When the same Belfast journalist who rang me to say that Gerard Davison had been shot dead, phoned me within minutes of Wednesday night’s Short Strand attack, my initial shock abated quickly as I reflected on the grapevine having been busy churning out Kevin’s name, as a contender for the killer of Jock Davison in the Markets in May. The finger pointing was coming from within the ranks of the Provisional movement and as I had written at the time:
few should delude themselves that the current or former Provisional IRA activists who gathered grim faced at yesterday’s murder scene, will hang around like sitting ducks for some score settler of any hue to declare open season on them....
There might have been a genuine substance to the assertion, Kevin was capable of it. It might also have been smear, the Provisionals were capable of that.
What left me surprised was that being aware of his having been put in the frame, he had made himself an available target for his killers by continuing to live openly in the locality. The fate of his fellow Short Strand resident Denis Donaldson should have served as a salutary reminder that even if those who really want to get you can’t for reasons of political constraint, there will always be somebody willing to rid them of turbulent priests.
I knew Kevin McGuigan, having met him in the H Blocks. We were not bosom buddies but got along pretty fine and would often chat amiably. I regarded him as too on message, and he viewed me as a cynic. We locked horns without any personal animosity over the directive by the jail leadership to fill out census forms. I made the point that the IRA had killed Joanne Mathers some years earlier for collecting census forms in Derry. He was not for buying it, merely saying things change and it was what the movement wanted. I had no great principled opposition to filling the form in, just that my long standing aversion to both form filling and instruction manuals, inclined me towards evasive action.
Kevin had a quiet manner although others felt there was a violent energy there. One former prisoner who got on well with him said he:
had an odd demeanour about him at times that bordered on extreme violence ... always seemed to be struggling to hold himself back from exploding ....
While he won that struggle in the jail to the extent that I never noticed it, I came to recognise it years later on learning of some of the confrontations he had managed to get embroiled in. As always there are two sides, maybe even more, to these disputes. Kevin who firmly believed he was hard-done-by was still no shrinking violet when it came to settling up.
When he was shot a number of times by the IRA sometime after the Good Friday Agreement he asked me to visit him in hospital. I headed down and conversed with him as he lay on the bed, the shorts he wore covering less of him than the bandages. I had been a regular visitor to hospitals to see former republican prisoners although their patient status was a consequence of more mundane matters. I found it unsettling to see an old comrade, somebody who had shown tenacious commitment to the IRA, confined to a hospital bed because of what other old comrades had visited upon him.
While upbeat he was livid that he had been shot. I wondered what was damaged most, his body or his republican pride. He blamed Jock Davison and felt that he had been treated most unfairly, that personality clashes rather anything substantive had selected him for assault. He also felt a lot of deviousness and underhand behaviour had been at play. Well, it was the IRA, so ...
He never spoke about physical revenge, more a case of exposing people to the harsh light of publicity. By now I was perceived as an old hand in publicly battling it out with the Movement and its dissembling, someone he felt would get his narrative out in the media for him. He did not want anything published at the time but asked if I would be okay to standby if he ever needed it. Such was his sense of fidelity to the Movement that he wanted to talk to people in the republican leadership before making any firm decision to embarrass his attackers.
On occasions after that I would see him infrequently in West Belfast’s Springhill where he would occasionally visit a friend. Over the years his animosity towards Gerard Davison had not withered. By now he had persuaded himself that Jock was an informer. I tried explaining to him that as the IRA had been so compromised any senior operational figure could have a case made against them giving their proximity to botched operations which had grown endemic. The bar would have to be raised very high in terms of evidence. There was nothing Kevin said that caused me to think Jock was working for the British. He remained adamant but the detail is not something I recall with any degree of certitude.
Sometime after I had departed Belfast’s mean streets he rang me. He had been putting something together that would, he felt, be of serious embarrassment to his former colleagues. Again he wanted to know who the most reliable journalists were, and how accessible they would be. I advised him to be cautious, but that we would be available if he needed to speak out. It would be wrong to say that he feared for his safety. He recognised that there were dangers given the ruthless nature of the people he was in conflict with, that his survival was not guaranteed, but fear was not a word I would associate with Kevin. He seemed more concerned about any consequence for his family were he to go public.
Now it has all ended in this. Kevin murdered, Gerard murdered, and Kevin possibly having murdered Gerard. To what end? Nothing has been moved forward by as much as one political millimetre. It is hard to see anything but Love/Hate style vendettas being fought out in the streets of Belfast. What legitimacy Bobby Sands, Mickey Devine and the eight volunteers in between hungered and died for is not to be diluted and besmirched by being conveyed on the murderous minds waging the type of gangland violence that has thus far claimed two lives of former IRA volunteers. Bobby Sands once spoke of republicans triumphing through the laughter of their children. There is little for children to laugh about at the gravesides of murdered fathers, little reason for republicans to wax triumphant.