Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Editor's Viewpoint: Another admirable act by McGuinness

Published 26/06/2012

Martin McGuinness has proved himself to be an eloquent and courageous Deputy First Minister.

Although his appointment to the post was seen by many unionists as provocative given his former life as an IRA activist and commander, he has made genuine efforts to move the peace process forward and to create a more inclusive ethos in the community. His condemnation of dissident republicans for their attacks on police officers and description of them as traitors, showed that he is a man who is prepared to do and say the proper things when the occasion demands it.

And by shaking the Queen's hand tomorrow he is doing the right thing. It is a hugely symbolic gesture and an unequivocal sign that politics in Northern Ireland has undergone a sea-change. Mr McGuinness says his gesture is the equivalent of shaking the hand of every unionist in the province. That might be overstating the situation but it certainly is extending the hand of friendship. He is to be commended for it, and also for allowing the moment to be photographed.

Of course the other person involved, the Queen, is also to be congratulated. Her visit to the Republic last year, including going to the republican Garden of Remembrance, put Anglo-Irish relationships on a completely new, and understanding, footing and, inevitably, some of that has rubbed off on the province. While political aspirations may remain unchanged, there is now, almost for the first time, a respect for each community's politics and a realisation that consensus should be sought, if not always obtained.

Her Majesty will see a much different province from the one she visited during her Silver and Golden Jubilees. During the former the IRA issued death threats against her and even during the latter, a mere 10 years ago, Sinn Fein refused to meet her. Now there are virtually no voices raised in dissent at her visit, even among the nationalist community. This incremental change in relationships can only be further enhanced tomorrow after that handshake.

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