Martin McGuinness: struggle, loss, forgiveness

By Bev Waker-Craig / @bevcraig

This week we heard the news that Martin McGuinness has passed away following his battle with a rare heart condition. I’d like to think that at the very least one of the legacies of McGuinness was to leave behind a place where all sides of the community could come together and pay tribute the legacy of a tall figure in Northern Irish history.

For those who know me, you know that as someone originally from a Protestant (staunchly loyalist) estate just outside Belfast, I’ve got a nuanced and at times unconventional view of politics and communities in the North.

Growing up on a sectarian working class estate, where you didn’t mix with people from different backgrounds, where subtle prejudice was encouraged, and where old habits and attitudes were passed on to the future, the narrow world view was rarely challenged.

A life lesson came when I came out as a teenager. Growing up I didn’t know another gay person, isolated and alone, I found support in the movement in Belfast. Suddenly I was surrounded by lots of fantastic people, people like me but from different backgrounds and places, and united in our fight against prejudice. You made friends and built alliances where you could, and often found alliances in strange places. This instilled in me my fight for equality, but also an openness and pragmatism that’s followed me around ever since.

One of those unsuspecting places was the support for LGBT rights from political movements and figures. Sinn Féin was the only party that mentioned gay rights back then. To this day, the majority of parties elected where I’m from (to be fair with the exception of Stewart Dickson of Alliance) argue to be ‘British’ but don’t want modern British values like equality, diversity and respect, and let down all communities and classes as a result. I didn’t realise its significance at the time, but it has shaped my political outlook in many ways and serves as a stark reminder of where politics can be led when facts and nuance are abandoned.

Back home, politics can still be divisive, and sectarianism remains, but the tide is turning and people want a politics, not of the divisive past, of flags and marches, but offering an optimistic vision of the future focusing on the issues that impact on their daily lives. A true legacy of peace won’t just be about borders and territory but about socialist politics that can benefit everyone.

For the generations before me, the history of the troubles carries much different connotations interwoven with struggle, loss and forgiveness. But to my generation and those that followed, part of our legacy is that we should be able to appreciate the nuance of a figure that helped bring about peace, taking a risk and a leap in to the unknown by bringing people to the table, negotiating and sticking with the rocky road of democracy.

History will remember him, both good and bad, and as to McGuinness’ legacy- Northern Ireland- I’m looking to you.

Bev Waker-Craig is Co-chair of Open Labour.

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