Northern Ireland

Ray O'Hanlon: Irish America in mourning for 'giant for peace'

Martin McGuinness outside the White House during a trip to brief the US administration on the north's political situation in 2015
Martin McGuinness outside the White House during a trip to brief the US administration on the north's political situation in 2015

Irish American political leaders were already feeling a little uneasy, a sense that was put in suspense for St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington.

But only for that day.

The passing of Martin McGuinness brought matters back into the sharpest perspective.

Prior to March 17, Congressman Richard Neal, co-chair of the Friends of Ireland in Congress, had called for a new US envoy to the peace process to replace Senator Gary Hart.

On the day itself, a group of Congress members, led by Bill Keating – like Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts – issued a statement in support of the Good Friday Agreement, a document that required McGuinness’ backing at its birth.

Yesterday, the statements were ones of condolences.

Congressman Joe Crowley from New York said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of McGuinness' passing.

“A giant for peace, he will be forever remembered for his attempts to bring change to all of Ireland,” he said.

“I first met Martin more than 20 years ago during his first visit to the United States, though I knew of and admired him long before that visit. We became close friends and continued a relationship for years that was built on admiration and respect.

"Martin was one of the most extraordinary leaders I have ever met - never giving up on his belief in a united Ireland, while working to constructively bridge the divide with those who fought for a different future.

“His achievements, including the leadership shown during the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and his consistent, responsible support for devolution of power in the north, will be marked down in history as some of the most important efforts toward peace in modern history.

"I will forever treasure his warmth, friendship, and spirit. My thoughts and prayers are with Martin’s family and the people of Ireland during this time."

Philadelphia Congressman Brendan Boyle, whose father emigrated to America from Donegal, said: “This is a great loss for Northern Ireland and the cause of peace the world over.

“One of the great achievements in the world in the last 50 years has been the Northern Ireland peace process. Simply put, without Martin McGuinness, peace would not have been achieved and sustained.

“I pay tribute to Martin’s dedication to securing peace on the island throughout his long career working alongside three first ministers of Northern Ireland, and vow to honor his memory through my commitment to preserving that peace. I extend my condolences to the entire McGuinness family.”

McGuinness paid quite a few visits to the US in the peace process years.

They were typically lower key than visits from Gerry Adams.

But he had the same key to Irish America’s door as his party leader.

And, in truth, he didn’t have to use it.

The door was always open, the welcome mat out.

Politicians on Capitol Hill who take an interest in Ireland will have to adjust for what is now a very big absence.