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Eileen Paisley joins son Ian in praising Martin McGuinness

Eileen Paisley has also paid a warm tribute to Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness. Picture by Pacemaker

THE wife of the late Ian Paisley joined her son yesterday in paying tribute to Martin McGuinness, describing his friendship with her husband "set the pattern for the future of Northern Ireland".

Eileen Paisley said her husband and his government partner "worked together for the good of the country" and she believed Mr Paisley's "influence" had helped Mr McGuinness.

Her comments came just hours after her son, DUP MP Ian Paisley Jnr, paid a glowing tribute to the former Deputy First Minister and appeared to urge the current party leadership to follow the example set by his father and the Sinn Féin veteran.

Mr McGuinness forged a friendship with DUP leader Ian Paisley when they were Stormont's first and deputy first ministers.

In a remarkably warm tribute, which contrasted with the qualified response of some other unionists including his party leader Arlene Foster, Mr Paisley Jnr said the former IRA commander's "remarkable journey not only saved lives but made the lives of countless people better".

He said he wanted to offer "humble and honest" thanks to Mr McGuinness after he announced his decision to quit frontline politics.

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness were nicknamed the 'Chuckle Brothers'

The comments made on BBC Northern Ireland's The View programme won Mr Paisley praise for his statesmanlike approach.

But his remarks were also interpreted by some as a pointed challenge or coded pitch for the DUP leadership, a claim he denied.

He said his status as a unionist or Protestant should not mean he had to qualify a tribute to a republican figurehead and people who adopted that mindset needed to "get over it".

"Perhaps if we got back to some of that foundation work of building a proper relationship we could get out of the mess we are currently in," he said.

Ian Paisley Jnr tweeted a picture of DUP leader Arlene Foster at an event in Co Antrim yesterday

Mr Paisley later tweeted a photograph of Mrs Foster who attended an event with him in Ballymoney yesterday.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams welcomed the tribute and said "it was the right thing to say".

Mr Paisley Jnr's mother Eileen also acknowledged the close friendship her late husband enjoyed with Mr McGuinness.

"When Ian and he got together, when they were both elected, they did work together for the good of the country, they co-operated with each other," she told the BBC.

"What they did, they discussed matters together and somebody smartly called them the Chuckle Brothers, but when you think about it they had a lot of things to chuckle about, much more than the country has had in this last little while to chuckle about.

"I think their friendship set the pattern for the future of Northern Ireland and I am glad that Ian (Jnr) said what he did because Martin did work very closely with Ian and no matter you think, no matter his past and we all know that.

"But you don't dwell on the bad items and my heart goes out to the people who suffered at the hands of the IRA in those days, but I also have to acknowledge the good that he did and how he changed completely and worked together for all the people of Northern Ireland.

"There were a lot of things that he did for the better and I think it was my husband's influence that helped him a lot along the way too because when they met every morning, Ian prayed with him."

Meanwhile, Secretary of State James Brokenshire has written a personal thank you to Martin McGuinness.

He said Mr McGuinness's contribution to politics had been "highly significant".

"While at times we have had some firm exchanges, our discussions have always been on the basis of mutual respect," he said. 

"On a personal level, I've also appreciated the thoughtfulness and personal consideration he has shown to me."

He added: "From our recent conversations, I know that Martin’s political spirit and passion remain undiminished and I am saddened that his physical health has prevented him from continuing. I wish him the very best with his treatment and the time ahead."

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