Northern Ireland news

Martin McGuinness dies aged 66

21 March, 2017 09:09

SINN Féin's Martin McGuinness has died.

The former deputy first minister and ex-IRA commander died early this morning at Derry's Altnagelvin Hospital with his family by his bedside.

Mr McGuinness had been diagnosed with a rare heart disease last year.

Sinn Fein said in a statement : "It is with deep regret and sadness that we have learnt of the death of our friend and comrade Martin McGuinness who passed away in Derry during the night. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him."

The 66-year-old had retired from politics in January on health grounds, shortly after resigning as deputy first minister in protest at the DUP's handling of the 'cash for ash' energy scandal, triggering a snap election.

He appeared particularly frail at the January press conference at which he announced his decision to resign, triggering the assembly election earlier this month.

Mr McGuinness played no visible part in the recent election campaign and did not attend the count at the Foyle Arena in Derry on Friday where his party celebrated a significant success, outpolling the SDLP in its heartland.

His retirement came amid health concerns, but he, his family and colleagues did not specify the nature of his illness.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams paid tribute to his lifelong friend, saying: "Throughout his life Martin showed great determination, dignity and humility and it was no different during his short illness.

"He was a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the reunification of his country.

"But above all he loved his family and the people of Derry and he was immensely proud of both.

"On behalf of republicans everywhere we extend our condolences to Bernie, Fiachra, Emmet, Fionnuala and Grainne, grandchildren and the extended McGuinness family.

During his time in office Mr McGuinness forged an unlikely friendship with then DUP leader Ian Paisley and the two earned the nickname the Chuckle Brothers.

A Twitter account in the name of Mr Paisley's son Kyle said: "Very sorry to hear about the passing of Martin McGuinness. Look back with pleasure on the remarkable year he and my father spent in office together and the great good they did together.

"Will never forget his ongoing care for my father in his ill health."

Mr McGuinness was described as a "great guy" by former Labour communications chief Alastair Campbell.

He tweeted: "So sad Martin McGuinness has died. Some will never forgive his past but without him there would be no peace. The man I knew was a great guy."

President Michael D Higgins led tributes from the Republic, saying Mr McGuinness's death leaves a gap that will be hard to fill.

"The world of politics and the people across this island will miss the leadership he gave, shown most clearly during the difficult times of the peace process, and his commitment to the values of genuine democracy that he demonstrated in the development of the institutions in Northern Ireland," he said.

Mr Higgins said Mr McGuinness made an immense contribution to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr McGuinness's death is a "significant moment in the history of this island".

He described the journey of the former IRA man to the forefront of the political scene as "remarkable".

Extending sympathy to Mr McGuinness's wife and children, he said: "It is appropriate that we reflect on Martin's remarkable journey, made possible by men and women from all traditions across this island who forged a peace process from the fire of a terrible conflict.

Martin McGuinness discusses meeting Queen Elizabeth and the peace process

"History will record his political career as a journey - one born in a tradition of violence but, in a testament to Martin's character, that arrived at his true calling in politics, people and the art of persuasion.

"Those who knew him will know that his warm and affable nature undoubtedly made it easier to reach beyond his own political base.

"The generosity that he displayed in developing relationships with Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson demonstrated a rare gift that came as much from his personality as his politics. It is that gift which is needed in our politics at this moment.

"As a Derry MLA, as mayor and as SDLP leader, I always enjoyed a warm and respectful relationship with Martin McGuinness.

"This will be an immensely difficult time for Bernie and their children. On behalf of the SDLP, our thoughts are with them all."

DUP leader and former Stormont first minister Arlene Foster said she offered "sincere condolences".

"Today's news will come as a shock to many people," she said.

"First and foremost, Martin McGuinness was a much loved husband, father and grandfather.

"My thoughts and prayers are with his wife and the family circle at this very painful time of grief and loss."

She said history would record differing views on Mr McGuinness but he had played a pivotal role in bringing the republican movement toward peace.

Mr McGuinness's successor as the party's leader at Stormont, Michelle O'Neill, paid tribute.

She tweeted: "My heart is broke this morning. We have lost a legend, a giant of a man. I'm very proud to say he was my friend and mentor x."

Dublin's Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan spoke of Mr McGuinness' generosity of spirit, courageous leadership and his inspirational ability to stretch himself in the pursuit of political stability.

"In his embrace of the politics of peace, he made an immense personal contribution to building and consolidating peace on this island," he said.

Mr Flanagan added: "He led with patience, with courtesy, and with a willingness to see and acknowledge the goodwill in others even if those people were far removed from his own republican tradition.

"As deputy first minister, Martin displayed great courage and leadership, especially in undertaking gestures of respect and reconciliation which reached across community lines.

"He did so despite being exposed to political criticism and personal risk.

"This legacy of leadership will no doubt inspire the next generation of leaders in Northern Ireland."

Former Secretary of State John Reid said: "Martin McGuinness's passing is a sad loss to his family, friends and to Northern Ireland as a whole. He was an indispensable part of the peace process.

"Though Martin remained a staunch Republican, he had the courage to change, to compromise, to abandon violence, to embrace old enemies, to promote reconciliation and he made a massive contribution in shaping a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Twitter: "Martin McGuinness played a huge role in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland. He was a great family man and my thoughts are with them."

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who was central to the Good Friday Agreement being signed, described Mr McGuinness as an extraordinary person, honest in his efforts and an upfront negotiator.

"In negotiations when there is a lot at stake and it can't be a winner takes all Martin understood compromise," he told RTE Radio.

"He listened and he was able, I think, to arbitrate between different points of view."

Mr Ahern said he could "totally" understand why Mr McGuinness joined the IRA but also put his life on the line to pursue peace.

"I think Martin McGuinness would have been happier following Derry GAA club or Derry City or fly fishing in Donegal," he said.

"He was a good person in my view.

"He moved from a very difficult past where he took a particular side and he was a good person to negotiate with and certainly I considered him as a good friend as we went through 25 years of discussions."

Former Scotland first minister Alex Salmond tweeted his "sympathy and condolences" to Mr McGuinness' family, along with a statement that recalled his visit to Northern Ireland at the launch of the Stormont powersharing agreement.

"As first minister of Scotland, I was asked by Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness to go to Northern Ireland in 2007 to support their new powersharing administration by addressing the Northern Irish Assembly," he said.

"I gladly did so and found a remarkable partnership, which was the anchor of the institutions consolidating the peace process.

"The friendship which developed between them was real, enduring and profound, private as well as public and allowed Northern Ireland to move away from violence. They were both solid friends of Scotland.

"That political journey was accompanied by Martin McGuinness' own personal journey. It is why it is right to both mourn his passing and recognise his contribution today. My sympathy and condolences go to Martin's family."

TUV Jim Allister said Mr McGuinness had taken secrets about his IRA past to the grave.

"Naturally, the passing of anyone causes grief and sorrow to their family and friends. All such families deserve condolences," he said.

"In the case of Martin McGuinness, he lived many more decades than most of his victims."

He added: "So today my primary thoughts are with the many victims of the IRA who never reached the age of 66; of men and women who never got to see their grandchildren because their lives were cut short by murderous republicanism; of children stolen from their parents and grandparents by the organisation in which McGuinness was a commander."

21 March, 2017 09:09 Northern Ireland news