Your day has definitely come, Martin McGuinness
Published 10/03/2009 | 07:40
Right now, the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic need to see two men standing side by side issuing a joint statement condemning the murders and the murderers of those two soldiers at Massereene.
More than that, right now the families of two dead young men require two living men to stand up and be counted on their behalf.
Those two living men are Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness. First and Deputy First Minister. Our Government.
What's at stake is confidence in our future and not only here, among the brand new buildings, the underpasses, Victoria Square, the new Ulster Hall, the Titanic Quarter; but among the international community who now look again at this place and find two dead soldiers, the first to be killed here in 12 years.
Was that it then? Was that the peace? Were the last 10 years our lot? Are we back in the 1960s after the Border Campaign?
Can we look forward to yet another outburst of republican purism, now that it seems Sinn Fein can’t deliver on its promise to end the war?
We knew that it could happen but it was still a shock. Police tickertape fluttering. The mundanity of a Saturday night pizza delivery. The eyewitness details of six ambulances rushing to the scene. Reporters huddled round a detective. The Prime Minister's promise that the terrorists will not win. And the Taoiseach's. And the First Minister's. And the SDLP's. And the Alliance Party's ...
There was the innate familiarity of the ritual. Sunday could have been any day from the dark 1970s or ’80s. Also, the speculation about what it all meant for the peace process. For the future. For us.
The threat of dissent republicans — after Omagh — was, for most of us, more theoretical than real.
A bomb scare here, a shooting there, but the situation — despite recent warnings — seemed under control. Compared to what went before, it all seemed small-time stuff. It seemed like almost a peace. Not now, it doesn't.
Cowardly as the Antrim attack was, it was as well-planned as the many attacks by the Provos during ‘their' war.
For all the experts puffing away that the dissidents do not have the weapons and the men in the way the Provos did (or do?), recent security assessments have been proved absolutely correct. The dissidents are growing stronger.
Of course, they don't have to be as strong as the Provisionals.
They merely have to be big enough and deadly enough to pose their erstwhile friends, Sinn Fein, a very nasty question: whose side are you really on?
It's a question that unionists will be looking answered, too.
After all, in theory we're in a position where all has been agreed. Power-sharing. All-Ireland institutions. Policing.
If there's any hedge-trimming by Sinn Fein people will rightly conclude the peace process is just a sham.
I suppose their leaders have just about passed the first hurdle and kept the show on the road. Still, while their condemnation may have satisfied all the legalistic necessities many will feel it has more to do with the political logic of the situation than any deeply felt revulsion.
And many will be waiting for SF backwoodsmen to tip the wink to their natural constituency by humming and hawing, calling for ever more ‘confidence building measures' or rambles down republican memory lane, droning on about how there can be no purely military solutions to armed republican resistance.
Even the fact that the party took more than 12 hours, carefully considering the implications of the Massereene attack before issuing any statement, has been duly noted by many people here.
If there is normal politics here, then normal politicians shouldn't equivocate — or indeed calculate — when their fellow citizens and soldiers are gunned down in cold blood, should they?
Their sincere condemnation should be axiomatic.
If SF speaks with a forked tongue on these murders — or prattles on about the dangers of the PSNI overstepping the mark in their efforts to track down the gunmen — unionists will think they have sat down with a bunch of slippery twisters who think a peace process means more one-way concessions.
It is not enough for Sinn Fein to say they support the peace process. They now have to say they want peace.
Pure and simple.