The anniversaries of past tragedies litter Northern Ireland's political landscape like landmines. The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation stamped on one of them when it picked a date to award a peace prize to Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.
Invitations to the event have sparked off a controversy that will take all the combined skills of the first and deputy first minister to defuse. The question is whether these two leaders, who many predicted would never be able to work together, have formed a good enough relationship to pick a path across this minefield. They will certainly need all the "leadership and imagination" which the Glencree citation claims they used to bring their "constituencies together" if they are to turn the event into something positive.
The task may well remind McGuinness of the day in 1989 when he reached beneath a manhole in Derry's city cemetery, defused an IRA bomb, and flushed its contents down the drain. On that occasion he stepped in to prevent embarrassment to the IRA, for the bomb would otherwise have disrupted a match between Derry City and Benfica. Derry officials had put McGuinness, a fan as well as the local republican leader, on the spot with a demand that he do something to allow the match to go ahead.
In the case of the forthcoming Glencree award, the planned date is November 11 – Remembrance Day, the symbolic moment on which the first world war ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
No doubt the Glencree folk calculated it was an appropriately inclusive day for unionists to travel south, but what they didn't count on was the resonance of the IRA's Remembrance Sunday massacre in Enniskillen.
Their bomb killed 11 people attending a wreath-laying ceremony at the town's cenotaph in 1987, and was carried out at a time when McGuinness is thought to have been the director of operations.
He spoke of being "gutted" by an event which "would be damaging to our strategy in trying to build up Sinn Féin as a political party".
Now the peace award has brought the bombing back to haunt both him and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Robinson. Jim Allister, who received an invitation in his capacity as the head of the political party Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), was the first to criticise the event.
"Shame on Robinson besmirching Remembrance Day to receive 'Peace Award' with IRA commander," he stormed, knowing exactly which buttons to push for maximum impact. "Remembrance Day is a very special day for all IRA victims, not least because of the appalling unsolved IRA massacre in Enniskillen, an event which many believe McGuinness sanctioned through his pivotal role.
"McGuinness wouldn't stand with Robinson at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day, but Robinson will stand shoulder to shoulder with McGuinness in Dublin to hear the man he once termed 'The Bogside Butcher' acclaimed a messiah of peace. In this episode we get a distilled snapshot of the DUP's abandonment of both principle and conscience." Allister was followed by Jim Dixon, the most seriously wounded survivor of the Enniskillen atrocity who is still in pain from his injuries. "It beggars belief that Robinson would go for a peace award on the day when the IRA carried out its worst atrocity, and Martin McGuinness was a leader," said Dixon, accusing both political leaders of "rubbing our noses in it". This is the sort of problem that could have derailed DUP support for the peace process at an earlier stage, but is unlikely to do so now.
McGuinness and Robinson are off to America to attend an investment conference hosted by the secretary of state Hillary Clinton today. They will show a common front. McGuinness once supported a policy of economic bombing and attacks on foreign industrialists. Robinson once called for a wall to be built along the border. Now they will call for investment in Northern Ireland and greater cross-border economic co-operation.
On Thursday, they will be back to deal with the British government's spending review to be held on Wednesday, October 20, seeking to minimise and then manage the inevitable reductions in the north's subvention. After a period of demanding the Brits pay more and Tory cuts be opposed, Sinn Féin last week produced its first tentative proposals for savings. Despite the attacks from Allister and Dixon, McGuinness and Robinson have kept their nerve. Behind the scenes their backroom teams tidied up with Glencree. First, their joint office issued a statement making it clear that although both ministers intended to attend the event "neither is accepting the award on their own behalf, but rather in recognition of a community that has overcome conflict and division and embraced a new peaceful era".
This is a damage-limitation exercise, a determination to make the best of a bad situation where once there might have been pointscoring.
A source working on the problem for the two politicians said: "We have to bear in mind that the Glencree people have done good work. They had people from both parties down there talking about high-level issues. Nobody wants Glencree to lose face. In the end it may be more a case of us going down to pay tribute to Glencree."
This brisk air of business as usual has characterised the relationship between Robinson and McGuinness all year. It is built on the realisation that their parties' futures depend on making this arrangement work and showing they can govern. For Sinn Féin, which is floundering south of the border, Stormont is the only show in town. For the DUP, failure to govern effectively would be equally disastrous.
Therefore both parties have to hold their noses and work together.
In February, after dissident bomb attacks in Newry and a murder in Derry, McGuinness and Robinson gave a joint press conference calling for information to be passed to the police. "One of the main objectives of these groups, I believe, is to destabilise these institutions and to drive a wedge between Peter and I," said McGuinness, pledging it would never happen.
Both men are convinced that if they cultivate a dysfunctional, point-scoring relationship, it will be damaging not only for their parties but for society at large. That is why McGuinness resisted the temptation to issue point-scoring statements during the "Irisgate" scandal. Then the two of them shook hands in private. The gesture was never repeated in public, but it improved their relationship to a point that enabled them to seal a deal on the devolution of policing and justice.
This is all a big improvement on McGuinness's double act with Ian Paisley. Their stream of upbeat photo calls created a feelgood factor, but behind the cheery facade few joint decisions were made. Paisley constantly patronised McGuinness. Robinson, on the other hand, is a policy wonk who knows how to do practical business.
He and McGuinness deserve the recognition Glencree is offering them. Finding a way to accept it gracefully is just the latest test of their skills.