Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats Chair Stephen Glenn writes about the death of the former Deputy First Minister
Today was a day that all of us involved in Northern Irish politics had seen coming since the announcement in December that Martin McGuinness was cancelling a trip to China because of health reasons. When we last saw him in public it was his resignation as Deputy First Minister but the frailty we saw in him then contrasted to the images of him as a young man during the troubles.
These images also showed the trajectory of the man from commander of the IRA in Derry/Londonderry to the respected elder statesman and one of the architects and sustainers of the peace in Northern Ireland. The tone of his words from his first appearances before the Northern Irish public to those at the latter stages of his political career also reflect the passage of Northern Irish politics.
While there have been some today who have only looked at the early part of his life as his legacy that have failed to realise that only a person from his position within the Irish Republican Army and Sinn Féin could have used his influence not only to bring about the ceasefire bit to sustain that. While at the start of his career he spoke about armed conflict being the only way forward, he ended it talking of reconciliation.
As the son of a man born like Martin into a community on the Cityside of Derry, although raised in the other working class community on opposite sides of the walled city, I’ve seen the change brough about by Martin.
The Rev David Latimer minister of the Glenn family church First Derry Presbyterian which overlooks the city walls into the Bogside has often spoken of Martin’s influence. This was a church that overlooked the site of the Bloody Sunday shootings, where shots, petrol or paint bombs were fired towards the church. It meant that in my early years when I entered the church even in the morning or afternoon it was dark because of the shutters protecting the windows at the front. When the roof needed replacing due to rot, Martin McGuinness was one of those who was reached out to even though he wasn’t elected for the area.
A hand of peace like that of the city’s famous statue was reached out and Martin was proactive not only in getting the support for the major building works but also in reducing the attacks on the church. He was there for the reopening of the building and the difference in brightness for me is a reflection of the hope he brought for a better future in Northern Ireland.
Yes the story of Martin McGuinness is a tangle of contrasts, but it is also proof that men are not leopards and can change their spots. But the legacy is his part, along with Ian Paisley, of making the impossible not only seem possible but turned it into a workable partnership of working together. We need that as much now as when they first stood side by side 10 years ago.
So the resignation of Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minster this evening has sparked all sorts of accusations from the DUP.
Arlene Foster now totally unable to speak for her ministerial office has said:
“Let me make it clear the DUP will always defend unionism and stand up for what is best for Northern Ireland.
“It appears from the deputy first minister’s resignation letter that is what annoys Sinn Féin the most.”
Now let us look at just what Mr McGuinness said. Before even addressing the current Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) crisis he says:
“The equality, mutual respect, and all-Ireland approaches enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement have never been fully embraced by the DUP. Apart from the negative attitude to nationalism and to the Irish identity and culture, there has been a shameful disrespect towards many other sections of our community. Women, the LGBT community and ethnic minorities have all felt this prejudice.”
This attack goes far beyond sectarianism, indeed it was only last week when Arlene Foster was mocking the attacks on her as being misogynistic, she also dug up the past. In his resignation letter while acknowledging the past say he has worked with those “diametrically opposed ideologically and politically” to work on a peaceful future.
The thing that has pushed him over the edge is the way the RHI has been handled by the Mrs Foster. He states that it is the public that are demanding “robust action and accountability” on this matter despite all the distracting and denial from the DUP. It is the DUP leader who has a conflict of interest as the scheme was drawn up on her watch at The Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI).
The way that Arlene and her DUP colleagues have dealt with this is in isolation, lacking humility and thinking the people who left the barn door wide open are the only people who should be allowed to sort out all the slurry that has escaped and put it back in the bottle. The are claiming they can keep the scheme at zero cost to the tax payer, something that the Finance Minster’s former economics professor has called ridiculous.
The heat is on in Stormont. The public are tightening the noose. RHI could bring the DUPers down the public outrage on this and the other issues that Mr McGuinness has mentioned means that defending unionism as the DUP may not be as important as defending the public coffers.
RHI is certainly not doing the latter and that means that as Sinn Féin will not nominate a replacement within 7 days that we live in interesting times.
With the ongoing shortage on water in Northern Ireland, and lack of information that is correct being distributed, it is important that people can contact NI Water. Therefore I am publishing alternative numbers to contact them on.
He was meeting with the First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont Castle. The major concern for Northern Irish Ministers was the proposed spending cuts that are to come in across the UK to deal with the budget deficit. Nick Clegg stated the long-term aims of the Government for a prosperous Northern Ireland were:
“Over time we clearly need to try and create a NI economy which is more diverse in which you have more people employed in the private sector.
“That’s not something you can just wave a magic wand and do overnight.
“We’re very aware of that and we’re also aware that these are exactly the kind of things we need to consider when we make these decisions about how to deal with the deficit.”
Earlier Peter Robinson had joined calls with his fellow First Minister’s Alex Salmond in Scotland and Carwyn Jones in Wales against public sector spending cuts. What makes Robinson’s signing of this join declaration slightly weird is that he had earlier suggested some sweeping changes, which would result in public sector savings himself.
In his proposals he is planning to cut the number of departments at Stormont from 12 to 8, stating that “12 departments for a population of 1.7 million is far too much.” He also proposed cutting the number of MLAs from 128 to 75. This reflects not only the reduction of constituencies under the Governments voting reform legislation from 18 to 15 but also the number of MLAs per seat from 6 to 5.
All of these proposals from Robinson actually show the sort of prudence that the Liberal Democrats were campaigning for during the general election. It is not the key services that need to be, nor should be, cut but looking at the edges, looking at the waste, looking at the over governance and manning that our monolithic civil service and public sector have become.
One question I would repeat to Alex Salmond and add in Carwyn Jones is are you absolutely sure there is no waste in the public sector under your budgets? Is it not possible that some pruning would not lead to leaner, more fit-for-purpose public sector?
Before anybody says that all cuts are wrong, they should look like the Ministers in Westminster are doing at what is absolutely necessary and what is just a vanity.