Martin McGuinness made a positive contribution to peace and reconciliation
Posted By: February 05, 2017
While it is often said that most political careers end in failure, Martin McGuinness steps down from the assembly with his reputation enhanced.
His announcement yesterday that he will not contest the Foyle constituency in the March election ends speculation about the future of a man who has been at the forefront of political life in Northern Ireland for many years.
It has been clear for some time that he is battling serious illness, indeed many were shocked to see his frail appearance when he resigned as deputy first minister earlier this month.
He said yesterday he had planned to step down in May this year but acknowledges that he is not physically able to continue in his present role.
It is sad that his career has been cut short by illness and there will be many people across the community wishing him well as he concentrates on overcoming his medical condition.
By any standards, his has been a remarkable journey. The one-time IRA commander was a transformative figure in the peace process, taking the republican movement away from their campaign of violence to a point where they were sharing power, in a northern government, with the DUP.
Unlike some of his Unionist counterparts, Mr. McGuinness was not grudging in his involvement.
He embraced the role of deputy first minister, taking part in numerous acts of reconciliation. Unionists may not have appreciated what an enormous step it was for this committed republican to meet the Queen, what difficulties he may have encountered among Sinn Féin supporters.
But he saw these symbolic gestures as a necessary part of the work aimed at building a peaceful future and a society grounded in equality and mutual respect.
His support for the PSNI and outspoken condemnation of the violent dissident campaign showed someone who had moved a long way from his past.
The tragedy in all of this is that the DUP in general, and Arlene Foster in particular, did not realize that Martin McGuinness was an asset to the devolved structures and that the whole process does not work unless there is genuine partnership.
Incredibly, after a hugely successful election just eight months ago, the DUP is in disarray, the RHI scandal a byword for incompetence and mismanagement while all around them, events move well beyond the party’s control.
Sinn Féin will now be looking for a new leader and is likely to take a much tougher line in any negotiations aimed at restoring the executive. Its disgruntled grassroots will expect nothing less.
After ten years of Mr. McGuinness’s calming influence, it is not just Sinn Féin that will be entering a new era.
We are all facing a period of uncertainty as the political landscape shifts.