“I’m a patient man” said Martin McGuinness in a last interview as he defended his strategy of ” making the institutions work”. But Unionists have Rubicons to cross too

So what’s the legacy?  His contribution to underlying peace not war was essential, certainly.   In the welter of well- rehearsed comment  yesterday  we can be thankful that there was no suggestion of regression, rather the opposite from the likes of Gerry Kelly.   But in politics?  To adapt Ian Paisley jnr’s tribute “It’s not how you start your life that’s important, it’s how you finish.” While this is arguable – surely the whole life matters? –  Martin McGuinness’s life finished with the Assembly back in crisis. How did he explain it?

Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph carried a Sinn Fein video of an intriguing reflective post- resignation interview.  In it MacGuinness directly addressed the charge said to come from the grass roots,that he had been too accommodating to the DUP. Without specifically defending the withdrawal which would have meant raking over the coals, he laid out  broad conditions for  a resumption.

Even though some people might have been impatient with me in terms of decisions I came to, I thought it was very important to maintain the institutions. But just as importantly to try to convince the British government and the unionists that they needed a sea change in their attitude,,..

All of us in political life have a duty to stand up for people who feel they are discriminated against whether they are Irish language activists. LGBT.. It won’t work because of the nature of our institutions unless we are able to forge agreements and that means crossing Rubicons as we have crossed……

I do believe that many people in grass roots unionism.. are likely to see that all out best interests are not served by a hard Brexit. Any Brexit is a bad Brexit…. The British government have to live up to their responsibilities..

I do accept there were many people who were agitated that I didn’t move quicker. But I’m a patient man. I’ve been around negotiations for a very long time.  I thought I had a responsibility to everybody and I was trying to do my best to make the process work.

Here was the voice of a strategist and persuader with the confidence and authority to go further than mechanically repeat a party position. Like any strategist he wasn’t going to develop his strategy in public, nor presumably did he feel it was his place any longer to  do so.

While he felt the need to  deal with the charge of   slow movement on his watch not once but twice,  he left no clue as to whether Sinn Fein  should exercise similar patience inside or outside the Assembly. However we might take from his words that patience is best exercised in a return to the institutions which he stresses he wanted to make work – provided unionists “crossed a Rubicon” and made “ a step change.” These terms as stated are clearly negotiable. In the interview he made no mention of the position of Arlene Foster. We are left to make of that what we will.

At the time of writing she had not decided whether to attend the funeral. No comment needed. The one outcome of this funeral week is surely an extension of the talks deadline.  Perhaps we will learn more in the special sitting of the Assembly.

Later. There was no breakthrough moment or notable re-dedication of effort.   . The session was confined to formal speeches followed by signing the book of condolences in the Great Hall.

Peter Robinson’s article on the Belfast Telegraph is of great interest about a relationship  that was “robust and enduring than most friendships and certainly closer, more complicated and formidable than many”. Robinson admits that ” sadly, too often, events would knock us off course but together we consistently picked ourselves up and returned to our common goal” adding:

“In life, we play the hand we are dealt and not all our choices are good ones. ( What were your bad ones, Peter?)

Whether, or not, you believe in the credo that politicians should never accentuate their errors by verbalising them I am certain most will agree that worthy actions are more convincing that the spoken word in demonstrating change..”

No actually.The spoken  word  is essential for those  on the receiving end of inadequate delivery. Robinson’s  problem was that, whether  from calculation  following the  suppressed trauma of the  defenestration of  Paisley, or through his own  temperament  which in its way was as disciplined as McGuinness’s,  he was too cautious about claiming credit for  steeping gingerly outside the tent.   But his conclusion has to be right.

Yet the real decision for all of us was whether we wanted hostilities to continue or to end. Even an unconditional end to violence, welcome though that would have been, would not have resolved our community’s historic divisions – only a shared stake in the future and working with a collective purpose toward a common goal can do that.

Martin’s authority and influence in reaching agreement and in selling it to the republican faithful will be greatly missed.

Is the Robinson/ McGuinness era looking rosy already? If a relationship  between two Troubles veterans that was “closer, more enduring and robust than most friendships” had  continued in office  or had been repeated anew, would the Assembly collapse have been averted? Can it now be differently renewed between leaders of  conspicuously less authority?

Gerry Adams’ tribute  in the Guardian sets up a  straw man.

Reading and watching some of the media reporting of his life and death, one could be forgiven for believing that Martin, at some undefined point in his life, had a road to Damascus conversion and abandoned his republican principles, his former comrades in the IRA and joined the political establishment….To suggest this is to miss the truth of his leadership and the essence of his humanity. There was not a bad Martin McGuinness or a good Martin McGuinness. Martin was a committed republican who believed that the British government’s involvement in Ireland and the partition of our island were at the root of our divisions.

We must have been seeing different media reporting.  I saw no suggestion that he ” abandoned republican  principles.” The  piece is all exultant republicanism, about Sinn Fein on the rise and the case for a united Ireland. He makes no specific mention of the Assembly. While McGuinness would not have  dissented from a word Adams  has written, a difference of emphasis  is noticeable.

  Martin’s leadership and vision helped turn Sinn Féin into the largest political party on the island of Ireland. Our responsibility, now that he has gone, is to build on that legacy. To continue the work that he helped pioneer. That means building a new Ireland – a united Ireland – that embraces all its citizens on the basis of equality and respect.

The Daily Mail reports that Bill Clinton and Tony Blair will attend tomorrow’s funeral  but “not Theresa May”. Indeed. It’ll be quite a  crush with an overspill no doubt. St Columba’s Long Tower is quite small.


Sinn Féin are opposed to extending the deadline on talks aimed at forming a new Northern Ireland Executive, the party’s leader, Gerry Adams, has said.

Parties have until Monday 27 March to reach a deal, or voters will face the prospect of going back to the polls for a second snap election within months.

Mr Adams was speaking at a Sinn Féin meeting in Newry on Wednesday evening.

“There cannot be continuous negotiation and re-negotiation of agreements already made,” he said.

“So Sinn Féin is opposed to any extension of Monday’s deadline.

“It is possible for agreement to be reached in the coming days.


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  • Fear Éireannach

    Is the Robinson/ McGuinness era looking rosy already?

    Yes. I doubt if Robinson would have walked into so enthusiastically supporting the Brexit cul-de-sac that is going to poison relations in NI for a long time. I see no evidence that Michelle O’Neill can lead the SF community towards the sort of change that McGuinness did, although the need for such change is less now.

  • 1729torus

    Unionists tend to pursue the strategy that guarantees the minimal loss in the short term, whilst Republicans are inclined to gamble more. The cumulative effect of many iterations has been that SF has grown considerably, whilst Unionism is in the same position as it was in 1998.

  • the Moor

    He does overstate it – something of a verbal trait – but Gerry Adams is mainly right about the preferred news narrative and motif of a Road to Damascus conversion. Of course Martin McGuinness did not abandon his Irish republicanism. His thinking, manifestly did evolve however. By 1987/8 McGuinness had decided that a gradualist route to an imprecisely imagined ‘agreed Ireland’ was to be declared objective, thus displacing the unreconstructed demand made only a few years before for a ‘united Ireland’, to be secured, he asserted sharply, on the ‘cutting edge’ of the IRA (At the Edge of the Union, 1985). In the ruminations and reflections following his death, I’d be very interested to know what confidants and others think explains this remarkable leap-forward in thinking towards the eventual full-constitutionalisation of Irish republicanism? What happened to account for such an emphatic departure, in the emergence of a nuanced and complex (one could say postmodern) intellectual development, which – let us be clear – was light-years ahead of the fundamentalist shibboleths of physical force and abstentionism of just a couple or three years before?

  • Granni Trixie



    I have no doubt that Arlene Foster will attend the funeral tomorrow,, in fact she has no alternative,
    she has made too many blunders recently and cannot afford to make any more.

  • ted hagan

    Depends on the trappings that might go with the funeral, I would suspect, which is an understandable problem for her. After so many missteps and blunders over recent months, I thought her tribute to McGuinness at Stormont today was decent, balanced and sympathetic.

  • ted hagan

    I rate O’Neill immensely and despite obvious friction, I think Foster and her could do business and end up respecting each other.

  • npbinni

    Mrs May will be busy with the aftermath of today’s attack, anyhow. Puts a little clearer perspective on Marty’s life. People still suffer from his activities.

  • Redstar

    She simply has to go. It has been made clear there will be no paramilitary trappings.

    Yes we know it will choke her to attend but yet another snub to the entire Nat population will end the Dups ” charm a taig” offensive before it even starts

  • Jollyraj

    “It has been made clear there will be no paramilitary trappings.”

    Who has made that clear? Is the coffin going to be carried by former IRA men?

  • the Moor

    A profound shift seems to have occurred in Irish republican strategic thinking during the middle 1980s. Since the split of 1969 the provisional movement had rejected with vehemence all invitations to travel the ‘political’ road previously taken by the Official IRA (who declared a ceasefire in 1972 and relinquished claim to the imprimatur Sinn Fein in 1982), SF/IRA instead remaining resolved to adher to the true-faith of physical force and abstentionism up until the mid-1980s. Abstentionism was abandoned by stages, during 1986/7, with SF participating in elections north and south, and the first signs emerging, following Adams’s accession to the leadership of the movement in 1983, of a review of the hitherto sacrosanct standing of political violence (as reiterated by McGuinness in 1985), suggesting a re-balancing of the relationship of priority as between armalite and ballot box (first articulated in 1981) during the second-half of the 1980s. John Hume’s intervention, initiating pan-nationalist talks with Adams was also a milestone. But that was 1988, by which time, according to the editor of the Derry Journal, Pat McArt, a reputable source, on UTV last night, McGuinness was already using Hume’s preferred form of words (an ‘agreed Ireland’) as early as 1987. It would seem then, that the mid-1980s realignment was in response to a number of factors, internal and external, including the critical importance of avoiding any further splits (with 1975 in mind) over the doctrinal priority of physical force. At some point though, reflecting perhaps on the near defeat of the early 1980s, the northern leadership clearly began thinking the until then unthinkable: that IRA violence may be supplanted in the interests of long-term goals, which themselves were subject to revision at this time, away from traditionally absolutist and in favour of gradualist objectives. The celebrated BBC-Tv documentary Real Lives: At the Edge of the Union (1985) may have influenced the republican version of glasnost. In it, McGuinness succeeded in disarming the official propaganda image of republicans as monstrous gangsters, by coming across as a demonstrably likeable local politician walking among his fellow citizens on the streets of Derry. Did this play a part in convincing McGuinness and Adams that ‘political’ engagement with the British state could be delayed no longer? One suspects so, and with Hume’s pivotal support, further progress was made in 1988. In recognition of the nationalist demarche, by 1990, the British state had already intimated a willingness to parly, Peter Brooke clarifying that Britain in fact had no ‘selfish-interest’ in Ireland. Although the ceasefire was still four years away, the building blocks of the historic compromise that eventually produced the Good Friday Agreement thus re-emerged into focus. Tragically, I suppose it is true to say, that these bore strong resemblance to the 1973 model (Sunningdale) is a reflection of the difficulty of getting one’s house in order as a prerequisite to the decisive engagement – even though the principles of the eventual 1988 deal had been well known throughout the period of the Troubles

  • Redstar

    The church announced earlier today they had received categoric assurance there would be no trappings-so no excuses Snarlene


  • Redstar

    She’s a busted flush as far as the Nat community is concerned. Her arrogance and bigotry over RHI/ILA-mean she will always be viewed as such

  • ted hagan

    You can beat that drum too often.

  • Redstar

    Its Snarlene that chooses to beat the drum

  • Granni Trixie

    You have brought together bits and pieces I have known but half forgotten and it makes sense – except for my difficulty getting into a mindset which appears devoid of ‘normality’ kicking in on seeing the reality of physical force.

    Also, Surprised you have not mentioned the AIA (1985) as an influence on the road to laying down arms – given it established “the totality of relationships”, giving Dublin a role.

  • Granni Trixie

    I think in her position as former FM Who worked closely with him it is her duty to go to the funeral. However if it has the full trappings of a paramilitary funeral I can see the problem – she’s dammed if she does and damned if she doesn’t.

    As far as I am aware the DUP or indeed anybody representing unionists parties did not attend Seamus heaneys funeral and he only wrote poetry (no guns). Their loss.

  • Karl

    Apart from recognising SFs mandate and sharing power, what rubicons have unionists crossed and have yet to cross?

    Looking for a list of whats been done and whats to come

  • Mike the First

    Very interesting.

    Where in all this, do you reckon, did the leadership of SF decide to support the principle of consent?

    Publicly, they went from opposing it vehemently to supporting the GFA, which is built on it (and other principles) practically overnight in in 1998; just as swiftly as the DUP later went from not even talking to SF to leading the Executive with them in 2007.

  • the Moor

    The twofold basis was in Irish republican acceptance of British disinterest matched by the British state’s acknowledgement of the legitimacy of antipartitionist aims (and the promise to install these in the interim apparatus of governance to follow). This historic equation provided a prima facie case for cessation of hostilties – in removing the motivation for war against Britain – and allowed the principle of consent (a development of Hume/Adams/McGuinness ‘agreed Ireland’ vocabulary) to assume a superordinate status as a contemporary form of ‘self-determination of the Irish people’ coda. In a way, the 1998 Agreement thus afforded an elegant (provisional) means of constitutional closure not available to the principals in 1921.

  • the Moor

    Yes, it too played a part, of course, not least as SF/IRA were initially locked out – looking in – because they hadn’t renounced political violence. Unhelpfully, however, Thatcher kiboshed all three of the tabled options for constitutional reform/resolution.

  • grumpy oul man

    You do know there is a difference between trappings and people.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Foster will now go to the funeral, but “her maybe I will, maybe I won’t” routine lost any public relations benefit from this. With the likes of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton going she could hardly not have.

  • Jollyraj


  • Jollyraj

    So to be clear you wouldn’t have been happy if she hadn’t attended (and quite frankly having been a victim of the IRA it would be quite understandable if she hadn’t) and now that she attends you still aren’t happy.

    Hard man to please….

  • grumpy oul man

    You seem a bit confused between what are trappings and what are people!
    But perhaps it was your previous post that was unclear, feel free to explain it.
    Maybe its time you started reading your own posts twice .read this twice.

  • Jollyraj

    Ok then, please unconfuse me 🙂

    What would be the logical difference for an IRA victim in terms of what they would feel at McGuinness’ funeral between being forced to see paramilitary trappings and being forced to rub shoulders with unrepentant terrorists?

    Speaking personally, I wouldn’t attend.

  • grumpy oul man

    Nobody will force you to attend.
    Arlene attended and done the right thing.
    Unionist and nationlist polticians attended David Irvines funeral in the knowledge that UVF.members would be carrying the coffin because it was the right thing to do.
    You wish to live in the past (or rather a past that suits your dogma) but that is not a option.
    We can play your dead cat games or at least try to move on, i know which one I’ll be doing.

  • Jollyraj

    Ok, let’s move on.

    The facts as stand in the present: we have two countries on the island of Ireland. The majority is ok with that. Uhm… that’s really the end of the story.

  • Deeman

    But for how long….

  • grumpy oul man

    Well thats not really the end of the story no matter how much you would want it to be.
    There are other issues that unionists are dragging there feet on.
    Equality, ILA, legacy are still not settled and there is also the little matter of a approaching nationlist majority!
    But it is nice to see you have managed to move out of the 1950s to the present even if you think that the present we have is the end of history.
    Im interested as you seem to think that the status quo is the future, how do you intend to maintain it?

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    Patience.?,.. 20years…..no tricolour over Stormont…..not even joint authority…..re-open the Boundary commission…reneged on by the Free state Government in 1925.