was subject to change in late adolescence, moderated by his admiration for the criminal gangs and the macho gunmen many of whom might well have been his peers. However, his religious ideology and belief system doesn’t square up with his interview given recently to Premier Christian Broadcasting.


Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, has told Premier he’s a practising Catholic and a “very broad minded Christian”. He said, “I would describe myself as a practising Catholic” but added it was “my opinion and others may disagree”. In an exclusive interview with Premier, the Irish Republican said: “If there is a God out there, there is only one God.” I believe that something created this beautiful planet, it’s just so extraordinary in the universe that I can come to no other conclusion.”

A very significant interview, not only that, but the focus here is on the semantics which demonstrated a sense of cognitive dissonance, or inner conflicts between his “religious” identity and conformity to republican violence. In other words he must have been at one stage of his early adulthood, in some form of spiritual conflict, or perhaps not. I note his use of the term “Christian” which in essence means a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ, Master and Redeemer of all our sins. A practising Catholic would mean some form of allegiance to Christian principles as presumably agreed at his confirmation in childhood years. This is a far cry from his adoration and justification of violence against the Status Quo and later as a provisional leader and Commander of the Provisionals. If we examine his claim much more closely, in the context of his spiritual or religious identification, Martin Mc Guinness would have been conscious of his Catholic upbringing when he felt obliged to join the Provisional movement. He would have been expected to obey and conform to the militaristic criteria of his terrorist organization, at the same time would have felt the ultimate betrayal of his Catholic upbringing and principles. My view is that his interpretation of the relationship between religion and political thinking is inwardly satisfying in that he felt justified in taking up arms to fight for civil rights of his then perceived minority group. He saw a sense of Christian self as an identity that could be anywhere on a continuum, and he could freely move along this continuum depending on his powers of negotiation with the outgroup of British majority groups. McGuinness knew full well that British Protestants and Christian people would be sceptical of his Christian claims, but who are we to cast the first stone, and see the speck in our brother’s eye but not the plank in our own eye? He seems very doubtful if the truth be known,… if God really exists.. “If there is a God “…..so why would he doubt God’s Almighty power and existence as a “Practising Catholic”. He went on to say that “Something created this beautiful planet…” rather than demonstrate his firm belief in God as Creator and the ultimate source of reality as most if not all Catholics do. This conflicts with the subsequent statement where he acknowledges that there is only One God. Perhaps we can only assume that his recognition of his abhorrent past as a terrorist leader would bring about a profound feeling of remorse, but no evidence for this was forthcoming. His charisma was adorned by all his peers and locals who knew him, in early adulthood and into his early twenties and early thirties notably as a potential leader. By this time head had not yet rationalized that power sharing with the British majority group was the Christian way forward by loving ones neighbour. The dissonance prevailed within his own personal identity which was under threat from Christian Catholics who that politics superseded religious ideology at any cost, even to the mass slaughter of the innocents during thirty years of violence. As a student living in Belfast during the IRA bombings and shootings, I could see the slaughter of innocent Protestant and Catholic people at Oxford St Bus station. I recall talking to passers, by who as I did, witnessed limbs lying everywhere, British soldiers heads blown off, legs and arms scattered. Months after more provisional atrocities at a Belfast hotel, La Mon outside the City, where the Dog Club had a social evening. Napalm Bombs went off killing many who were socializing. On another occasion I witnessed the Abercorn Restaurant disaster in the Cornmarket area of Belfast City centre. Here local shoppers and people inside having lunch were suddenly blown apart into the streets. Years after I qualified as a psychologist, the “troubles “ persisted and on a placement at the Royal Victoria Hospital I had firsthand experience of seeing British soldiers with critical injuries by IRA snipers around Broadway and the nurses homes. Very severe head and chest injuries became commonplace as soldiers serving here away from their families, were doing long duty shifts worn out by the Provisional’s daily fight against the Status Quo. In Church one evening we prayed as we always did for the terrorists, that they would put down their arms and find true love and respect for their protestant neighbours. The now charismatic Martin McGuinness would by then have acquired legitimate power and authority among his fellow terrorists. The motive to kill was dominant in his personality, motivated by the success of the bomb and bullet. Where was his Christian thinking over those years when he and his fellow terrorists had no conscious awareness of God’s presence and that we all must as Christians follow His commandments? Personality motives are complex, but I often ask how he could have gone home each night as a family man to his wife and children and get supper and sleep after their abhorrent and vile evil deeds and back street murders across the towns, villages and countryside of Northern Ireland. The UDR or Ex-UDR fathers who answered their door bell just to be shot dead in the hallway before their kids, the slaughter of the Protestant workmen riddled to death by machine gunfire at Kingsmill in South Armagh. The listing is endless. His personality type before his passing reflects a different person to the gunman of the past. Did he find God again, did he experience remorse for his past, we will never know as these he takes to the grave, the unanswered questions and unfinished business. Prayer works, as all Christians know, and whilst some might forgive him for the evil deeds he authorized, nevertheless thousands might never forgive him. The endless pain and suffering I now see daily in my clinic, of families with no fathers or in most cases grandparents no longer there because of the nationalist cause for a United Ireland. No democracy then, only bloodshed anguish and years of torture and emotional trauma.

The Celebrity Politician and Statesman

Over the past decade and a few years earlier Martin McGuinness had to utilize his powers of persuasion as a leader and authority figure among the Sinn Fein Nationalist Party where he is edified cherished and adored. There was a psychological transformation from bomb and bullet to negotiation which would entail a Power Sharing Executive. It was a huge political risk given his background, but his cognitive or powers of social perception underwent refurbishment with renewed motives to establish some form of Government that would resolve decades of turmoil and intransigence. Retrospectively I could see a young man with the aim to be like his Celebrity politician peers even in Westminster, where he could have made an impact. He emulated his socialist MP’s and more senior Irish political giants, and for one who failed the eleven plus as a boy went on to succeed as a skilled orator and one who is ironically reaching out the reciprocal hand of friendship to his counterparts Peter Robinson and more recently Arlene Foster. He learned the art of persuasion techniques and debating skills in the Assembly, but these personality traits of social influence he used to his advantage in the setup of the Good Friday Agreement. As Aristotle said, “It was the art of getting people to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask.” He realized that if he was to achieve his dream, there had to be a starting point, and it was not a political trigger, but a psychological one. It was imperative there had to be a change of attitudes, so he and Peter Robinson began to eventually shift their attitudes towards the majority and minority group. McGuinness knew that legitimate power and authority was no longer acquired but had to be achieved across all parties and this meant sincerity, respect for each other and genuine trust and integrity being established.

It was that unique partnership with the Rev. Ian Paisley that sealed the deal. Ian Paisley was the real mastermind behind the motives to build a stronger Union with Great Britain and work together with the Nationalist community which showed his Christian principles of loving thy neighbour and showing love acceptance and complete forgiveness to his opponent. His relationship with Peter Robinson was as reported by press, “Unique closer but more complicated and formidable than many friendships.” In Peter’s tribute to Martin McGuinness he stated that first of all he was a family man, but after years of working closely together Robinson had to think twice about his seeing Martin as a friend. Being somewhat elusive, Peter said that it would be inadequate to see the relationship as “friendship” but it was unique. It was more robust and enduring than most friendships but complicated. Martin seemed to be a quietly spoken politician with an unassuming personality, a Celebrity in that sense of the word, but not a term that would be acceptable to the Protestant community who have suffered decades of trauma and bereavement. Robinson and Paisley were radically different from McGuinness in political cultural and religious terms, but they had social influence also over Martin, as Paisley and Robinson were profound masters of the arts in political terms having gone where no one feared to tread. Their personalities were anchored in Christian love and respect and were the motivators of sowing the seeds of peace making strategies in the late Martin McGuinness.