One of the questions I faced constantly in Belfast yesterday was whether I thought Martin McGuinness would be an acceptable first minister of Northern Ireland.
The question is being asked because of the possibility that Sinn Fein will poll the most votes in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections. It seems unlikely to me, but that the question is being asked at all shows how far the peace process has come.
I visited Stormont yesterday and as well as speaking to members and staff had meetings with McGuinness and first minister Peter Robinson.
The meeting with Robinson took place directly below where some of the key meetings of the early days of the peace process took place – the first TB handshake with Gerry Adams, the place where TB told SF he would not be a persuader for a united Ireland. And the place where, when TB was trying to persuade Peter Robinson of his commitment to the principle of consent, a fire alarm went off.’What was that?asked TB. ‘That was the lie detector,’ said Robinson.
Yesterday both first and deputy first minister were so different to how they used to be – relaxed, full of praise for each other and above all working together.
The mood at Stormont as a whole was so different to how it used to be when we were constantly flying in and out of crisis meetings.
As to the outcome of the election, the general view seems to be that the DUP will do best, but SF will do well and McGuinness will remain as deputy first minister.
Earlier I spoke to students at Queen’s and said that perhaps living here you do not get a true sense of the scale of political change that you get if you are just a time to time visitor like I am. But hearing McGuinness talk about how nobody wanted to go back to the old days, and Robinson talk about what McGuinness brought to the place, really brought the scale of that change home.