For parties aspiring to be the lead parties of government in Northern Ireland, why were there no statements of appreciation or representatives from the DUP or the UUs at the funeral of Maurice Hayes, one of most distinguished public servants of our time? Or were they so discreet that I missed them? Warm words of appreciation by the Newsletter and the Telegraph akthough welcome, were no substitute.
Maurice’s “identity” (though I suspect the current obessession with it exasperated him) was firmly and unapologetically rooted in Ireland but his mind was an open border and as a sceptic on Irish unity, his “country” stretched naturally southwards and eastwards. Alongside his full British citizen rights, the Irish citizenship all northerners enjoy qualified him for membership of the Oireachtas as a senator. He himself put it neatly: “the Good Friday Agreement liberated the nation from the state”.
It is more than ironic that Sinn Fein, in a fulsome tribute by Gerry Adams, was better prepared to accept this pluralism than the DUP (with I see the improbable but commendable exception of Jim Wells). Sylvia Hermon’s prescence at the funeral only emphasised the glaring absence of official party representatives.
There is a pattern here. Seamus Heaney’s death was greeted by a similar philistine and uncivil silence. It contrasted badly with the semi-state character of the obsequies for George Best, as Peter Robinson and his cohort appeared for the Stormont ceremony robed in pomp as local councillors.
But the mute response over Maurice has a slightly different character. It sends out a message that is dismissive of Catholics who work within the constitutional settlement. To coin a phrase, it perpetuates the lack of respect. Should there be second thoughts, they will come too late.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London