Sunday 24 September 2017

'He turned the page on violence and conflict' - Barack Obama leads tributes to Martin McGuinness

Thousands of mourners are expected at his funeral today in Co Derry

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan signs a book of condolences in Belfast. Photo: David Young/PA Wire
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan signs a book of condolences in Belfast. Photo: David Young/PA Wire

Adrian Rutherford

The former US president, Barack Obama, has sent his condolences to the family and friends of Martin McGuinness as thousands of mourners are expected at his funeral today in Co Derry.

Mr Obama said that the former deputy leader of Northern Ireland had a "persistent belief" in a better future for the people of Northern Ireland.

"I send my condolences to the family and many friends of Martin McGuinness, a man who had the wisdom and courage to pursue peace and reconciliation for his people.

"His leadership was instrumental in turning the page on a past of violence and conflict that he knew all too well.

"In our own meetings, I was always struck by his good humor and persistent belief in a better future for the people of Northern Ireland. May Martin rest in the peace that he pursued in life, and may his example inspire others to follow a path of reconcilliation."

Former US president Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and ex-Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson are set to join mourners at the funeral of Martin McGuinness in his native Derry today.

Members of the public sign the book of condolences for Martin McGuinness at the Mansion House in Dublin. Photo: Collins
Members of the public sign the book of condolences for Martin McGuinness at the Mansion House in Dublin. Photo: Collins

In a hugely symbolic move, Arlene Foster will also attend the funeral of Mr McGuinness as the former deputy first minister is laid to rest.

The DUP leader will take her place alongside dignitaries from across Ireland, the UK and beyond in paying respects to the one-time IRA commander turned peace-making politician.

President Michael D Higgins and his predecessor Mary McAleese will also attend the requiem Mass, as will Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire will represent the UK government in the heart of Mr McGuinness's beloved Bogside neighbourhood in Derry.

Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Former Democratic Unionist leader Mr Robinson is also expected at the funeral.

Read more: Martin McGuinness: Proud IRA man hoped history would judge political legacy fairly

Thousands are expected to bring parts of Derry to a standstill as people say farewell to Mr McGuinness (66), who died in the early hours of Tuesday morning after a short illness.

Yesterday, Mr McGuinness's legacy was remembered at Stormont and in Westminster.

mourners leave Martin McGuinness’s home in Derry. Photo: REUTERS/Phil Noble
mourners leave Martin McGuinness’s home in Derry. Photo: REUTERS/Phil Noble

At UK prime minister's questions, Theresa May said she could never condone his violent past, but also reflected on his "indispensable" role in securing peace.

At a special session of the Stormont Assembly, Mr McGuinness's Sinn Féin successor Michelle O'Neill paid an emotional tribute, while Ms Foster acknowledged that Northern Ireland would "never see his like again".

Ms O'Neill told the Assembly her heart was broken yet bursting with pride.

"The legacy that Martin wished was for a better future based on equality and measured by the joy and laughter of all of our children," she said.

"So on behalf of Sinn Féin I rededicate our party to completing his life's work and to living through his legacy."

Peace

Ms Foster said Mr McGuinness's legacy was "complex and challenging".

She said his death was "hugely difficult" for victims of the IRA but said to many nationalists and republicans he was a "leader, friend or mentor".

The former first minister added: "It is precisely because of his past, because of his involvement with the IRA in the 1970s and 1980s, because of his influence within those circles, that he was able to play the role he played in bringing the republican movement towards using peaceful and democratic means and, because of all of that, I doubt we will ever see his like again."

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the Commons: "Martin played an immeasurable role in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland, and it's that peace we all want to endure."

In Derry, well-wishers queued outside the McGuinness family home in the Bogside area to pay their respects.

Mr McGuinness, who died from a rare heart condition, completed an extraordinary political journey from an IRA leader in Derry to sharing power and a remarkable friendship with his erstwhile foe, DUP leader Dr Ian Paisley.

He also struck up a warm relationship with Queen Elizabeth II, whom he praised for her contribution to peace.

She is to send a personal message to Mr McGuinness's family.

Read more: Martin McGuinness: The reaction in quotes...

Mr McGuinness's last major act as a politician was to pull down the power-sharing Executive at Stormont when he resigned as deputy first minister in January in protest at the DUP's handling of a green energy scandal.

With Stormont still without a power-sharing Executive or new speaker in the wake of the subsequent snap election, traditional protocols were overridden to enable MLAs to assemble to mark his death.

People lined up to sign a book of condolences in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings.

On Tuesday night, thousands of people gathered to pay tribute at a candlelit vigil in the republican heartland of west Belfast.

Irish Independent

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