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Martin McGuinness, the former IRA commander turned Northern Ireland peace negotiatior, died overnight at the age of 66.
Responses from across the British and Irish political spectrum have been pouring in for the former Sinn Féin leader, who served as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister until only a few weeks ago.
UK prime minister Theresa May encouraged people to share Mr McGuinness’ “optimism” for the future of the province:
While I can never condone the path he took in the earlier part of his life, Martin McGuinness ultimately played a defining role in leading the Republican movement away from violence. In doing so, he made an essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace.
While we certainly didn’t always see eye-to-eye even in later years, as deputy First Minister for nearly a decade he was one of the pioneers of implementing cross community power sharing in Northern Ireland. He understood both its fragility and its previous significance and played a vital part in helping to find a way through many difficult moments.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said:
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 and the people of Derry and it was no different during his short illness.
He added, in Irish: “A faithful soul among the heroes of Ireland”.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair said many people “will find it very hard to forgive” Mr McGuinness for his early actions, but said he was key to the success of the Good Friday agreement:
The steel that he showed back then in pursuit of armed struggle, that same determination was brought forward in the peace process. The character of Martin McGuinness in one sense did not change, that steel was always there. But once he decided to deploy it in pursuit of peace he showed a lot of courage and a lot of leadership.
Once he’d come to his view that peace was the right way forward, he pursued it with a lot of skill and a lot of courage and without him – because he had the credibility in the republican movement – without him being fully on side with this process, it would never have happened.
Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party who served as first minister alongside Mr McGuinness until earlier this year, said:
History will record differing views and opinions on the role Martin McGuinness played throughout the recent and not so recent past but history will also show that his contribution to the political and peace process was significant. He served the people of Northern Ireland as deputy first minister for nearly a decade and was pivotal in bringing the republican movement towards a position of using peaceful and democratic means.
Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny said:
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.
The Republic of Ireland’s president Michael D. Higgins said Mr McGuinness’ death “leaves a gap that will be difficult 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.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK’s Labour Party, 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 him.
Colum Eastwood, leader of the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party said Mr McGuinness’ “remarkable journey from paramiltarism to peace” embodied the “transformative effect of 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 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.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said he was “thankful” for Mr McGuinness’ efforts in the peace process:
Martin McGuinness, for all his past, became a statesman. One moment sticks with me, the remarkable – and unlikely – images of McGuinness when he shook the hand of the Queen on her visit to Belfast in 2012. This single picture epitomised the changes in Northern Ireland. The historic handshake with the Queen in the quest for peace. This is something I, and millions of others, are thankful for. Peace in Northern Ireland is down, in part, to his leadership of the Republican community.
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