The former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was a complex man who embarked on a complex journey. From a childhood where he witnessed first-hand the discrimination suffered by Catholics in the North to a state banquet with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in Windsor Castle, he travelled a remarkable road.
His death will rouse mixed emotions both in the North and farther afield. Some people, particularly those who suffered during the conflict, will find it hard to find forgiveness. And those who carry the scars of 30 years of violence must not be forgotten.
As Christians, one of our greatest consolations is that only the judgement of God matters. Only God will judge Martin McGuinness, and only God knows the reasons why Mr McGuinness moved from being a marcher on civil rights demonstrations to a commander of the Provisional IRA.
He was never apologetic about his role in the IRA – something that stuck in the throats of many. But, he undoubtedly embraced reconciliation and regretted the violence that marred the North for decades – whatever his role in it.
It’s arguable that only someone like Mr McGuinness – hugely-respected by the men of violence in the republican movement – could move that organisation from violence to peace.
It’s been a faltering road – there’s a reason why we call it the ‘peace process’ rather than peace. And as the current negotiations show, the road is still not easy.
Few people could remain unmoved by the depth of relationship that clearly emerged between Mr McGuinness and Dr Ian Paisley when the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed to share power. But, that was also a moment tinged with regret: how many lives were lost because these men were unable to agree for decades? How many missed opportunities to cut a deal?
Mr McGuinness was private about his Catholic faith – but it was clearly important to him. He was a regular Mass-goer, but many Catholics were bewildered by his claim that he could square Sinn Féin’s support for abortion with his Catholicism. Not for the first time, he was a man filled with paradox and contradictions.
In the end, Mr McGuinness will be remembered as a man who embraced the road to peace and, crucially, convinced the republican movement to give up violence. He pioneered a path to reconciliation reaching out to unionism and the British establishment, while retaining his traditional base.
Change is difficult – but Martin McGuinness eventually embraced change. A change that has made Northern Ireland an infinitely better place. He has contributed to cementing the peace process and normalising relations between Ireland and Britain. As talks continue in Belfast between the DUP and Sinn Féin, the most fitting tribute to Martin’s legacy would be to again find that courage to cut a deal – even when it’s difficult and there are bitter pills to swallow.
Cardinal Newman wrote that “to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”. Martin McGuinness certainly changed immensely. May God grant him eternal rest.