McGuinness claim a sign of the times
There is more than a whiff of politics surrounding the row over whether Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness should have disclosed that murdered PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr was a Sinn Fein supporter. Was Mr McGuinness making political capital out of what should be a personal matter? Were those who expressed anger at his disclosure merely trying to show him in a poor light? Probably a little of both. At election time every potential advantage is exploited.
Mr McGuinness, in his defence, can claim that he was responding to a question in a public forum when he revealed Constable Kerr's political allegiance. And it was quite a revelation, given the history of this province. Very few years ago it would have been unthinkable for anyone with republican sympathies in Northern Ireland to join the police force. Just as very few years ago it would have been unthinkable for Sinn Fein to be in government or for someone with Mr McGuinness's republican pedigree to urge young nationalists and republicans to join the PSNI.
Indeed he has gone further in his term as Deputy First Minister, calling dissident republicans who killed another PSNI constable traitors and urging nationalists to give police information which could put dissidents behind bars. No-one should underestimate just how far mainstream republicans have travelled away from supporting violence to becoming democratic politicians. Of course we cannot forget republicans' violent past, but neither should we gainsay their transformation of recent times.
There surely can be no greater manifestation of the changed political climate in Northern Ireland than the composition of the PSNI. Around 30% of its officers are Catholics, admittedly well below their demographic proportion, but significantly higher than the 9% of just a decade ago. And the fact that some of those officers may be Sinn Fein supporters says much about the transformation in attitudes towards both the police force and towards republicanism as a political ideology.