Fionnbharr Rodgers, Contributor
Recent days been what the laws of probability dictated it would always be: the news that Martin McGuinness died has mostly prompted responses which live on the other side of the sectarian coin as those which responded to the death of Ian Paisley, with one or two exceptions. Gerry Adams praised McGuinness as a ‘passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the re-unification of his country’; Bill Clinton said that McGuinness ‘believed in a shared future and refused to live in the past,’ and Tony Blair said ‘the same fierceness he brought to the armed struggle he brought to the cause of peace,’; and that unhappy breed of Englishmen, represented by the likes of Katie Hopkins and Norman Tebbit, who exhibit an indignation not at all tampered by their ignorance of Irish history, produced the predictable firebrand babble about McGuinness’ time as an ‘IRA commander.’
Yet, for a life as diverse and complicated as that of Martin McGuinness, it is irresponsible to compartmentalise in such a way. If we must describe him with one, single, and fitting phrase, then the one most appropriate is a ‘Derry man’. His life was, in its every aspect, representative of his community. He went from being a civil rights marcher; to a rioter; to a Sticky; to a Provo; to a negotiator; and finally, to a politician. The history of Martin McGuinness is the modern history of Ireland, with all its contradictions and complications, the good and the bad. The Troubles was an era which spanned over three decades, tore communities part and pitted them against one another; many people came out of that period with blood on their hands, some came out of it with blood on their gloves, but if we truly want to memorialise those who suffered history and honour their memory then the best way to do that is to build a country where that can never happen again.
At the end of his life he was not ashamed of his past, though he expressed some remorse, and the day that Northern Ireland can follow suit and deal with ‘The Past’ in frank and honest dialogue which is not inhibited by bitter hyper-partisanship will be the day that reconciliation will finally take place. The past is what it is, there is no virtue in dwelling in it, but the future lives on the edge of a coin and is entirely ours to create.
As the man himself said in an interview given to Eamonn Mallie, ‘I think the work of the last 20 years has been transformative in terms of both security and political situation. I would like to think I have made my own small contribution to all of that. You know, where we are going now is a far better place than where we were 20 years ago and if we keep this going where we will be 10 years from now will be a far better place than where we are at the moment.’
Today we shall be laying to rest a giant of Irish politics who, for better or worse, put his talents to the service of his community and his country.