Northern Irish politics started 2017 at a low point. The First Minister, the Democratic Unionist Arlene Foster, is embroiled in scandal – so much so that her deputy, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, resigned. Then McGuinness confirmed speculation that he was suffering from a serious illness, and would be resigning from frontline politics altogether.
But as Ian Paisley Jr, the son of the Democratic Unionist founder Ian Paisley and a DUP politician himself, made clear, it is still possible to rise above the fray.
VIDEO: Ian Paisley wishes Martin McGuinness well in his retirement. Credit: BBC News NI pic.twitter.com/pNVNomg3OM
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Paisley Sr, a firebrand Protestant preacher, opposed the Good Friday Agreement, but subsequently worked in partnership with his old nemesis, McGuinness, who himself was a former member of the IRA. Amazingly, they got on so well they were nicknamed “The Chuckle Brothers”. When Paisley Sr died, McGuinness wrote that he had “lost a friend”.
Speaking after McGuinness announced his retirement, Paisley Jr wished him good health, and then continued:
“The second thing I’m going to say is thank you. I think it’s important that we actually do reflect on the fact we would not be where we are in Northern Ireland in terms of having stability, peace and the opportunity to rebuild our country, if it hadn’t been for the work he did put in, especially with my father at the beginning of this long journey.
“And I’m going to acknowledge the fact perhaps if we got back to some of that foundation work of building a proper relationship and recognising what partnership actually means, then we can get out of the mess we’re currently in.”
Questioned on whether other unionists “dont really get it”, Paisley Jr retorted that it was time to move on: “Can we please get over that. Everyone out there has got over it. We as the political leaders have to demonstrate by our actions, by our words, and by our talk that we’re over that.”
He said he was thanking McGuinness “humbly” in recognition of “the remarkable journey” he had been on. The partnership government had “not only saved lives, but has made lives of countless people in Northern Ireland better”, he said.