HEARING NEWS of the former Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister leaves many of us with mixed feelings. Much will be made of his transition to peace from paramilitary activity and how much of a contribution he made to the Peace Process.
We all have memories of that time before peace; for some all too vivid and painful. As a boy in merseyside I grew up six miles from Warrington and was in my first year of high school. I will never forget how terrified my mother was for everything that happened there could easily have happened in St. Helens just up the road.
In 1993 the IRA bombed gas holders in Warrington and left hundreds of families terrified for their lives, then hijacked a vehicle and threw the driver into the boot. How sure was he that he was to survive? Finally the next day on 26th Feburary two bombs exploded killing two children, Johnathan Ball and Tim Parry.
The response was chilling,
Responsibility for the tragic and deeply regrettable death and injuries caused in Warrington yesterday lies squarely at the door of those in the British authorities who deliberately failed to act on precise and adequate warnings.
No sense of responsibility was taken by the IRA throughout its history. It was always somehow everyone else's fault and especially Westminster's. For the cause, all was justified. The IRA went on to bomb Manchester and London before a Peace Process was finally agreed on.
I watched the Good Friday Agreement unfold in a B&B in Girvan, aged 16. Dad was instantly dismissive and said we had been here before and we will be here again. So far, he has been proven wrong like so many others.
For all that happened since 1998 I cannot remove one thought from my mind. A terrorist turned peacemaker can never be more than a murderer retired until they apologise and accept what they did was wrong.
All through the Troubles there was full parliamentary democracy on an even footing with every other citizen of the UK. Only Sinn Fein chose of its own will not to take seats and conduct their cause through democracy. They were the exception and no one else. The SDLP represented Nationalists all the while and showed that there was never a reason for political violence in a functioning democracy.
The long term damage to communities, politics and the economy in Northern Ireland are all too clear. West Belfast and much of Foyle arguably have suffered the most given their historic levels of poverty from which they find it harder to escape without the strong economy of England, or even the Republic.
What we have been left with is a province with a mandatory government like that of Lebanon or Bosnia, a frozen conflict that makes it all the more convenient for many parties not to move on, especially Sinn Fein and the DUP. This is a problem. There is no real movement that believes in the UK for anything more than protecting its own community now. Catholic unionists have no voice and nor too do the youth of Northern Ireland.
All across Europe paramilitaries have laid down their arms because they have found all too late it has delivered them nothing and their people have been left worse off as a result. Any portrayal of the former deputy First Minister as a hero would be unwise. He was a terrorist that stopped. At that point he became a rentseeking politician that never moved on from representing only one half of the people, which is pretty much like everyone else there.
He no doubt made a personal journey that was profound, and in turn the future of Northern Ireland turned away from violence.
It never had to go there in the first place. At some point soon mandatory coalition has to end. If that makes for a Nationalist government so be it. The Unionist parties have become crusty and self serving and have chosen not to move with the times because they don't have to. Protectionism never makes for a quality product, no less so in politics than in any other manufactured goods.
If the UK is remotely interested in Northern Ireland, if Westminster is serious about Scotland for that matter, then we have to take the union seriously and not hold onto incumbent power through inertia. That too must be laid to rest.