Tributes paid following death of Martin McGuinness
Tributes paid following death of Martin McGuinness


Sinn Fein is in mourning today and tributes have been paid across the Irish and British political establishment as news spread this morning that Martin McGuinness had succumbed to his serious illness.

Mr McGuinness’s successor as Sinn Fein leader in the Six Counties, Michelle O’Neill, said her heart was broken by the news. “We have lost a legend, a giant of a man. I’m very proud to say he was my friend and mentor,” she said.

Speaking on Irish radio, party leader Gerry Adams spoke about his relationship with McGuinness throughout the 45 years since they met. He described him as a “passionate republican”.

“I am very sad this morning. I came up to Derry late last night. I think he’ll be missed, but mostly, mostly, mostly by his family,” said Mr Adams.

Speaking about the conflict and the role Mr McGuinness played as a senior member of the Provisional IRA, Mr Adams said that the former republican leader had ‘travelled on a journey’.

“It was a long time in the making. The journey, as it’s being called, if you go back over the decades,” he said.

“Martin McGuinness never went to war, the war came to him. It came to his streets, it came to his city, it came to his community.”

Mr Adams said that the conflict had emerged from people in Ireland being denied civil rights and inaction from both the Irish and British governments.

“When we were arguing for civil rights, we got the answer. When we were arguing for basic modest reforms, we got the answer and it was a militaristic answer,” he said.

“And the response of the State in terms of the southern state was to echo what the British were doing.

“Republicans were censored, were interned, were imprisoned. Martin spent time in Portlaoise [prison] on a no-jury trial on the word of a superintendent or some senior Garda officer.”

Mr Adams said that any argument for peace was “shut down”.

“The awful mistake that the establishment made - they handed the problem to the generals,” Mr Adams said. “And when generals have a problem and the politicians abdicate their responsibilities then generals will behave as generals behave.”

He also spoke of his personal and professional relationship with McGuinness stretching back through the years.

“Martin and I, we first met 45 years ago. We were involved in peace talks at that time,” he said.

“We were both from very similar backgrounds.

“We had a conviction that the partition was wrong and needed to be ended and that the people of this island could govern ourselves and that was a job of work that all of us should be uniting to bring about.”

He said that he had grown to know McGuinness in the late 1970s when the two worked together towards modernising the Sinn Fein party.

“[It] was a very good party and made up of very, very good people but was a second cousin to the army, to the IRA and we believed that we needed to have a radical republican people-centred, democratic movement.”

When questioned about the people who may dislike McGuinness or condemn him for his past actions, Mr Adams said it was “fair enough” if people didn’t forgive him.

One of those is former British Cabinet minister Norman Tebbit, who today branded the former IRA commander a “coward” and bitterly claimed he had only turned to peace to “save his own skin”.

Tebbit, who survived an IRA attack on the Tory war cabinet in 1984, said: “I’m just pleased that the world is a sweeter and cleaner place now.

“He was not only a multi-murderer, he was a coward. He knew that the IRA were defeated because British intelligence had penetrated right the way up to the Army Council and that the end was coming.

“He then sought to save his own skin and he knew that it was likely he would be charged before long with several murders which he had personally committed and he decided that the only thing to do was to opt for peace.

“He claimed to be a Roman Catholic. I hope that his beliefs turn out to be true and he’ll be parked in a particularly hot and unpleasant corner of hell for the rest of eternity.”

But Jo Berry, the daughter of Conservative MP Anthony Berry who was killed in the same 1984 attack, said Martin McGuinness should be remembered for his efforts to build peace.

She said: “Today is a day to really appreciate what (McGuinness) has achieved.

“His legacy is one of reconciliation and peace-building, which is always going to be messy and difficult after a conflict and despite that, he showed us how to move forward and showed us a way where former enemies can work together for the peace of the whole.

“What we have now is so much better than what I grew up in. What we have now is peace.”

Mr McGuinness was broadly hailed as a peacemaker across the British establishment, with Prime Minister Theresa May praising the former IRA commander for playing “a defining role” in bringing the Provisional IRA’s armed struggle to end.

“While I can never condone the path he took in the earlier part of his life, Martin McGuinness ultimately played a defining role in leading the Republican movement away from violence,” she said.

“In doing so, he made an essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace.”

British Direct Ruler James Brokenshire said Mr McGuinness’s personal journey “and the clear influence he had on others in the republican movement” were instrumental in shaping political institutions in the North “founded on exclusively peaceful and democratic means”.

“While not forgetting the past, no-one can doubt the essential role he played in helping to secure the power sharing arrangements and political progress in Northern Ireland,” he said.

Irish politicians also were generous in their praise.

“Martin will always be remembered for the remarkable political journey that he undertook in his lifetime,” said 26 County Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

“Not only did Martin come to believe that peace must prevail, he committed himself to working tirelessly to that end.”

He said Mr McGuinness “strove to make Northern Ireland a better place for everyone, regardless of background or tradition”.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who was central to the Good Friday Agreement being signed, described Mr McGuinness as an “extraordinary, honest and upfront person”.

“In negotiations when there is a lot at stake and it can’t be a winner takes all. Martin understood compromise,” he said. “He listened and he was able, I think, to arbitrate between different points of view.”

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, who recently clashed with Mr McGuinness over her refusal to step aside in regard to a financial scandal and which prompted his resignation, also paid tribute.

She said “history will record differing views and opinions” on the role Martin McGuinness played.

“But history will also show that his contribution to the political and peace process was significant. He served the people of Northern Ireland as Deputy First Minister for nearly a decade and was pivotal in bringing the republican movement towards a position of using peaceful and democratic means.”

President Michael D Higgins, who faced Mr McGuinness in the 2011 presidential race, also praised Mr McGuinness’s contribution to peace.

He added: “As a political colleague of many years, and having participated together in the Presidential election campaign of 2011 that brought us all over Ireland, Sabina and I have appreciated both Martin McGuinness’ warmth and his unfailing courtesy.

“His death leaves a gap that will be difficult to fill. May he rest in peace.”

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