In his fighting prime Martin McGuinness was a seriously professional urban guerilla – and ruthless with it, not least in the business of enforcing discipline within his own ranks. Many a Brit had reason to view him as the personification of the foe.
But the great genius of the British people is to be pragmatic to the point of magnanimity. In the aftermath of the brutally-fought Boer Wars Britain’s prompt practical and financial support for reconstruction in South Africa led to that new nation being a material contributor to our efforts in both World Wars. Not for us the old, ahem, Irish game of bitterly nurturing grudges down the centuries. Settle up and move on.
So when McGuinness converted to the cause of the Peace Process (and peace, too, after a fashion) he was welcomed on board as a constructive actor. Doubtless it served his political purposes – which is fine: it was a settlement, and politics is generally better than fighting.
We won’t find out what position he’d have taken in the forthcoming argy-bargy arising from the implications of Brexit on British-Irish dealings (although Jerry Adams is clearly much enthused by the opportunities it presents). What we can say – from across the water – is that he seems to have played the power-sharing game in a fair spirit, right to the end.
So, one way and another: fair play to Martin McGuinness, serious opponent and notable representative of Irish nationalism.