Northern Ireland news

Tributes: Bill Clinton, John Hume and Ian Paisley Jnr among those paying tribute to Martin McGuinness

Digital staff
21 March, 2017 15:38

DUP leader Arlene Foster paid tribute to Martin McGuinness after 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. He was 66 years of age. 

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.

The veteran republican had been deputy first minister since the DUP and Sinn Féin made a historic agreement to share power in 2007. Arlene Foster had stepped up to replace Peter Robinson as first minister in January.

Mrs Foster's tribute was one of many pouring in for Mr McGuinness from politicans around the world.  

Former US president Bill Clinton said Martin McGuinness believed in a shared future.

In a heartfelt tribute, Mr Clinton said the late Sinn Fein chief's legacy should be an example for others to live by.

"When he decided to fight for peace, Martin was calm, courageous, and direct. And when he gave his word, that was as good as gold," he said.

He also said Mr McGuinness' integrity and willingness to engage in principled compromise were invaluable in reaching the Good Friday Agreement.

"In the years that followed, he played an even more important role in ensuring that the peace would last - personally overseeing the arms decommissioning, joining the new government as the first education minister, and later serving as deputy first minister, and doing it all with a sense of humour and fairness that inspired both his friends and former foes," President Clinton said.

"My lasting memory of him will be the pride he took in his efforts to improve disadvantaged schools in unionist and protestant communities.

"He believed in a shared future, and refused to live in the past, a lesson all of us who remain should learn and live by. May he rest in peace."

Long-time Sinn Fein colleague Gerry Adams described him as a "passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the reunification of his country".

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in 1987

Mr Adams posted Irish folk singer Luke Kelly's Song for Ireland along with the tweet "A song for Martin McGuinness. I measc Laochra na n-Gael go raibh a anam dilis", which translates as "Among heroes of Gael he had a faithful soul".

Mr McGuinness was a devisive figure because of his IRA past. 

In 2012, after his historic handshake with the queen, Mr McGuinness said he “genuinely regretted” every life lost during the Troubles.

In a speech at Westminster he said: “Every single violent act was evidence of a failure of politics and a failure of British policy in Ireland.

“I genuinely regret every single life that was lost during that conflict and today I want every family who lost a loved one to know that your pain is not being ignored and I am willing to work with others to finding a way to deal with our past so that we can complete our journey to true reconciliation.”

Lord Tebbit descibed Martin McGuinness as  a "coward", who posed as a man of peace once he knew the IRA was beaten.

Lord Tebbit survived the Brighton bombing, in which five people were killed and 34 were injured, including his wife Margaret, who received life-altering injuries.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC, he said he was pleased to see the back of the former IRA commander-turned-politician. 

He said: "The world is a sweeter and cleaner place." 

 Lord Tebitt

Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley Jess Phillips posted on Twitter: "People can do good and bad, things aren't simple. People should be neither reviled or worshipped. I wish he'd helped my constituents find peace."

But Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire Nadine Dorries tweeted: "I hope God forgives this man and grants him a place in heaven - however, it will be hard for many to shed tears upon hearing this news."

Mr McGuinness forged an unlikely friendship with political rival Ian Paisley. From sworn enemies to the 'Chuckle Brothers', McGuinness and Paisley, who died in 2014, became Northern Ireland's most unlikely double act. Remarkably, against all the odds, a deep friendship developed between these clashing figures that enabled the peace process.

The son of Ian Paisley has said it is more important to reflect on Martin McGuinness' latter days advocating peace than his early days in the IRA.

Ian Paisley Jnr, who as a junior minister worked alongside his father and the Sinn Féin veteran during their time jointly leading the Stormont executive, acknowledged many would have "mixed feelings" on his passing.

The North Antrim MP said he had gone from viewing Mr McGuinness as the "godfather of the IRA" to considering him a personal friend.

He said he took a Christian view when assessing his legacy.

"I think the Christian view in life is how a person's journey started is of course important, but it is how it finishes which is actually more important," he said.

"The journey of Martin McGuinness's life ended in a very different way to what people would have supposed it would have done."

He said Mr McGuinness was once a man who struck fear into people's hearts in Northern Ireland.

"Yet he became the necessary man in government to deliver a stable and necessary peace, and that's a complex and remarkable journey," he added.

Mr Paisley said the respect Mr McGuinness afforded his father during their time as first and deputy first minister, and afterwards, was "genuine".

"As a son who was very close to his father I could give respect to anyone who could give respect to my father and treat my father with respect," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

He added: "We did end up getting on in a respectful and friendly way."

Another of Mr Paisley's sons, Kyle Paisley, also paid tribute to Mr McGuinness. He said he would never forget the compassion that Mr McGuinness showed during Mr Paisley's illness. 

Michelle O'Neill who replaced Mr McGuinness as Sinn Féin leader in the north of Ireland said she had lost a mentor.


Catholic primate of Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin said he would remember Mr McGuinness as "someone who chose personally to leave behind the path of violence and to walk instead along the more challenging path of peace and reconciliation".  

The veteran Sinn Féin politician was "a man of prayer" and he had "no doubt that Martin's faith and relationship with God guided him along this journey", he added.

Dr Martin said people like Martin McGuinness "have made an immense contribution to sustaining peace by reaching out a hand of friendship and reconciliation and being prepared to model alternatives to dispute and division".  

"Martin's personal warmth and open, friendly personality was able to melt away suspicion and help build trust with those coming from very different perspectives... Martin was ambitious for peace. He knew that peace was worth striving for and was within reach in his life time.  

"A fitting legacy for Martin would be a redoubling of efforts on all our parts to find solutions to our current problems and continue along the journey to a shared future."  


Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke said Mr McGuinness had displayed "both real courage and a genuine openness to those of different political viewpoints from his own".

"Martin McGuinness’s adult life was in so many ways one of two very distinct halves and most of us have great difficulty in connecting the two.

"That having been said (and it must be said), while recognising the hurt, fear and misery brought into hundreds of other lives in the first part of that life, we should also convey proper appreciation of the immense statesmanlike qualities that Martin McGuinness brought into the political life of Northern Ireland in recent years." 



Former SDLP leader John Hume and his wife, Pat, also expressed their sympathies on the death of a man who "left an indelible print on politics in Ireland".

"Our starting points on the approach to finding a solution to the divisions on this island were very different but there can be no doubt Martin was deeply committed to the agreed Ireland of the Good Friday Agreement and its power sharing institutions. He played a very important role in our peace process and his courageous, generous and gracious gestures as deputy first minister were offered in a spirit of reconciliation and peace building.

“Our deepest condolences go to his wife Bernie, their children Fiachra, Emmet, Grainne, Fionnuala and the wider family circle.”

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "I am very sorry to learn of Martin's death and send his family my deep sympathy and condolences.

"I grew up watching and hearing about the Martin McGuinness who was a leading member of the IRA engaged in armed struggle. I came to know the Martin McGuinness who set aside that armed struggle in favour of making peace. There will be some who cannot forget the bitter legacy of the war. And for those who lost loved ones in it that is completely understandable. But for those of us able finally to bring about the Northern Ireland peace agreement, we know we could never have done it without Martin's leadership, courage and quiet insistence that the past should not define the future."

Tony Blair speaks about Martin McGuinness:

"After first meeting in Northern Ireland and then again shortly after in Downing Street - an historic meeting, between a British PM and the Republican leadership in the Cabinet room where so much Irish history had been made - he explained at length to me the causes of Republican grievance. I listened. We talked. And as the meeting went on he explained why he thought despite all the grievance there was a chance for peace.

Then British prime minister Tony Blair at Stormont Parliment on the first day of the Northern Ireland Assembly with Bertie Ahern watched by former first minister and deputy first minister Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness and former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain

"Over the years - through the arduous negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement - and for the years after it, I got to know Martin well. We met many, many times and as the trust grew between himself, my team, Gerry Adams and their team, so the discussions became increasingly open, frank and therefore productive.

"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.

Then British prime minister Tony Blair meeting Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness  in his office at the House of Commons, London

"Whatever the past, the Martin I knew was a thoughtful, reflective and committed individual. Once he became the peace maker he became it wholeheartedly and with no shortage of determined opposition to those who wanted to carry on the war.

"I will remember him therefore with immense gratitude for the part he played in the peace process and with genuine affection for the man I came to know and admire for his contribution to peace."

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.

"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."

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire offered his condolences to the McGuinness family. 

"Martin's personal journey and the clear influence he had on others in the republican movement were instrumental in shaping political institutions in Northern Ireland founded on exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

"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. Martin's commitment to reconciliation and understanding across communities was a significant factor.

"Whilst passionate and robust in his politics, on a personal level I always found Martin to be thoughtful and reflective and appreciated the personal consideration he showed. The importance of family and his home in Derry shone through.

"Martin will be remembered for his contribution to politics in Northern Ireland and particularly during his near 10 years as deputy first minister."

Former Northern Ireland secretary 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."

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long expressed her gratitude to the former deputy first minister's "willingness to work with others" in a Facebook statement.

She wrote: "I want to pay tribute to the hard work and dedication Martin invested as an MLA and as deputy first minister to serving not only his constituents, but Northern Ireland.

"Whilst our politics were very different and while his past is well documented, the compromises he made, the leadership he demonstrated and his willingness to work with other despite those differences as part of the peace process helped secure the peace we all now enjoy.

"For that, we are grateful and our best tribute to him would be to do all in our power to secure that peace and progress for future generations."

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

Queen Elizabeth II greeting Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, former First Minister Peter Robinson (2nd left) and former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers (3rd left) as President Michael D Higgins (3rd right), the Duke of Edinburgh (2nd right) and Sabina Coyne (right) look on during a Northern Ireland-themed reception at Windsor Castle, during the first State visit to the UK by an Irish President

"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.

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."

Chief Constable of the PSNI George Hamilton said:

"I was saddened to hear of the death of former Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. I extend the sympathies of the Police Service to his wife and family at this sad time.

"Our society suffered grievously throughout our troubled history; and many police officers and their families are among those who suffered. 

"But Martin McGuinness believed in a better future for our community; and this is a vision shared by policing.

"Martin’s journey in life challenges all of us who care about the future; to be prepared to change; to demonstrate leadership; and to work to understand the world, not just from our own perspective, but from the perspectives of everyone in our community." 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Martin McGuinness today. His passing represents a significant loss, not only to politics in Northern Ireland but to the wider political landscape on this island and beyond.

"Martin will always be remembered for the remarkable political journey that he undertook in his lifetime. Not only did Martin come to believe that peace must prevail, he committed himself to working tirelessly to that end.

"Martin was one of the chief architects of the Good Friday Agreement and he worked resolutely in the years that followed it in pursuit of its full implementation. I got to know Martin well in recent years, including through our working together in the North South Ministerial Council. His commitment to securing enduring peace and prosperity for all of the people of Northern Ireland was unwavering throughout this time. He strove to make Northern Ireland a better place for everyone, regardless of background or tradition."


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.

"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."

Traditional Unionist Voice party leader Jim Allister said Mr McGuinness had taken secrets about his IRA past to the grave.

An unhappy Jim Allister with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness at the counting of ballots cast in the European elections in Northern Ireland

"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."

Sir Malcolm McKibbin paid tribute to the Sinn Féin veteran who spent a decade as deputy first minister at Stormont Castle.

Martin McGuinness was a tireless supporter of devolution who always made time for his Stormont staff, the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service has said.

Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan tweeted: "RIP Martin McGuinness, 66."

In a later post, he compared Mr McGuinness to former president of South Africa and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela, saying: "Both men renounced violence to forge peace. The comparison is valid."

21 March, 2017 15:38 Northern Ireland news