This week has seen two events which have divided and united us in equal measure. The death of Martin McGuiness and the dreadful terror attack in Westminster yesterday.
The death of the former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland brought a range of sentiments, from those who admired his violent past with Sinn Fein, those who could see the immense influence he bought to Northern Irish politics and the peace process to those who simply could not see past the death and destruction he caused. Many who had lost loved ones during the Troubles were forgiving of his past actions, which some people question – how is it ever possible to forgive someone who had taken away your relative / friend during a violent and bloody political battle. However, they found the strength of character to do so as they saw that a peaceful Northern Ireland was a much better place than that of the 1970s and 1980s.
It was suggested in some of the numerous columns devoted to McGuinness that he gave up arms and moved to become a more acceptable political figure because he realised he was never going to achieve his aims through the IRA. This could very well be true, and even if that is the case it is debatable whether he should be derided for this action – the ultimate outcome was still a more peaceful province. But where he divides opinion the most is his lack of remorse for his violent past and so in the eyes of many he remains an IRA terrorist.
Yesterday’s horrendous events in Westminster have bought a more united response from politicians and society. Those who have sympathy for the perpetrator keep their heads down whilst we give a very British response – we will not be cowed and our democratic values will prevail. No-one would disagree that this is suitable and fitting. Sadly the consensus will not last and within a relatively short period of time politicians will revert to barbed insults and sparring across the Chamber. But in the immediate aftermath, we are united as a nation against the scourge of terror and it gives hope to the British people at this very dark time.
In the weeks and months to come, there will be debates over how we respond and what powers the intelligence services should have to monitor a perceived threat. And in Northern Ireland as the main political parties attempt to find common ground to form a Government, Sinn Fein will want to keep the memory of McGuiness alive by holding firm in their beliefs. A fitting tribute to all those who lost their lives is a little more cross party consensus; a coming together for the greater good.