Martin McGuinness: I will be ambassador for peace
MARTIN McGuinness's announcement that he is retiring from electoral politics signals the closure of one of the most remarkable chapters of recent Irish history.
Five decades since coming to public prominence at the beginning of the Troubles, and almost 20 years on from first being elected an MP for Mid Ulster, the republican figurehead has said he will not seek re-election on March 2.
His successor as leader of Sinn Féin in the north will be announced next week.
Mr McGuinness (66) told The Irish News that ill-health has prevented him from defending his Foyle seat.
The former deputy first minister’s health problems became public last month when he was advised not to travel to China alongside then First Minister Arlene Foster.
He said yesterday he was no longer “physically capable” of fighting an election but insisted his involvement in politics was not over.
“I’ve taken a decision that I will not be a candidate in the election but I will be wholeheartedly supportive of the Sinn Féin team throughout the north,” he said.
Mr McGuinness said it had been his intention to retire from the deputy first minister’s role on May 8 this year – exactly 10 years after entering government with Ian Paisley and the DUP. However, sickness has forced him to retire prematurely.
“I will not fight another election but hopefully when I overcome this illness I’m very, very determined to become an ambassador for peace, for the whole concept of Irish unification and reconciliation on the island – not just for communities in the north,” he said.
Potential successors to Mr McGuinness as Sinn Féin's leader in the north include health minister Michelle O’Neill, finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Newry and Armagh MLA Conor Murphy.
“We will be led into this election by a new leader and that person will become known next week – they have my full support and confidence,” he said.
“It’s a generational change and is totally in tune with my desire to ensure the transition process within Sinn Féin begins with me.”
Martin McGuinness: the journey to peace
Mr McGuinness said he and Gerry Adams had been among a small group of senior party members who recently held discussions about a change in leadership but he would not speculate on when the former West Belfast MP might step down.
He insisted that Sinn Féin was not finished with Stormont’s power-sharing project but again stressed that the party “would not be going back to the status quo”.
“A lot depends on the DUP but also the British government and whether they can change their attitude,” he said.
“I believe a solution can be found but it has to be a genuine solution, it can’t be fake.”
He said he was deeply disappointed that his efforts to keep the devolved institutions alive had not succeeded.
“After 10 years of trying everything to ensure we would get a change of attitude it is very disappointing,” he said.
Mary McAleese: The contribution of Martin McGuinness to politics in Northern Ireland was 'enormous' pic.twitter.com/MqaQNUTQSd— RTÉ News (@rtenews) January 19, 2017
The former deputy first minister said low points of recent years included Peter Robinson pulling the plug on the Maze-Long Kesh peace centre and the numerous scandals his partners in government had become embroiled in, including Red Sky, Nama and most recently the Renewable Heat Incentive.
He singled out for criticism the attitude of DUP representatives Gregory Campbell, Nelson McCausland and Paul Givan towards the Irish language, claiming their “antipathy” extended to “all things Irish”.
Mr McGuinness said he had also been left frustrated that his efforts to reach out to unionists, with gestures such as meeting Queen Elizabeth and visiting World War One battlefields, had not been reciprocated.
“People would tell me that I was bending over backwards to reach out to the DUP but ask what they were doing in return and I was at a loss to tell them,” he said.