Gerry Adams: Martin was a constant in my life... I miss him desperately
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams reflects on the life of Martin McGuinness to mark 100 days since he stood down as deputy first minister. He spoke to Political Correspondent John Manley, before yesterday's announcement of a general election, about the personal impact of his friend's death and how it affects politics on the island.
Gerry Adams could easily fill a book with five decades of reminiscences about his recently lost friend and political ally Martin McGuinness.
Ask him about their relationship and he responds with a string of recollections, taking in the Hunger Strikes; other comrade’s funerals – some sombre, some confrontational; the “walks along a beach or up a lane”; and going to Omagh in the aftermath of the 1998 Real IRA bomb. Then there are the happy memories of weddings and a “bit of craic and a bit of fun”.
Martin McGuinness, 18 months Adams’s junior, was a “constant in my life”, says the Sinn Féin leader: “I miss him desperately.”
Only now is he beginning to come to terms with a loss that has deep personal and political ramifications. He can only guess what it’s like for the McGuinness family but believes they are consoled by the “admiration, respect and love” that has been shown for late the deputy first minister.
Even amid the last round of Stormont talks, unionists shared their fond memories of the man singularly known as ‘Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator’ .
Mr Adams reveals that the pair had many differences of opinion over the years.
Those expecting to hear of raging arguments over IRA decommisioning or fall-outs about royal handshakes are left disappointed, however.
“He didn’t appreciate the efforts that the Antrim footballers and hurlers made and he never fully came to terms with the fact that I won the Poc Fada in the West Belfast Féile three years in a row," he says.
The Sinn Féin leader insists the two were never at variance strategically and “never fell out”. Both were, according to Mr Adams, founding members of the “heresy committee”, a group within the republican movement set up nearly 30 years ago to critique its own strategy. In this context, debate was encouraged and problems addressed from “all different angles”.
“We’re a collective – you need to have diversity of opinion,” the 67-year-old president says.
“I make the point generally speaking that we didn’t agree on everything, we would perhaps have different tactical positions on different issues but we always came to a resolution and we always worked on the basis of ‘let’s try this and if it doesn’t work we go back and look at it again and try it another way’.”
The DUP has always maintained that the southern leadership led by Adams vetoed an agreement brokered on welfare reform with Sinn Féin’s Stormont team.
The Louth TD flatly denies there was a cross-border rift before pointing to the former deputy first minister’s attitude to social issues.
“He was a man of very advanced social conscience and part of his sense of social justice was that we have to protect and actively promote the rights of those who are that are socially disadvantaged either by disability, social background, age or infirmity,” he says.
Perhaps more tellingly, he adds: “At the end of it we always ended up with a united front on every issue that we came to.”
The Sinn Féin leader describes Martin McGuinness as the "common denominator" in three Stormont administrations, who shared his party's strategic vision and view of the Good Friday Agreement institutions.
However, Mr Adams believes it is "going too far" to suggest the former deputy first minister had an affection for Stormont
"I think he really did have an affection for the pioneering role he was involved in, though I do think he was let down by our unionist partners," he says.
"That’s reflected in his letter of resignation."
Beyond a portrait of Mr McGuinness hanging on the walls of Parliament Buildings, he believes no permanent, physical memorial at Stormont is necessary. The best tribute, the Sinn Féin president believes, would be putting a devolved administration in place that genuinely reflects his former friend's belief in equality.
"If those who do have a fondness for Martin, and I’m quite sure some of his unionist partners do have a fondness for him, then the best memorial would be to see the institutions in place on the terms that they would be sustainable, enduring and work for every single citizen," the Louth TD says.
The Sinn Féin leader believes the former Foyle MLA's passing will not signal a change in attitude at Stormont but that it will inevitably impact on the transition at the top of Sinn Féin.
"That would be affected but to what degree I don’t know," he says