‘It was a day when everything changed’

Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion pictured at her constituency office in Derry yesterday.
Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion pictured at her constituency office in Derry yesterday.

Martin McGuinness’ dramatic resignation - a year ago on Tuesday past - was the day that everything changed in the struggle for equality and a better society, Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion has said.

Speaking to the “Journal” to mark the first anniversary of what is widely regarded as a pivotal event in the peace and political process in the North, the woman who would go on to become Foyle’s first Sinn Féin MP said McGuinness’ actions had set the bar for the kind of society we need to create.

“I don’t think anyone could forget the footage of Martin that day,” said Mrs. McCallion. “It was as heart-breaking as it was inspiring.

“Here was a man who had led from the front all his life, who had given everything reaching out and trying to make the institutions work for all citizens and, even when he was clearly seriously ill, was still showing true leadership. Still doing what needed to be done in order to try to build a better future for all our people.

“After 10 years of doing all that was possible to make the institutions work, Martin’s actions that day effectively changed everything in the struggle for equality and a better society. He called time on the disrespect; on the refusal to implement agreements; on the discrimination against whole sections of our society and the lack of integrity which had made Stormont unsustainable.

“He was saying, in no uncertain terms, that enough was enough and it was a message that clearly resonated with the public as evidenced by the subsequent Assembly and Westminster elections when people voted in the greatest numbers since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.”

She claimed Martin McGuinness then set the bar for the kind of power-sharing institutions that would be required if the type of society envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement was to be created.

“None of us deserve anything less and I do not believe the public is prepared to accept anything less. We have lost Martin since then - and it is an incalculable loss - but the measure he set that day remains the same.

“There can be no return to the status quo,” insisted the local Sinn Fein MP.

When questioned on many people’s demands that politicians should return to Stormont, Mrs. McCallion was clear in her answer.

“Any new Executive must be based on equality, rights and respect. That is what Martin made clear in his letter of resignation and I would urge anyone who has not read that document to do so because it is a powerful testimony of where this process has come from and where it needs to go to.

“So, as our new leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, prepares to take us into possible fresh negotiations to restore the Executive, the challenge remains the same - to build credible institutions that cherish all citizens and defend all rights. That is the only way the institutions can possibly be sustainable and capable of confronting the challenges that face them including the pressures on our public services and the disastrous implications of Brexit.

“That was our position then and it remains our position now.

“As Martin himself said when he first took up office with Ian Paisley in 2007: ‘We have to govern by treating every single citizen equally.’”