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Editor's Viewpoint: From gunman to politician of note

Published 30/11/2009

One of the most remarkable political transformations has been that of the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

An opinion poll published in today's Belfast Telegraph reveals that he is viewed as the most impressive minister at Stormont, much more so than the First Minister Peter Robinson who trails him by 20 percentage points on both sides of the community.

The poll, in association with Inform Communications, shows that Martin McGuinness also rates surprisingly well among Protestants, and he achieved the same score as that of the Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey.

It is important to stress, however, that an opinion poll is only a snapshot. Yet even on a cautious reading, these findings indicate that a significant change has taken place in the attitudes towards Mr McGuinness.

Not so long ago he was regarded by Protestants with suspicion and hostility. Until now it would have seemed unthinkable that he would have so decisively out-polled Peter Robinson in this way.

The poll does suggest, however, that we may be moving into a different phase of political life, and that politicians are being judged as much on their current performance as on their past. Martin McGuinness has shown courage in condemning republican dissidents and also political patience in dealing with the DUP over policing and justice.

Mr Robinson, for his part, may reflect that leaders do not always get the credit they deserve, but the poll is also a warning that he may risk everything if he does not start moving forward and freeing himself more from the DUP hardliners.

Overall, the poll suggests that some people believe politicians can move forward from conflict to reconciliation and even statesmanship. That, in itself, is welcome.

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