So the political establishment and the media are in rare unison praising Martin McGuinness. Illness and the shadow of death – ordinary decent, natural sickness and intimations of mortality – bring out the sentimentalist in all types of the Irish people.
Let’s not be too starry eyed. In a longish apologia for the different phases of his career, Martin McGuinness had no apology to make for the armed struggle. It was left to Gregory Campbell from across the Foyle – who else? – to remind us of unreconciled narratives.
“It is important a balanced view is shown – there was the first part of his journey, which was a bloody and horrendous journey and there was the latter, where he devoted his time and energy to politics…”The regret is he didn’t engage much earlier in the peaceful path…. If I saw him tonight, I would ask if he would re-consider his comments that he has no regrets.” .
For the moment at least, Gregory’s reservations have easily been superseded by the message from Ian Paisley no less, which shares the headlines with Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“I am going to acknowledge the fact that perhaps if we got back to some of that foundation work of building a proper relationship and recognising what partnership actually means then we can get out of the mess we are currently in.
It would be very easy to beat the drum … dead easy to say ‘great stuff, another one is off the scene, we’ll deal with the next one…. Does that really help? It doesn’t help out there. It won’t put our country back together again…“We actually have responsibilities as political leaders to put this back together again and the sooner more of us are honest about this the better.”
No answering move from the DUP presents itself. Arlene Foster will not quit unless she is proved to be venal or uniquely incompetent. But the DUP needs to respond with more than the reaction of the moment which allows them not to look mean spirited on the day. They still have to address the strong and abiding sentiment that extends well beyond Sinn Fein of carping defensiveness which still to nationalists means “croppies lie down”. For a start it’s a totally counterproductive stance these days.
Change doesn’t mean a wholesale acceptance of Sinn Fein’s agenda but it does require a shift in positions and attitudes, as they must surely realise. Both sides could use the Irish language debate as a testing ground in an subject where the Sinn Fein proposals – as far as I understand them – have failed to make the desired impact after decades of official commitment in the Republic. (I’ve changed the end of this sentence to make it more specific).
Revelations continue about the details and suspicions of RHI. A little Fermanagh network was it, a Foster connection of spads and their families stretching even to Colebrooke to keep the scheme going – perfectly properly of course? Or not as the case may be? A stunning failure by glum officials to point out even to each other that two and two still make four?
The key to it now lies in McGuinness’s parting shot.
“We must continue to move forward. Dialogue is the only option.”
Well Alex Kane, if dialogue is the only option, “ letting the Assembly go “ is obviously not that option. Dialogue means not sticking on terms which both sides know backwards the other will reject.
Secondly can the positive note be sustained throughout the election campaign? Or at least be heard again immediately afterwards? Only if the parties produce agendas which they really can discuss.
Thirdly the two governments can make crucial contributions straight away. The secretary of state should take responsibility for setting up the inquiry. There is no First Minister in office so Arlene is not an obstacle.
Having dismissed joint authority as an option, the two governments should bring forward ideas for a co-ordinated approach to dealing with Brexit consequentials as soon as possible, starting with the meeting between Theresa May and Enda Kenny next week. This contains enough of an all-Ireland dimension for anybody to be going on with. It could prevent the election debate from becoming entirely sterile.
Civil society – business and industry, academe and cultural bodies – should start piping up about what is entailed in parity of esteem and a respect agenda. We will never get anywhere if they are seen purely in terms of political trade off. The political parties alone have defined this topic for far too long and civil society should stop being so scared of them. At the very least, the present stand-off requires a modification of the tone of self congratulation that too often accompanies discussion of “the peace process.”
Could it be that Martin McGuinness has made his most important contribution in nearly twenty years just by quitting?