Sunday, March 26, 2017

Peace Is Today Declared - The Death of Martin McGuinness

Derry City, Bogside, Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland, Ulster Troubles

A strange, laboured and frankly bewildered atmosphere lingers by the day here in post-Brexit Britain and the radically-rebranded "World City" of London  - the true triggers behind the transatlantic populist wave being avoided at all costs by mainstream media though every dog in the street knows what they are. Likewise for every fox, badger and water vole outside our towns and cities.

This criminal failing of broadcast, print and digital media to give a head to crucial public discourse over the pending historic crossroads is of huge import - this leaving the British people with neither a vanguard nor a rearguard in the months ahead.

In Northern Ireland last week the funeral of former Irish Republican Army commander Martin McGuinness threw up ethical and moral questions of yet more Byzantine nature - the comparatively enhanced political intelligence of the population there at least being given more scope to be aired by local media outlets.

As discussed some posts ago the reconciliation of the peoples of Ireland - nationally, communally and individually - is still a light in our dark times in Western Europe. The complex nature of the Troubles - be that grounded within strained Anglo-Irish relations or broad intra-Celtic conflict - have left a fragile peace and many open-ended questions behind regarding guilt, memory, loss and remembrance. This encapsulated none moreso than with regard to the choreography of last week's events in County Londonderry which presented an unforgettable tableau of the long historic outplay of the British in Ireland against the sobering reality of Christian forgiveness.

The attendance of the former Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster at St Columba's Church - alike that of Sinn Fein figures at the East Belfast funeral of the Progressive Unionist Party's David Ervine some years ago - and the delivery of two warm and reflective speeches from leading Protestant clergymen truly underscored the socio-political paradigm shifts that have taken root since the mid-Nineties.

Martin McGuinness' place in British and Irish history is of an extraordinarily unique nature - with no truly exact mirror thrown up within Ulster unionism or loyalism - and it has been right that this week the voice of terrorist victims have been given due prominence. Falling within that latter category myself I remain cogniscent - as does virtually the entire Protestant community in Ulster - of the specific and utterly degrading milestones of McGuinness' paramilitary career. Yet in turn I accept that  his transition to political playmaker was genuinely inclusive beyond the Stalinist rhetoric of Irish republicanism,  that his physical loss is presently detrimental to the health of Irish political life and that discussion of his moral mark upon Irish history lies essentially within the realms of extremely complex theological debate.

In March 1922 during the first Troubles in Northern Ireland the Northern Premier James Craig and Irish Provisional Government leader Michael Collins agreed a pact in London that aimed to contain the cycles of violence then sweeping across the north of the island and ease political and economic restrictions affecting the Catholic community. The document's dramatic first four words were Peace Is Today Declared. That would not turn out to be the physical result on the mean streets of Belfast and over a bloody divided Ulster in the early Twenties. Likewise certain diplomatic attendances and particular handshakes the world saw in Derry City last week will not necessarily encapsulate a final transition to peace - no matter how emotionally moving and genuinely iconic. But it was yet a good day for Ireland, a sterling example of politically mature reserve by all parties and a memorable example of how fractured societies can perhaps come to terms with genuinely very bad history.

In a final television interview Martin McGuinness made reference as to how the epitaph of Irish songwriter William Percy French could have applied directly to his own life - French being the author of the famous Mountains of Mourne standard which compares genuine community and family priorities to a value-free chase for fleeting financial reward in London. That comment does indeed cast a very thought-provoking afterglow on McGuinness' individual political journey with the Reverend Ian Paisley and also on high-risk pathways towards genuine reconciliation in Ireland. The end goal being a long-deserved and permanent peace for its fundamentally decent, warm, intelligent and good natured peoples.

Remember me is all I ask,
And yet-  if the remembrance prove a task,

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