Northern Ireland news

Bertie Ahern: History will be kind to Martin McGuinness

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern worked closely with the late deputy first minister Martin McGuinness as well as then Prime Minister Tony Blair, First Minister Ian Paisley and then Secretary of State Peter Hain
Seamus McKinney

FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern believes history will judge Martin McGuinness kindly.

Mr Ahern, who helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement, also disputed Gerry Adams’s belief that Mr McGuinness had not changed during his life.

As Taoiseach from 1997 to 2008, the Fianna Fáil leader was a key player in the peace process and the eventual deal which brought Sinn Féin and the DUP into government.

Throughout that time, he worked closely with all northern leaders and, he told The Irish News, got to know the former deputy first minister very well.

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“I think when you look back over the last year, I think Martin did a tremendous job from May 2007 until the end, helping to settle down the assembly and making the institutions work,” he said.

Mr Ahern described Mr McGuinness’s partnership with former DUP first minsters Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson and their achievements together as “terrific”.

“I suppose the sad thing now is that he is not with us to get through this situation. When you consider what we have come through in the last 20 years, I believe he would have helped us through this.”

The former Taoiseach said while he did not face outright opposition for his work with the Sinn Féin leadership, there were “ups and downs” along the way.

“There was the Northern Bank raid and breaches of the Mitchell Principles but you’ve got to expect that. There were times when the temperature heated up but that was to be expected in any conflict resolution process,” Mr Ahern said.

He rejected suggestions that Mr McGuinness did not change over the course of his life.

In his oration at his graveside last year, former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams rejected claims that there were two Martin McGuinnesses.

Mr Adams said: “Reading and watching some of the media reports of his life and death in recent days one could be forgiven for believing that Martin, at some undefined point in his life, had a road to Damascus conversion; abandoned his republican principles, his former comrades in the IRA, and joined the political establishment.

“To suggest this is to miss the truth of his leadership and the essence of his humanity. There was not a bad Martin McGuinness or a good Martin McGuinness. There was simply a man, like every other decent man or woman, doing his best.”

However, Mr Ahern said all people changed.

“Ian Paisley changed; Martin McGuinness changed. We all do. There was the process of moving from conflict to peace to implementing policy in education and things like that. That was a long way from what he had been doing years before,” he said.

Mr Ahern added that ultimately history would look well on the former deputy first minister.

“He will be judged kindly. Let me say I am not a great believer in that history judges you. It depends who writes the book; you can have the same research but it depends on who writes the book.

“But I think that history will say that Martin McGuinness made a significant contribution to moving from conflict. It will say he moved to a political solution.”

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