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Editor's Viewpoint: Courage required for real bridge-building


West Tyrone MP Orfhlaith Begley

West Tyrone MP Orfhlaith Begley


West Tyrone MP Orfhlaith Begley

When Orfhlaith Begley was declared the winner of the West Tyrone by-election just over a week ago she said all the right things.

The 26-year-old Sinn Fein MP spoke of how it was vital for people in public life to acknowledge the pain that still exists among those who suffered grievously during the Troubles.

In keeping with her party's pursuit of introducing new and more acceptable faces to the public, the young solicitor said she wanted to reach out to unionists and to build bridges between the divided communities here.

Yet one of her first public engagements after her election was to take part in an event commemorating republican hunger strikers.

It was a mirror action of what Sinn Fein's northern leader Michelle O'Neill did after she succeeded Martin McGuinness. She took part in an event lauding IRA men shot dead by the SAS.

It has to be accepted that hunger strikers and dead activists are important totems for republicans, but they have to be aware that praising these men and saying how they provided inspiration to fellow republicans will not help in any bridge-building exercise.

If Sinn Fein is truly sincere in seeking to build a more inclusive future then it should avoid, as far as possible, casting what others regard as an inglorious past in the faces of unionists. To many people in Northern Ireland, and not just unionists, the IRA campaign during the Troubles was simple terrorism and cannot be justified by any revision of history.

It also has to be accepted that bridge-building is not just the duty of Sinn Fein. What former SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon recently called the Balkanisation of politics here has led to toxic relationships between republicans and the DUP.

Both parties can claim to have overwhelming mandates but they need to use that position of strength to demonstrate leadership instead of sniping at each other from their silos.

That will require each to be more sensitive to the perceptions of the other. It is easy to utter honeyed words but judgment is more often based on the actions which follow.

Showing leadership in the current toxic political climate is not an easy task, but then who really believed that these two parties could work together for a decade? That took courage - and we need to see it again.

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