A momentous milestone for the peace process

Rev Dr David Latimer
Rev Dr David Latimer

Peace-building in places emerging from conflict is, as people in Northern Ireland are discovering, both fragile and vulnerable and attempts to harmonise different aims are proving to be difficult, leading many to conclude peaceful co-existence is little other than a pipe dream.

At such a time as this, it has to be appreciated how peace-building takes a long time and requires far more effort than politicians’ signatures on a treaty.

The guns may be silent and former enemies together in a power-sharing Executive. Yet, according to Dr Haass, ‘‘it is premature to put Northern Ireland into the outbox of problem solved!’’

Despite dark clouds gathering over Stormont obscuring any sighting of a star of hope around the country, it’s worth recalling words spoken by Britain’s wartime premier namely, ‘‘success is not final and failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’’

Courage is something both the First and Deputy First Ministers have intermittently demonstrated in the past and on each occasion new life has been breathed into a fledgling peace process.

The decision by Martin McGuinness to attend a state banquet in Windsor Castle hosted by Her Majesty the Queen, during the historic visit by President Higgins to the UK, is so timely and has the potential to be transformational.

It has been said that, ‘‘an ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.’’ Not surprisingly, society is getting used to not believing in words but in actions because actions are more difficult to do and always leave results. The symbolic handshake between Martin and the Monarch in 2012 produced more than a little surprise sending ripples of hope across the entire island.

The willingness of both Martin McGuinness, former IRA leader and Her Majesty the Queen, a victim of IRA terrorism, to dine together in the Royal residence at Windsor this week is momentous. Two very different people deciding to ‘walk the talk’ is remarkable by any standards.

Somewhere out at the edges the night is turning, which should incentivise us to do what deep in our hearts we know needs to be done and that’s to keep moving forward together.

May God bless both of them and use their examples of courage and compassion to give peace that can be enjoyed by people of all creeds and cultures, not just in our time, but for all time.

Dr David Latimer is minister at First Derry Presbyterian Church