John Manley: Martin McGuinness never shirked his responsibilities

Martin McGuinness announced he was quitting electoral politics earlier this year. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association

MARTIN McGuinness’s ill health was an obvious metaphor for Stormont’s political institutions.

In November everything seemed fine and the future looked bright, but the situation had deteriorated unexpectedly in a matter of weeks.

Mr McGuinness escaped much of the blame for this, however, because while others have been half-hearted in their efforts to make power-sharing work, nobody can accuse him of shirking his responsibilities.

At great personal and political risk, he challenged those from within his own community who continued to use violence.

He faced down unionist opposition but also faced up to his responsibilities as a reconciler in reaching out the hand of friendship.


Too often, however, there was no reciprocation – a point that may haunt Arlene Foster and the DUP for some time yet.

Unionists’ antipathy towards the one-time IRA commander is perhaps understandable, but Mr McGuinness was an illustration of how people can change and society too can be transformed.

His gestures of reconciliation gained him much respect within unionist civil society but this was not mirrored within the DUP and much of the UUP too.

His ‘chuckle brother’ Ian Paisley notwithstanding, unionisms’ political class failed to rise to the challenge, preferring to castigate and malign rather than acknowledge the former deputy first minister’s efforts.

His death will leave a significant vacuum. Nobody else in Sinn Féin possesses his statesmanlike qualities and few have been as candid about their past, which in an odd way gave credibility to his gestures.

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