My mother in law wept when she saw him.
Martin McGuinness’ failed appearance and voice on television when he announced he was resigning was devastating. As he spoke however he recovered strength and what he said was as important as any statement he delivered in his years of public life. His resignation as joint First Minister in the devolved assembly because of the arrogance and lack of humility of his partner in that office was seismic.
For the republican constituency this is the man who spoke at rallies and funerals after conflict killings, when other republican leaders like Larry Marley were killed. He told republicans in the darkest days of killings and imprisonment that their calls for equality and dignity were right, and his confidence gave them courage. Before I knew him I was told of his speech in Ardoyne calling republicans to the home of Larry Marley to allow his family dignity in the face of RUC aggression.
Whether you agree with this perspective or not, Martin McGuinness is one of the leaders that led the republican movement out of conflict to a place where peace negotiations and peace agreements were the day to day business of republicans, and one where that business demanded a lexicon of healing, understanding and building a new society for all.
Human rights for all, the primacy of reconciliation, shared spaces. These became adopted by the republican movement under Martin McGuinness’ leadership to the point that some, struggling to keep up, called human rights a republican agenda! Instead of seeing that as a welcome development after a conflict, it was used as a reason not to implement human rights commitments.
For the republican movement keeping the Good Friday institutions going was fundamental. However that took its toll, and before Christmas became untenable.
The decision to end the current form of partnership comes after years and years of non-reciprocation to Sinn Féin. It comes after it became clear that the DUP want to govern a “Northern Ireland” statelet that serves a unionist population first and foremost. In their “Northern Ireland” there is no space for the Irish language. There is no recognition or dignity afforded Irish citizens living in their own country. Some of the people who suffered most in our conflict are continually denied their legal rights or basic dignity. And there is a determination to criminalise republicans and their history, continually trying to perpetuate one conflict narrative.
When recurrent crisis talks resulted in agreements key nationalist and republican gains were under-implemented or not implemented. This has caused huge disappointment and anger.
Mrs Foster had opportunities to prove that this analysis was unfair or wrong. How different Christmas could have been had she not bulldozed into the Stormont space, ignoring all calls that she was undermining the very institutions that she was joint leader of. Had she spoken the language of a shared office and cooperative ways forward. Had she had the basic human decency to wish Martin McGuinness and his family well.
But she didn’t and Sinn Féin called time after fair warning and the increasingly clear and strongly worded calls to the DUP to meet them half way on the journey to healing fracture.
Instead we now have an even colder body politic. But the legacy of one of the leaders who encouraged us all to take risks for real reconciliation and shared institutions won’t be lost. He can rest assured as he recovers that the language of peace and determination for it to be realised will be reclaimed. But first there must be a lot of straight talking and real commitment to the implementation of previous agreements.