AMONG the estimated 25,000 mourners who attended the funeral mass of Northern Ireland’s former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, were high-profile international politicians, past and present, as well as senior DUP figures, including the former First Minister, Arlene Foster. Ms Foster’s refusal to “stand aside” while an independent inquiry investigated a failed “cash-for-ash” Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) led to Mr McGuinness’s resignation and the collapse of the Assembly (News, 13 January).
Alongside the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, and the NI Secretary, James Brokenshire MP, was the former US President Bill Clinton. In an address to the congregation at St Columba’s, Long Tower, in Derry, Mr Clinton said that the late IRA leader-turned-politician had risked the wrath and rejection of former comrades, but he persevered and prevailed for peace. “If you really came here to celebrate his life and honour the contribution of the last chapter of it, you have to finish his work,” he said.
Ms Foster, accompanied by the former First Minister, Peter Robinson, and another former Assembly minister, Simon Hamilton, received a round of applause from mourners as they arrived. PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton attended, as did the former Justice Minister, Independent Unionist MLA Claire Sugden, as well as Peter Sheridan, once the highest ranking Roman Catholic RUC police officer and now chief executive of the charity Co-Operation Ireland.
The Cuban Ambassador to Ireland, Dr Hermes Herrera Hernández, and the Palestinian Representative to Ireland, Ahmad Abdelrazek, attended, as did the secretary-general of the Basque Socialist Party, Arnaldo Otegi.
Mr Brokenshire is now faced with the dilemma of how to restart the Assembly after the DUP and Sinn Féin failed to reach agreement after an election for a new devolved government earlier this month. The new leader of Sinn Féin, Michelle O’Neill, is adamant that the party will not go into government unless Ms Foster stands aside, pending the result of the RHI inquiry. This means either a further election, or a return to direct Westminster rule. Mr Brokenshire is likely, however, to play for time, in the few weeks of parliamentary recess, to try to conclude a deal between the two sides.