Tuesday 21st March, was a time of mourning, as Ireland grappled with the loss of Martin McGuinness. The passing of the former Deputy Minister will “come as a shock to many”, according to Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.
Tributes swiftly emerged from Northern Ireland and beyond. For many, the former deputy First Minister was seen as a peacemaker. Having professed that independence could only be achieved through violence, he has been thought of as a great believer in pragmatism and compromise with the Unionist Party.
McGuinness, a controversial figure in politics, will be remembered for a whole host of reasons. Most notably, his transition from IRA chief of staff to politician, steered Ireland on a path to peace, defining his role in politics. He was at the heart of the power-sharing executive since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Theresa May stated that although she could not “condone the path he took in the earlier part of his life, Martin McGuinness ultimately played a defining role in leading the republican movement away from violence”.
Despite his role in defining the peace process in Ireland, many are still plagued with the damage of his past and involvement in the deaths of numerous people. Martin McGuinness was involved in an organisation responsible for killing over 1,500 people in attacks centred around republicanism. In essence, the vital truth of his involvement and actions has died with him. As Tony Blair has acknowledged, those who had lost loved ones would be unable to forget the past.
Indeed it is this that makes McGuinness a figure open to interpretation. Today will bring hardship and fresh pain to the families of the victims. In this we must be careful to balance the passing of a man with the moving on of history. The victims of the Troubles, on all sides, are the cherished souls who had their lives taken from them. Their memory must be forever front and centre of the mind when one considers McGuinness’ legacy.
What is easy to do, and perhaps too easily so, is to allow for the visceral reaction to turn into a reignition of past difficulties. If there is to be one rallying call today, it’s that peace, first and foremost, be celebrated and protected. That is a legacy, for all people and all sides, to hold onto and belongs to more than just one man.
Yet, the former deputy First Minister was responsible for inciting cross-community power-sharing in Northern Ireland and ultimately ensuring that the turbulent past did not define the future. Martin McGuinness will be remembered for starting Ireland on the journey from conflict to peace, but only history can fully judge his impact and legacy