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Arlene Foster's magnanimity laudable

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 09/02/2016

First Minister Arlene Foster
First Minister Arlene Foster

As the legacy of the past continues to haunt Northern Ireland there are many people, always well-meaning but often untouched directly by the horror of the Troubles, who argue that we should draw a line under those experiences and move on.

But to those who still remember past traumas and who are scarred emotionally by them, that can seem a very trite exhortation that doesn't chime with how they feel.

That is why so many of us are still astounded when we see examples of people putting their own feelings to one side for the greater good of the wider society.

We can have no greater instance of such altruism than that revealed by our new First Minister Arlene Foster in the BBC NI Spotlight programme.

She was an eight-year-old girl when IRA gunmen tried - and narrowly failed - to kill her father, a RUC constable living near the border in Fermanagh. He was grazed on the head by a bullet and the family spent terrifying minutes, which must have seemed like hours, waiting for the security forces to rescue them as they hid in a bedroom.

One of those who tried to shoot dead her father was a notorious IRA gunman believed to have been responsible for up to a dozen murders, and who was later killed by undercover soldiers.

The man who gave the oration at his graveside and who described him as a freedom fighter and saint was Martin McGuinness, now the Deputy First Minister at Stormont.

Mrs Foster, of course, would use very different words to describe the would-be assassin of her father, and it is little wonder that, as she has said publicly, she has no personal relationships with Sinn Fein members.

But, importantly, she is prepared to put personal feelings aside to create a working relationship with Mr McGuinness as their respective mandates dictate in the power-sharing administration.

The two senior politicians have to work together for the betterment of Northern Ireland. That cannot be easy for Mrs Foster - indeed it must be very difficult - but it is another indication of the sure-footedness and statesmanship she has displayed since taking office.

It is also an example of how to move on without forgetting the past, but refusing to be shackled by it.

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