Belfast Telegraph

For all their faults, we mustn't forget that politicians are human beings too

By Alf McCreary

Two of the most important women in Europe are in deep political trouble. Prime Minister May is still fighting for her political life after her ill-judged election campaign, and Chancellor Merkel has failed to form a coalition in Germany.

However, both women have something else in common. May is the daughter of a former Anglican Vicar, and Merkel's father was a pastor in East Germany.

Both would have learned much about religion in their early childhood, and it may be this influence which helps to sustain them today in two of the most difficult jobs imaginable.

The late Reverend Dr Ian Paisley was a Christian, but he was also one of the men most responsible for the onset of the Troubles.

Nevertheless, he was the only man who could bring the DUP into power-sharing with Sinn Fein, and while there may have been some personal ambition to be First Minister, he had the highest Christian motives in trying to bring peace to a troubled land.

Martin McGuinness, a practising Roman Catholic, had the courage to admit his past involvement in the Provisional IRA, unlike some senior colleagues, but he showed a complete transformation once he had agreed to share power with Paisley and the Unionists.

No man could have done more than Martin McGuinness to try to make power-sharing work, and it is still shocking to recall that only this time last year he was still in good health.

Perhaps if he had not been so ill he would not have collapsed Stormont so quickly, but this paved the way for the Sinn Fein hardliners who have helped to create the mess which we are in today.

Many Protestants and unionists will never forgive Martin McGuinness for his lurid past, but others who observed his later career and who watched his extraordinary funeral service, in which senior Protestant clerics went out of their way to praise him, will give the former Provisional IRA commander and later statesman the benefit of the doubt.

In my experience, many politicians - including Ian Paisley - who seem used to public criticism are in fact very sensitive in private.

Some years ago I interviewed the former Prime Minister John Major. He had been caricatured on Spitting Images as a grey political wimp, but in reality I found him to be a charming and impressive human being.

However, he remained very sensitive about Margaret Thatcher. When I asked him to sign his autobiography which I had brought with me he smiled - with pen poised - and said "My autobiography sold more copies than hers!"

Major and the then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds deserve the highest praise for all they did to start the peace process, at a time when few politicians wanted to know about it.

Tony Blair became a committed Roman Catholic around the time he left as Prime Minister, but sadly he kept his religious beliefs under wraps while in office in order not to be misunderstood.

Who will forget the cynical comment of his colleague Alastair Campbell, who said: "We don't do God."

Many people will wonder how Blair squares his religious beliefs will all the death and destruction that ensued in the invasion of Iraq, which he backed.

His co-architect in that disaster, George W Bush, is also a committed Christian, and although he is regarded as one of the most bumbling Presidents in US history, the voters of both main parties in America would welcome him back today in place of the dangerous and divisive man-child who is in the White House.

However, George W Bush had another side. Against the odds he pioneered a worldwide anti-malaria campaign which has so far saved the lives of two million children in 32 countries.

In the words of a London Times columnist: "George W Bush may have saved more lives on this planet than any other leader in post-war history. If that doesn't change your view of him as a neocon warmonger, it should."

So perhaps we should also look for some of the good in our political leaders and the people around us, no matter how hard that might be.

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