“All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.”
Easter 1916, W. B. Yeats
I wonder as weeks turn to months do people ever realise that they are living in exceptional times. Or is it only when upon reflection that it stands out?
In the space of only 10 months, all changed. We’ve had two assembly elections, a referendum on the EU and now things have changed utterly following the passing of Martin McGuinness.
Let’s start with the mundane Assembly election, #AE16. It was right in the middle of the centenary year of 1916. Who could miss it, it was all Easter 1916 this, Somme 1916 that and holidays to France to enjoy the Euros for everyone.
It was a testing time, and soon we will be moving into the 50th anniversaries of the more recent conflict, like Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday. Are we ready, and do we even have the relationships and respect to even attempt to deal with it all?
It will be difficult to navigate the emotions, the finger pointing, the balance between the present and legacy.
Right in the middle of all of this we went to the polls again, with potentially even wider ramifications for our identities. Who would have actually thought that Brexit was going to happen?
I voted Remain but I have issues with the EU, not least around its undemocratic nature, lack of unaccountability and some of its economic and social priorities. Yet it has been undoubtedly positive for the North.
In a way, the EU has been an important but neutral referee to many Nationalists and Republicans. Irish citizens were guaranteed rights, as EU nationals. And let’s be honest, cross border travel, Erasmus funding and considerable sources of peace money/investment are hard to dislike.
Even quite a few conflict cases and landmark legal judgements were taken to the European Court of Justice after appealing a British High Court decision. The European Convention on Human Rights seemed a lot more secure that the Human Rights Act in Westminster.
However, there were people, and young people in particular, who never voted but still had so much to say on how bad the result was, what should happen next and who to blame.
If you didn’t vote, even to spoil your vote, your opinion doesn’t count. The ramifications of the result will be huge for the UK, never mind the possibility of a second referendum on Scottish Independence.
Then came the Euros – both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and qualified and no one expected the huge impact the teams’ fans had in France. I kept hearing the same sentiment repeated, “It’s good they both got as far as each other and got knocked out on the same day, that’s nice”.
In a way it was rather nice, both got equally far and it doesn’t give anyone space to belittle or brag too much over the other. Phew… trouble averted… for a wee while.
Though this wasn’t matched politically. Martin McGuinness suggested that both himself and Arlene Foster go to both team’s matches as a small gesture. She refused, and she went to the NI game and Martin went to both. Unfortunately, this was more the norm than the exception.
That refusal pales in comparison to the events of January 2017 however. Stormont collapsed and an another election was called, #AE17.
Things got nasty and a lot of issues came to the fore, and who is going to forget the Irish-speaking crocodiles or the Radical Republican Agenda?
That election was historic; no longer is there a unionist majority. Only 1,168 votes and 1 MLA separate Sinn Fein and the DUP, a massive turnout and the moment when Martin McGuinness stood down from public office.
At this stage I would urge anyone who hasn’t seen the video of the speech Martin McGuinness gave on the 9th January as to why he called time on Stormont to do so now. Then you will need to watch the video of Martin outside his home addressing a crowd as to why he is not standing for election again.
I am not naive to think it will bring a tear to everyone’s eye, or leave people thinking of a great loss. I have watched enough commentators throw their grand perspective into the mix, but they were emotional moments for Irish Republicans, only made more so my his passing a few short weeks later.
And so yesterday, as Republicans said farewell to a great leader, we gave him a fitting State Funeral, a man who will be in the history books and held in the same regard as Tone, Clarke & Connolly.
There have been many comments made about the two sides to him, but there was only ever one Martin McGuinness. He wasn’t the source and cause of the conflict but an active participant. Just like those in the RUC, British Army and the Governments.
Martin grew up in a divided and troubled city. There were many innocent victims, too many and too complex to go into detail here.
Martin is a great loss and many hearts sank on the news of his passing. He has done so much to bring us to a place of peace.
I think the simple view that the conflict could have been stopped long ago is too narrow. There wasn’t the space or attitude to stop it and it was never going to be stopped until there was a political settlement that was acceptable to all.
When that opportunity arose, it was taken. We know who all was involved and lead that push. Even right up to recent days and events Martin lead the way in reconciliation.
Now that brings us to the aftermath of #AE17, or should I say “#AE17 Part 1” as it looks like we could be heading for another election.
All has changed, and there are many reasons for why people came out to vote especially for Sinn Féin. Though I know when I went to most doors and asked for people’s votes, they had been following events and events that were key to them.
LGBT rights, Irish Language rights, accountability in public office and even ‘someone needs to stop the other’. It was clear that now the political landscape actually reflects the reality of life and the many issues involved.
We are all minorities now and we all deserve equality.
At the end of the day, week, month, we need to talk as equals. We all end up the same after our final breaths.
Photo credit: Derry Journal