Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Why First Ministers have to get their act together

Robinson and McGuinness must put on a public display of unity to face the dissidents down, writes Eamonn Mallie

Watching people walking and talking is pleasurable - not just for those involved, but for those observing. That is the case at one level in everyday life.

At another level, walking, talking and being seen together can convey an unspoken symbolism.

Throw in laughing for ballast and we have a winning formula.

The above is a truism and yet, to date, all of this is elusive for the greater part as far as Peter Robinson is concerned.

Robinson's predecessor, Ian Paisley, was forced off the stage for the crime of giving hope to people across Northern Ireland.

He walked, talked and laughed with Martin McGuinness - and walked the plank for doing so.

The community - faced with joblessness, poverty, dissident republican bombs, bullets and killing - deserves hope.

No - it doesn't need gimmicks, stunts and opportunism. Staged events are seen for what they are.

But joining the congregation in their bombed church in Newry on Sunday morning would not have been manufactured had Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness the presence of mind to stand four-square with the Protestant people of that city.

We have had ample examples of people caught in the grip of threat, danger and fear.

Did we see our First Minister and Deputy First Minister do the decent thing together?

No, we didn't.

Martin McGuinness visited the Roma people under threat in south Belfast, but on his own.

Did the two most senior ministers rally to the Polish families targeted after the Northern Ireland-Poland football match? Again, no.

Last week the Doherty family had visited upon them the greatest nightmare and injustice imaginable.

Were our First Minister and Deputy First Minister seen physically standing shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Doherty family in their hour of need? No, they weren't.

Thousands and thousands of men, women and children roared Ireland on at the weekend as heroes from here and the Republic of Ireland vanquished England at Twickenham.

How uplifting it would be to see Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson joining us in our joyous hours as well as those hours when we are on our knees.

Is this too much to expect?

One accepts the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister makes onerous demands on the holders of that office.

It is not a sustainable defence for either minister to say: "The media will not dicate to us what we do."

Commonsense should dicate. Decency should dictate.

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson have spoken of "a new beginning" in the wake of the Hillsborough Castle Agreement.

Have we seen it in public yet? No.

There should be no talk of difficulties right now "because of elections coming up''. Leadership means leadership.

Only then will true meaning be given to the words of Seamus Heaney:

History says, Don't hope

On this side of the grave

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up

And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that a farther shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles

And cures and healing wells.

Eamonn Mallie is a political commentator and author. His Endgame in Ireland (with David McKittrick) is published by Coronet

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