During my time in the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure I held an annual reception at Stormont to celebrate the success of Ulster sportsmen and women and each year this included young folk from the GAA.
I have criticised aspects of the GAA and will continue to urge that organisation to embrace the vision of a shared and better future. However the young folk from the GAA were treated in exactly the same way as all the others. I did not snub anyone or discriminate against them.
I was thinking of those and other events when I reflected on the recent controversy about the way in which the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast snubbed a young Army Cadet.
Hopefully, however, Sinn Fein have learned a lesson and that is a small step forward. The Lord Mayor Niall O'Donnghaile made a sort of 'apology' last Thursday but then appeared to backtrack when he refused to answer a journalist who asked what he would do in such a situation in the future.
However yesterday Cllr Jim McVeigh, the leader of the Sinn Fein group on the council, was pressed about it on the Nolan Show and he said that it wouln't happen again. Then in the afternoon Martin McGuinness commented on the matter in the Assembly. After those statements there can be no going back by Sinn Fein. The next time there is a Sinn Fein Lord Mayor he or she will not snub an Army Cadet and will present an award.
I welcome that small step and it has been a hard lesson for them because it has certainly tarnished Niall O'Donnghaile's carefully polished image. It is only a small step and Sinn Fein have still a long journey ahead of them but every journey is made up of single steps.
During his presidential campaign in the Irish Republic Martin McGuinness said that if elected he would meet Her Majesty the Queen and now Sinn Fein have said they would present an award to an Army Cadet. The common factor in these cases is that progress came in response to pressure. Martin Mcguinness was pressed by the media in the Irish Republic and Niall O'Donnghaile was pressed by unionist councillors. That is the lesson for public, press and politicians and it is one that we should all remember.