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Political gestures give hope for future

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 03/06/2016

Martin McGuinness pausing for a moment of reflection with his advisor Conor Heaney
Martin McGuinness pausing for a moment of reflection with his advisor Conor Heaney

The huge mandate given to the DUP and Sinn Fein at the Assembly elections last month was a clear indication from the electorate that they wanted to see the major parties get on with the serious business of governing the province.

Now that the other main unionist and nationalist parties have gone into Opposition at Stormont, the onus on the DUP and Sinn Fein to deliver is even more apparent and pressing.

And, if several events which have happened over the past few days are portents of what is to come, then it seems the two parties are keen to do business together.

For example, Martin McGuinness' visit to the First World War battlefields at Flanders and the Somme, at each laying a wreath to the fallen in remembrance of the sacrifice made by soldiers from all parts of Ireland, was a somewhat surreal vision given his past and republicans' former rejection of all things British.

Likewise, new Education Minister Peter Weir of the DUP visited an Irish language school in west Belfast pledging that all sectors of education would be treated equally.

And his party colleague Paul Givan told this newspaper in an interview that he would be happy to go to a GAA match.

Some might regard these events as gesture politics, mere photo opportunities for ministers in the new Executive. Certainly there may have been an element of choreography involved, but these are the right gestures to be making.

It would be foolish to imagine that two parties with such diametrically opposed political philosophies are going to be bosom pals when hard decisions have to be made on things like dealing with the past or problems which arise during the marching season.

But it is encouraging that there appears to be a positive mood music in the air at the moment. We know that change will always be incremental - indeed, this newspaper has often questioned the glacial speed of the peace process - but it needs to be driven from those at the top of civic society.

It is interesting that the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood in Northern Ireland is to be lifted by new Health Minister Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Fein. It was a measure the DUP previously saw fit to keep, but now it is to go without a whimper of protest.

Is pragmatism and a sense of responsibility now stalking the corridors of power? We keenly await further developments.

Belfast Telegraph

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