Stormont revived but real work begins now

Thursday was the third anniversary of Martin McGuinness’ decision to stand down as Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister and close that early chapter in the current, as yet unrealised, normalisation of that society, its relationships with its neighbours, and its neighbours’ relationship with it.

Stormont revived but real work begins now

Thursday was the third anniversary of Martin McGuinness’ decision to stand down as Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister and close that early chapter in the current, as yet unrealised, normalisation of that society, its relationships with its neighbours, and its neighbours’ relationship with it.

McGuinness died some weeks later, but his office, for today at least but maybe not for too long more, remains echoingly empty.

The institution he dedicated the latter stages of his life to — Stormont — can, after yesterday’s agreement by all the parties involved to restore power-sharing, become a catalyst in a rejuvenated, relevant and important democratic process.

That assembly’s role never seemed more pressing than now as Brexit redraws fundamental relationships.

Had that political vacuum continued a new darkness might have closed in. It is extremely important that the commitment to renewing Stormont is robust and withstands the changes Brexit will bring.

The linkage between London funding for Northern Ireland and political progress addresses this issue, hopefully in a convincing, reliable way.

Anyone who might stymie the revived process must have the very highest motivations as anything less would be intolerable.

Especially as the fear, intransigence, cultural differences that prevailed since that January day in 2017, almost made yesterday’s final step seem one too far.

How uplifting it is on the cusp of a new decade, that these fears have been conquered and a new dynamic has a chance to take hold.

McGuinness remains a divisive figure — as does nearly every important figure in from the North’s Troubles — but his journey offers reassurance. He won prominence as a young paramilitary in Derry.

His charisma fizzled on television screens when he was filmed recruiting young men grooming young boys for his deadly cause by showing them some of the IRA’s weapons.

Yet, an image from the closing stages of his career, before illness swept him away, shows him shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth, the figurehead of all he opposed.

The warlord had become a politician because the Armalite was found unequal to the task of fathering real, positive change.

Unimaginable — and unacceptable — as the carnage that befell McGuinness’ society in the decades separating those two images is might be today, the image of him wearing a white bow tie as he shook hands with Queen Elizabeth was unimaginable even when the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was signed 21 years ago.

Yet that resetting came about because of the GFA and the recognition that so much had to be set aside — but not forgotten — if progress was to be realised.

That principle seems relevant south of the border this week as a well-intentioned, but poorly presented event was misused in the most opportunistic way when officialdom’s eye was taken off the greater prize.

The efforts to restore Stormont have succeeded and even if the patience of Job and the wisdom of David will be needed to realise the potential that milestone brings failure is not an option. Too many lives, too much opportunity, and time have been sacrificed to the ideas that can still divide and weaken.

A good day but the real work of rebuilding must begin now.

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