Belfast Telegraph

Compromise approach Martin McGuinness was lauded for may just have died along with him

By Malachi O'Doherty

While the undoubted contribution of Martin McGuinness to the peace process is being celebrated, the fact is that the current political crisis has arisen because that approach had run its course - or he thought it had.

Some voices from unionism have generously acknowledged that McGuinness made big strides towards them. But at the start of this year McGuinness and the Sinn Fein leadership decided that those efforts had not been reciprocated and that the relationship between republicans and the DUP had to be renegotiated.

Now that he is dead and his legacy is being widely endorsed, this presents the prospect of Sinn Fein casting around for ways of continuing with his approach.

The question the party might ask now is: "What would Martin do?"

And past experience suggests the answer might be that he would stretch himself to make devolution work.

This week the party is facing a deadline to reach a difficult accommodation with the DUP and the British Government, a deal that seems to be slipping out of reach because of the complications around the legacy questions.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has said that funding will not be released for crucial, long-delayed inquests until an overall resolution has been reached.

This is using the families of some of the dead as chips in a game against Sinn Fein, which isn't quite decent, but that is the nature of the challenge on the table right now.

And it may be that a McGuinness approach, which was strong on the symbolic gesture but did not deliver key party demands, wouldn't work in this situation.

McGuinness won some unionist and Protestant hearts with his charm and civility, his willingness to go where no republican had gone before, even to shake hands with the Queen.

Unionists might like another republican to come forward who has the same generosity, the same sense of mission.

They might feel, logically, that if they still had Martin, they would get a better deal than from Michelle O'Neill with Gerry Adams standing at her shoulder.

But even if such a replacement was at hand, the problems now seem far more complex than any that could be resolved just by goodwill and an open hand.

There is no doubt that McGuinness astonished some unionists and some Protestant leaders with his easy manner and his willingness to listen. Adams has had nothing like that impact on them.

Those who speak of Martin's geniality and openness tend to regard Adams as a cold and aloof man.

They feel that republicanism may have been playing the old routine of 'Good Cop, Bad Cop' with them.

But now the 'Good Cop' is dead and the diplomacy and charm that softened the exchanges between the two big parties is gone.

However, it is well to remember that we are in this crisis because many in the republican movement felt that McGuinness had conceded too much.

Before Christmas he posed beside a portrait of the Queen, looking as pleased to be beside her image as he had been to meet her in person.

This scored no real points for him within unionism, but it brought excoriating remarks from republicans. He thought he was cutting Arlene Foster some slack by asking her to stand aside while others insisted she resign. She didn't see it that way, and the party grumbled behind his back that he had gone soft.

The very willingness to compromise for which he is now being congratulated was exhausted, and the party decided to bring down the institutions to present an unprecedented challenge to the DUP.

And today republicans see that reversal as having paid off. They have increased their representation in Stormont to the point that nationalism is almost on a level pegging with unionism.

That wasn't achieved by doing things Martin's way, but by calling a halt to his genial and patrician manner, by deciding it was time to put manners on the DUP.

He had bigger problems at the end than seeing his strategy expire. A former IRA leader who went as far as McGuinness did was inevitably going to come under suspicion, not just of weakness, but of actual betrayal.

The risk he took in his work was that men who had taken orders from him inside the IRA over the years would come to regard him as a traitor who had sent them to war for a compromise he had outwardly refused.

People like that had killed before.

Some of his critics were not in the dissident groups. They included people who had been on the blanket and hunger strike protests and they believed they had been sold out.

The question has been raised routinely in recent years on social media whether he was actually working for the British side from the early days.

It can be very dangerous to have that sort of thing said about you by members and past members of the IRA.

And that kind of cruel whispering is what a successor in the McGuinness mould would suffer.

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