It may be ‘realpolitik’ but let us be generous and read it as magnanimity and forgiveness. Benedict Brogan of the Daily Telegraph summed it up this morning as follows:
“Last night was a historic one. One sight summed up the importance of the occasion – Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister Martin McGuinness donning evening wear and sitting down to a white-tie dinner of halibut and beef at the table of Her Majesty the Queen in Windsor Castle. The former IRA member was there to mark the visit to Britain of the Irish President Michael Higgins – the first time a head of the Irish state has been officially welcomed to Britain since his country became independent.
“It’s the closure of the circle that started with Queen’s landmark visit to Ireland in 2011, and underscores how entwined Great Britain and Ireland are. But it’s also particularly poignant as one of the moments of Mr Higgins’s visit will be when Her Majesty shows him the colours of the disbanded Irish regiments which hang in Windsor castle, which will serve as a reminder that the Irish fought gallantly in the First World War, and that in this centenary year this is a discreet but potent way for the Irish to move closer to dealing with a past that for a long time was hidden, ignored and treated as something shameful. It is to the Republic’s credit that great steps have been taken to acknowledge the sacrifice of thousands of Irishmen in the Great War, and that we are moving steadily to the point when the Republic’s ambassador, who has only recently started attending the Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph, will be able to take part fully and lay a wreath.”
Am I right in thinking that one truth which gets completely lost when nationalism dominates – or even influences – our consciousness is that there are no bad peoples, there are only bad, half-good or good people? There are cultural influences among people which can create good or bad tendencies within groups of people, but ultimately changes for the better or otherwise only take place when they take root in people as invividuals.
What now challenges all of us living in these islands off the northwest coast of the continent of Europe is to live in our shared inheritance. This is an inheritance which has been forged over centuries in which our ancestors acted at times gloriously, at times wisely, at times shamefully. It was all there, and what we are today has been influenced by all that. But we do have a choice. While we cannot forget any of those things, and should not deny them, we can choose which of them is going to influence us more in the present and therefore in the future.