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The failure of Martin McGuinness to gain the presidency of Ireland strikes me as one of the happiest news stories of the year. Among the most suggestive moments of the campaign was when the television presenter Miriam O'Callaghan asked, "How do you square, Martin McGuinness, with your God the fact that you were involved in the murder of so many people?" A good question, well asked.

Naturally, live on air, McGuinness did not appreciate this question. Afterwards he asked the mother-of-eight for a private word, and apparently left her distinctly shaken.  When this became public it did not go down well.

But it is nearly possible to feel sorry for former IRA leaders. Until quite recently someone who was troublesome to them ran the risk of being taken out and shot. If they were particularly unlucky they would first have been tortured. But this option is now unavailable.

You often hear it said that it is tough for politicians when they lose the trappings of power. How much harder it must be to lose the power of life and death over your opponents.

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These things are on my mind.  My new book, Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry (Biteback, £20), is out. But I fear for it, partly because of the gruesome subject (though it might yet fill a niche as an un-Christmas book), but also thanks to my difficulty sustaining a readership across books. My first was on a minor poet, my second on neoconservatism and now here is one on a horrible shooting which criticises nearly everybody. I try but fail to picture the reader who would stick with me through all three.

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I remember getting into terrible organisational problems while at university. Work, such as it was, began to suffer.  I explained the situation to a tutor, who did me a huge service by very plainly explaining that coping with the chores of everyday life was something one simply had to learn to do. By way of example he described a matter of VAT he had addressed that morning before heading into college. Coming from him — a poet — it made a particular impression. 

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