British government praise McGuinness's role in bringing peace

Martin McGuinness shook hands with Queen Elizabeth at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast in 2012. Picture by Paul Faith, PA Wire

AT one time they were pitted against one another in a period of violence that lasted nearly 30 years, but in the wake of Martin McGuinness's death many British government figures stressed his role as a peacemaker.

Buckingham Palace also announced yesterday that the Queen would be sending a private message of condolence to the Sinn Féin politician's widow, Bernie.

Prime Minister Theresa May said that although she could 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".

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

"While we certainly didn't always see eye-to-eye even in later years, as deputy first minister for nearly a decade he was one of the pioneers of implementing cross community power sharing in Northern Ireland."

The secretary of state James Brokenshire echoed Mrs May's sentiments.

"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.

Mr Brokenshire added that on a personal level, he found the former deputy first minister "thoughtful and reflective" and he "appreciated the personal consideration" he showed.

John Major, British prime minister from 1990-97, just prior to the Good Friday Agreement, said Mr McGuinness had a "mixed legacy"

"Martin McGuinness realised that - if one wishes to secure long-term peace - negotiation must always prevail over violence. In a mixed legacy, that stands to his credit," he said.

"Let that be his epitaph."

Tony Blair, who was prime minister when the historic agreement was signed in 1998, said he got to know the Sinn Féin politician during the "arduous" negotiations directly before and after the deal was struck.

"By the time that extraordinary day arrived in 2007 after almost a decade of hard work where we could witness the - to my generation - incredible sight of he and Ian Paisley sitting down together in government, the transition of Martin to reconciliator was complete,” he said.

Elswhere, Scotland's first minister Nichola Sturgeon reflected on the time she had gotten to know Mr McGuinness through working together in the British Irish Council and Joint Ministerial Committee.

"His deep understanding of both the importance and fragility of the peace process, and also his optimism for the future, was obvious to all," she said.

"Martin will be remembered for his commitment, alongside that of Ian Paisley, to bringing peace and reconciliation to Northern Ireland."

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