San Francisco, CA – San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s decision to commemorate a key leader in a terrorist organization for his “courageous service in the military” has sparked international outrage.
Breed made the announcement on Friday, as part of the prelude to the city’s St. Patrick’s Day festival and parade, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Each year, the United Irish Societies of San Francisco presents the mayor with a list of honorary grand marshals who are generally then bestowed with a Certificate of Honor for their contributions.
But among this year’s selections for the award was Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader who later helped to broker a peace deal in Northern Ireland.
The IRA, a militant nationalist group that sought to reunify Northern Ireland by ending British rule, regularly resorted to guerrilla warfare such as bombings and massive raids to force its enemy into negotiations.
At one point, McGuinness was second-in-command of the IRA, BBC reported.
He later became Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator during the peace process, and was ultimately named as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister in 2007 – a position he held until shortly before his death in 2017.
“Martin’s courageous service in the military and as a negotiator helped cement and shape the Northern Ireland peace process and construct the Good Friday Agreement,” the certificate read, according to the Irish Times.
Martin never actually served in the military.
“His sacrifice and dedication to secure peace for his people is not only an inspiration to us all, but represents San Francisco values at their best,” the commendation continued. “He leaves a legacy that embodies and celebrates the diverse history and strength of San Francisco and Ireland.”
News of the commendation was quickly met by outcry from IRA victims and politicians, the Belfast Telegraph reported.
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Member of the Northern of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly (MLA) penned an open letter to the mayor, and said that bestowing the honor on McGuinness was an act that “spits in the faces” of those victimized by the IRA.
"After the horrific terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers the first nation to stand with you was the United Kingdom," Beattie wrote in the letter to Breed. "Yet as the Mayor of San Francisco you repay us by honouring a terrorist and leader of an organisation that butchered men, women and children throughout the United Kingdom.”
"Just imagine if the United Kingdom, your loyal friend and ally, honoured Osama Bin Laden?” he continued. “This award spits in the faces of victims who lost their loved ones to a blood-crazed organisation - the Provisional IRA - which was led and supported by Martin McGuinness.”
Beattie said that the commendation was nothing short of a betrayal.
"In bestowing this award have stabbed those who came to your country's help in your hour of need in the back,” he added.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Member of Parliament Gregory Campbell also wrote an open letter to Breed, and explained that her reference to McGuinness’ “courageous service in the military” was especially outrageous in the eyes of “the thousands of victims of IRA violence,” the Belfast Telegraph reported.
“This is because Martin McGuinness had previously declared that he was the second in command of that organisation when it was extremely active murdering innocent people and causing significant community unrest," Campbell wrote.
UUP Councilor Mary Hamilton was injured during a 1972 IRA bombing, and her brother-in-law was fatally shot by the group later that same year, the Irish Times reported.
“The Mayor of San Francisco should come to Northern Ireland and see the victims here and what the legacy of Martin McGuinness has left behind him,” Hamilton said. “I remember every day the Claudy bomb victims blown to pieces at my feet and my brother-in-law, [who was] shot in the back, left a four-year-old child and a wife.”
Retired Derry Police Officer Mervyn Lewers, who lost both legs in an IRA car bombing, said he was “disgusted” that they mayor opted to award someone who “was IRA commander.”
Many were outraged that Breed praised McGuinness for his “courageous service in the military,” the Irish Times reported.
“Martin McGuinness wasn’t in an army - he was a terrorist, he was the leader of the terrorists,” said David Kerrigan, whose 20-year-old sister was killed by an IRA landmine. “We were just disgusted when we heard it.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster said that she believes Breed was likely unaware of McGuinness’ history with the terrorist group when she opted to bestow him with the Certificate of Honor, the Belfast Telegram reported.
Foster said she sent a letter to Breed explaining that, among other atrocities, the IRA had carried out “indiscriminate car bomb attacks” while McGuinness was a commander.
"These were bomb attacks which murdered pensioners and young children, a reality of IRA terrorism which is likely to be unknown to the Mayor of San Francisco," Foster noted. "Neither is it likely she would be aware of the IRA's murder of Patsy Gillespie who was used as a human bomb by the Provisional IRA."
Foster also invited Breed to visit Northern Ireland in order to “find out first-hand from those who suffered from [the IRA’s] terrorism,” BBC reported.
Breed has since apologized for selecting McGuinness as an award recipient.
"San Francisco values mean respect for the democratic process and non-violent political actions,” the mayor said in a statement, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
"The language on the Certificate of Honor should have taken more care to apply these values when reflecting the history of Mr. McGuinness's life towards peacemaker and his role in the peace process that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement,” Breed said. "I apologize for the pain this certificate has caused."
But Breed’s apology did not address whether or not she plans to withdraw the commendation.