Death of A Salesman




From top: Martin McGuinness in Downing Street; Dan Boyle

As a young man his sense of anger seems palpable. In older pictures there is a sense of a man who had learned the value of hope.

Dan Boyle writes:

Willy Lomax, the lead character in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, cuts a sad and pathetic figure. In writing about Martin McGuinness, I make no attempt to compare their respective characters. I merely borrow the play’s title to consider the role of politicians as salesmen, a role I believe McGuinness performed very effectively.

At least it is a role that politicians need to play, even though too many take a ‘whatever you’re having yourself’ approach to life.

The selling of ideas, concepts, ultimate destinations, but most obviously possibilities, should be a central part of the role of a politician. That so many take a ‘where are my people so I can follow them’ approach, is a tragedy and failure of politics.

The ability to identify key audiences; to measure and manage expectation; to use language to be understood and where possible inspire – these are the tools of that rare breed, the successful politician.

I once had a relatively private meeting with Martin McGuinness. The then evolution of politics on this island saw David Trimble and Seamus Mallon as the nexus of the Northern Ireland executive. It would be a number of years until McGuinness became the heart of that executive. At this meeting he was part of a Sinn Féin delegation meeting with the Green Party, seeking support for the early release of IRA prisoners.

The Green response was not as enthusiastic as the Sinn Féin team had hoped. Mr. McGuinness was most forthright is expressing his disappointment. I found him intimidating. Perhaps that feeling was as much informed by a preconception I held of Martin McGuinness and his reputation. Perhaps it was the hypersensitivity we Greens suffer.

In that brief meeting, through that flash of anger, I caught a sense of the Martin McGuinness for whom the bomb and the bullet had been his preferred methods of persuasion.

Or he could have been having a bad day. Making character assessments on the basis of one off meetings is always unwise. An even more superficial approach would be to look at photographs of the younger and older McGuinness. As a young man his sense of anger seems palpable. In older pictures there is a sense of a man who had learned the value of hope.

Nor should we be unaware of the realities of those who had lived in an apartheid statelet, where the hatred foisted on them created a violent response.

The identification of that violence as being self defeating must have been a difficult obstacle for him to overcome. To go from there to work with, work within and to seek to make work a system that had consistently undermined his community, must have required huge reserves of self evaluation.

That he managed to do that while mastering the timing of when to push, when to leap, when to take the risk, makes his an extraordinary achievement.

He did so more openly, more honestly, more effectively than anyone else in the republican movement. They will miss him. So will we.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

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29 thoughts on “Death of A Salesman

  1. mildred st. meadowlark

    “Perhaps it was the hypersensitivity that we Greens suffer.”

    That brought a genuine smile Dan.

  2. Charger Salmons

    Tebbit had it right.
    While Deputy First Minister McGuinness still demanded prosecution of British soldiers for historical offences yet refused to reveal anything to the families of people he personally murdered.
    He was a coward who turned to statesmanship when he knew the game was up.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      Yeah, you’re right, he should have kept killing people. Or at least not helped bring about the peace process. That would have been the honourable thing to do.

      1. Biggins

        and you wouldn’t be half as forgiving if Enda Kenny died, and he never ordered that people be blown apart and maimed and paralyzed for life

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          “he never ordered that people be blown apart and maimed and paralyzed for life”

          Unlike like your average British Prime Minister.

          1. bisted

            …they can even do it remotely now…by drone operated from the war room in Downing Street…Tebbitt and Thatcher would have had some craic with that…

    2. ivan

      Tebbit didn’t have it right.

      Tebbit, for the record, was a geebag *before* Brighton. I don’t condone what happened to his wife, but far as I can tell, all it did was give him more focus for his particular brand of bile.

      Contrast him post Brighton with, say, Colin Parry post Warrington. Colin Parry hasn’t forgiven McGuinness, and I don’t expect him to, and never did. But he campaigned tirelessly for peace.

    3. scottser

      you’ll probably find that he wasn’t alone in recognising that the end of the struggle was apparent. paisley, robinson et al knew that to stay relevant they would have to engage with the peace process and like pragmatists, they did.

      1. Spaghetti Hoop

        Correct. The world turned before they did.
        That’s why I love the state papers when they emerge in the new year; you see what was really going on behind the headlines – secret negotiations, bar-room deals and so on.

    4. Listrade

      Ah Tebbit, who praised Jimmy Saville even after the revelations about him. Tebbit is such a good judge of character.

  3. dav

    He didn’t go to war, the war came to him….
    I don’t like adams, but I thought that was an effective way of explaining McGuiness

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      +1 Some talk like he invented violent uprisings against colonial oppressors as opposed to being an inevitable result of colonial oppression.

      1. Kolmo

        I wonder was there a similar tone of well-spoken bemusement, even bewilderment at the motives for engaging in previous military/insurgent activities at the passing of former Taoisigh W.T. Cosgrave, De Valera, Lemass, and numerous other TD’s over the years?

      2. Spaghetti Hoop

        Look at the era too; uprisings in colonial Africa, 1960s civil rights movements – the violence in USA was just as shocking and bloody as that in the North. Uprisers become a product of revolutionary tides.

  4. bisted

    …Hey Dan…there’s your Deputy Leader on Drivetime with Mary Wilson…what a talent…good luck with the conference in Waterford this weekend…you are invited, aren’t you…

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