The presence of Mairtin O Muilleoir at the cenotaph at Belfast City Hall yesterday was another step forward for community relations in Northern Ireland.
It is in the tradition of other political gestures of generosity, such as Peter Robinson’s attendance at a GAA game.
Mr O Muilleoir has made a number of important decisions since he became first citizen of Northern Ireland’s capital city in June, including keeping the Royal portraits in his parlour. He politely, but clearly, criticised his predecessor Niall O Donnghaile’s refusal to present an award to an army cadet two years ago.
Other things Mr O Muilleoir has said or done have antagonised unionists, particularly in the past when his rhetoric was harder. But republicans will never speak or behave like unionists.
Mr O Muilleoir seems representative of a wing of republicanism which is on a journey away from violent sectarianism.
Some colleagues seem to prefer the old certainties. Consider Carál NÍ Chuilín who yesterday was railing against the British Army for “killing yet another innocent person”, and who —almost comically for a culture minister — has held banners opposing the cultural expression of one of Ireland’s largest heritage groups.
Loyalists can, without any surrender, embrace gestures by republicans, like Mr O Muilleoir’s yesterday, which are sincere.
They should reserve fire for those that aren’t — specifically the loathsome republican trend, as atrocity anniversaries come round, to say they were mistakes, and speak in regretful tones about acts that were calculated. Such lies trick a younger generation that is already at risk of romanticising republican brutality.
Unionists must also relentlessly expose the hypocrisy of Sinn Fein demanding truth on a past about which it is so dishonest.
There are unionists who seem to see the need for such a combined approach to republicans, including Gavin Robinson and Simon Hamilton, who spoke out against the loyalist attack on Mr O Muilleoir in Woodvale in August, and Mike Nesbitt, who recognised a genuine shift in nationalist attitudes to Remembrance.