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Parties urged to 'reach for that further shore' as Assembly pays tribute to Martin McGuinness

By Noel McAdam

No-one was more delighted than Martin McGuinness when the Seamus Heaney centre opened in the poet's home village of Bellaghy.

The former Deputy First Minister often waxed lyrical himself, once presenting his power-sharing partner Ian Paisley with a self-penned poem.

But Heaney was said to be his favourite. So it was appropriate as the Assembly paid tribute to the senior Sinn Fein leader yesterday that several MLAs, including DUP leader Arlene Foster and the Speaker Robin Newton, referenced Heaney.

And they all referred to two particular lines, from The Cure at Troy.

"So hope for a great sea-change

"On the far side of revenge

"Believe that further shore

"Is reachable from here."

Mr Newton, of the DUP, said: "Martin McGuinness was motivated by reaching that further shore for the good of this society."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it was now time for the parties involved in the devolution negotiations to ensure that the "further shore is reached... to go down to Stormont Castle to finish the job."

MLAs had agreed to come back for a special session to mark the passing of the Deputy First Minister, even though, without agreement among them, they have no power to bring the Assembly back full-time.

Their mood was, predictably, sombre and the proceedings were dignified, even if they did not begin with the traditional prayers and there was no formal Order Paper.

Ninety minutes had been allocated for MLAs to speak, but in the end it took less than half that, with no-one apart from David Ford of Alliance and the Green Party's Clare Bailey speaking, apart from the party leaders. But then, gathered outside, the four main leaders looked distinctly uncomfortable as they lined up together after signing books of condolence for Mr McGuinness.

It wasn't an occasion for carefree chat but, even so, the body language and lack of small talk in the Great Chamber at Parliament Buildings did not appear to augur well - you hoped the talking in the negotiations just half a mile away in Stormont House was going better.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt and SDLP chief Colum Eastwood, until recently the co-custodians of the opposition, were talking as they waited to sign the book.

But there was barely the briefest of remarks between Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill and DUP leader Arlene Foster.

And then all four of the other main party leaders suddenly left together, leaving Mrs O'Neill remaining on her own as other MLAs - albeit precious few unionists - lined up to sign.

The leaders signed in the same order in which they had spoken immediately beforehand in the Assembly chamber.

It was only the second sitting of the Assembly since the election at the start of the month. The first was last week when they signed themselves in.

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