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John Manley: Those who think in black and white cannot embrace rehabilitation

Martin McGuinness meets Queen Elizabeth II in 2014. Picture by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons/PA Wire

In recent weeks there has been much focus on the contrast between Martin McGuinness's attitude to his adversaries and that of his DUP counterparts.

The former IRA commander, who was often vilified for his role in the Troubles, has been praised for promoting reconciliation and reaching out the hand of friendship to his former foes.

It was said many times yesterday, that his journey from violent insurgent to peacemaker was symbolic of the north's transition over the past five decades.

Like his friend and mentor Nelson Mandela, Martin McGuinness grasped the nettle of animosity and latterly channelled his energies into reproachment.

There has been criticism from predictable quarters of those who have lauded the former deputy first minister's actions.

People who view the world in black and white are unable to embrace the concepts of rehabilitation and absolution, preferring to remain blinkered and entrenched.

Ostensibly, it was easy for the Sinn Féin figurehead to join the Queen and assorted guests at Windsor Castle, and it was easy for him to shake her hand on two occasions.

Likewise, visiting the World War I battlefields and forging a friendship with Ian Paisley wasn't particularly challenging.

Martin McGuinness lays a wreath to Ireland's fallen WWI soldiers in Messines. Picture by BBC.

But the reaction to Martin McGuinness's death highlights how important these gestures were. In a society where everything from sport, culture and language is politicised, it is crucial for leaders to break down barriers and set an example to their respective communities.

Had Mr McGuinness latterly not concentrated his efforts on outreach, the coverage of his death would have been decidedly more modest, focusing solely on his role as leading IRA activist rather than a peacemaker.

There were those within his own community, some erstwhile comrades, who derided his desire to compromise but the response overall from across Ireland and beyond was positive.

It is difficult to identify a natural successor to former Foyle MLA, somebody with the authority to make sacrifices but bring their constituency with them. All the north's politicians can learn from Martin McGuinness's example.

Otherwise we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

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