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It was a remarkable day in Derry – a day of measured words and steps.

No ordinary day. A day that if listened to and built upon might even make a difference.

Thousands of people wanted to be there; be there for the funeral and the mass for Martin McGuinness – see it, hear it, witness it so as to be able to remember and recall this day from the vantage point of presence.

In the conflict years, McGuinness was a leader in the IRA but, on Thursday, there was none of the trappings that once accompanied such funerals. No beret, no gloves, no marching or stamping or shouted orders and instructions but, rather, those measured steps and words – every one of them careful and considered.

In the waiting for the mass to begin, those with whom I stood outside the church shared conversation and the chips that Eamonn Mallie had bought and brought in brown bags. They were passed among those around us, including some who had travelled on a bus from Cork in the earliest hours of Thursday morning.

Travelled to be there, to see for themselves – to hear for themselves.

There was nothing to embarrass or intimidate those who are not part of the republican community – and who stepped into St Columba’s Church on Thursday afternoon, including the DUP leader Arlene Foster.

Such steps are not easy, but were made easier by the conduct and choreography of this occasion. 
Martin McGuinness was part of an organisation that caused much hurt – the horrors that screamed out in the headlines of the conflict years, human bombs, the disappeared, the dirt and ugliness of wars.

He was also part of a community upon which much hurt was visited.
Those who talk about hands that drip in blood, forget and ignore the poison that dripped from politics and discrimination, what can drip from security and insecurity, the fear and anger – the “rage” of the time as Bill Clinton succinctly described it when he spoke on Thursday.

This place did not grow crops of ‘bad’ people.Things happened that made the conflict happen. Causation – the why of those war years – has not been properly explored.

We now need to lift the past out of politics, take it away from those endless negotiations and arguments, give the shaping of some process to others.

What could Bill Clinton and former Methodist President Harold Good, both of whom spoke at yesterday’s service, do to help such a process?
They could help with their words and wisdom – their different ways of saying and doing things. One from outside of us, the other very much a part of us.

Both have helped this process at different times – helped make the impossible possible.

Along the way in the development of that process, prisoners were released. 
Do we now want a process that sends people to jail, or do we want to find the best ways of achieving the maximum disclosure of information from all the corners of the conflict years, understanding that there will not be absolute truth?

We need to end the battles of the past. We need to stop shovelling the hurts of that period on top of generations that did not experience it. We need help – not more political negotiations and disagreements on the legacy question.

The talking at Stormont continues – talking about the implementation of agreements previously made but not honoured.

Gerry Adams has said his party is opposed to any extension of Monday’s talks deadline. He is saying it is decision time.

These talks are not just about Sinn Fein and the DUP, but about the governments – British and Irish.

Since Martin McGuinness’s resignation as deputy first minister in January, the politics of this place have changed utterly, including the make up and arithmetic of the Assembly. 

The unionist community is nervous. 

In other communities there is a nervousness about Brexit and its implications.

The next steps will need to be as careful and measured as those taken during those remarkable hours in Derry on Thursday.

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I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.


  1. Laurence Rocke on

    Well said, Brian. We have to find a way that allows us to remember and acknowledge the terrible hurt felt by many people in both sides of the community. But we must also find a way to draw a line in the sand and move on for the sake of our children and their children.
    Bill Clinton spoke brilliantly yesterday and he was spot on with his exhortation that, if we value at all Martin McGuinness’s journey from violence to peace, then the right thing to do is to take it on to the conclusion and turn this place into one that works and that can be treasured and enjoyed by everyone.

  2. Jake MacSiacais on

    I find it fascinating that the dichotomised view of Martin has got such traction. Martin was one and the same always and always. Tactics and strategies are dictated by the possible and the pragmatically efficacious and by the morally justifiable course of action given concurrently prevailing context. No one chooses bad actions but are rather governed by analysis and action based on prevailing choices. It is high time for all of us to grow up accept the current realities and to get on with building an agreed Ireland, cognisant of its past and even more cognisant of its possible futures. Sectarianism and triumphalism must be faced down if we are ever to emerge from the quagmire created by historic British interference in our affairs.

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