After Bloody Sunday Martin McGuinness was quoted as having said: “I used to worry about being killed before that day, now I don’t think about death at all.”
The man who started out his political career in the throes of the Provisional IRA, going on to become deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, has been remembered this week after dying at the age of 66.
Now, in death, McGuinness has nothing to think about save from, perplexingly, his legacy of peace.
Not something frequently associated with McGuinness during his time in IRA power, peace has become something of a defining concept for the former IRA chief of staff. Who would have thought that in the event of his death McGuinness would have tributes paid to him by the likes of Tony Blair? And even more surprising, who would have thought in the late 70s that McGuinness would ever live through the violence long enough to die of natural causes?
Among the tributes to him are accolades of his commitment to peace, but there is also the occasional reminder of the violence he caused during the height of the Northern Irish troubles.
However, the most prominent and moving aspect of the tributes are that the majority of them are positive. For a man that committed so much of his life to violence and terror, the leaders of the world united in honouring him for what he spent the latter part of his life preserving – peace.
Now, the question on the minds of many is this: Can we forget his violent and murderous actions just because of a last minute commitment to peace?
McGuinness’ friendship with Iain Paisley serves as a symbolic reminder of the progress he made in his time in politics and provides an answer to this question. Becoming Deputy First Minister alongside the Democratic Unionist Party’s leader, the long-term Sinn Fein member found an unlikely friend in a man whose values stood for everything McGuinness stood against. But the two were soon penned as the ‘chuckle brothers’ and an unexpected alliance was found in the halls of Stormont.
Rather than asking if we can forgive his crimes, in the event of his death, the world unites behind the question: can we move on from them? And the answer seems to be yes, the work and strife which went into creating the St Andrews Agreement of 2006 proved that McGuinness was as committed to peace as he had been in the past to a United Ireland.
In truth, the actions taken by Martin McGuinness and the IRA are not forgotten, but in today’s world where our enemies are much further afield it is a relief to be at peace with those allies we hold dearest. The United Kingdom is, for now, united, and in the latter part of his life McGuinness, without having been able to see into a crystal ball, realised that to be at peace with the rest of the Kingdom was more important than fighting it.
[Written for application purposes in 2017]