Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Robinson's move a game-changer

The importance of symbolism in Northern Ireland should never be underestimated, and nothing could be more symbolic than the appearance of First Minister Peter Robinson at GAA's Dr McKenna Cup Final.

Not so long ago it would have been politically impossible for a senior unionist to attend a sporting setpiece of the GAA, which is so identified with the nationalist community.

However the attendance of Mr Robinson at the Derry-Tyrone game in Armagh on Saturday night has changed all that. His presence in the same company as the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as well as Cardinal Sean Brady and senior GAA officials has shown how much has changed.

Significantly, another senior unionist, Nigel Dodds, underlined that Mr Robinson's presence at the game did not compromise his political principles, or those of his party.

Martin McGuinness praised the First Minister for his "inclusive approach" and noted that his attendance was "another little piece of history."

Mr Robinson's presence at the final was part of his own determination to root out the "them and us" attitude which has so paralysed progress in Northern Ireland, and the First Minister is to be commended for matching his words with the right actions. In doing so, he has set an example for people from all backgrounds in Northern Ireland to demonstrate that the future depends on inclusiveness, rather than the apartheid of so much of the past.

No doubt there are those who will criticise Mr Robinson or anyone else who is pointing the way towards a shared future. Sectarianism and division still exist, but the symbolism and reality of senior political figures crossing the divides, and the vision of those who send out the invitations, bodes well for the future.

Sometimes it is easy to be disillusioned by the sometimes slow pace of change, but the mistrust of centuries cannot be expected to fade virtually overnight, within the broad sweep of history. Nevertheless, the First Minister is showing the significant progress that is indeed being made.

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