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Martin McGuinness funeral: Displays of mutual respect which give us hope deal possible

Editor's Viewpoint

DUP leader Arlene Foster did the right thing in attending the funeral of Martin McGuinness in Londonderry yesterday. It could not have been an easy decision given the IRA's attempt to murder her father and her being caught up in a bus bombing as a schoolgirl.

But as the former - and potentially future - First Minister, she gave due respect to a fellow politician who essentially headed up the power-sharing government at Stormont with her.

The applause she received in the church was a recognition of her gesture and that, ironically, she had shown respect for a political opponent in death that he complained she had not shown in life.

It was also doing the decent thing. In Northern Ireland there is a decency attached to death, and nowhere was it more apparent than in the many words spoken and written about Mr McGuinness since his death and at his funeral yesterday.

Yes, he had a past that was abhorrent to very many people, but it alone did not define him, as his latter-day political life was rightly praised. Decency demanded that both sides of his life were held up to the light.

The officiating priest Fr Michael Canny delivered a well-rounded homily, thanking political opponents of Mr McGuinness for turning up and saying that was a testament to his bridge-building in his latter years.

He also pointed out that many people continue to struggle with his IRA past and while it is difficult to forgive the pain caused, it is impossible to forget.

Former US President Bill Clinton had much praise for Mr McGuinness and said that his move away from violence to peace whether due to principle or pragmatism had made a very positive contribution to life here in recent years. It is easy in such an emotional setting and with carefully nuanced comments and actions to extrapolate the feeling of the moment into signs of a sea change in the political climate.

Only the naive would expect the DUP and Sinn Fein to suddenly put aside their fundamental differences at the Stormont talks, but the optics of politics can be as important as the detail of ideology.

When even politicians start viewing opponents as people rather than a tribal grouping there can be a softening of attitude.

Mrs Foster did not hurry away from the church after the service, but stayed around to talk and be photographed with members of the congregation. That would have been unthinkable a short time ago given the toxic remarks exchanged during the election campaign.

It was that personal kind of relationship building that Mr McGuinness was so good at when Deputy First Minister, as the Paisley family and former First Minister Peter Robinson have testified.

It is an innate skill, largely absent from the remaining Sinn Fein leadership, but which is required in the negotiations ahead,

Mr Clinton, as he did so often in the past, urged the parties to build on what they have achieved and to return local governance to the province.

Those were not just throwaway words but an articulation of what the electorate wants. By returning the DUP and Sinn Fein to Stormont in almost equal numbers it is clear that compromise, not confrontation, is the wish of voters.

Will we get that?

Impossible by Monday, but in a strange way a death has breathed some new life into the political process.

Can that develop into even tentative optimism? Perhaps.

Belfast Telegraph

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