Tuesday 16 January 2018

'I will be an Irish Republican until the day I die' - McGuinness won't contest election due to health

Martin McGuinness during an interview with PA. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Martin McGuinness during an interview with PA. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Martin McGuinness making the announcement on RTE News
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

FORMER Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness has confirmed that he won't seek re-election to the Northern Ireland Assembly for health reasons.

Mr McGuinness - who is suffering from a rare illness - resigned as deputy first minister last week over the 'cash for ash' controversy.

He denied he was stepping down from that role due to his health.

However, this evening he confirmed that he won't seek re-election to the Assembly, saying he's "not physically able to continue" in his role as leader of Sinn Féin in the North.

This evening he held an impromptu press conference in Derry where he insisted he would continue to work with the party.

"I'm not retiring, I will be an Irish Republican until the day I die, I will work for Sinn Féin until the day I die."

Senior MLAs such as health minister Michelle O'Neill, Conor Murphy, Gerry Kelly and finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, have all been tipped as potential successors.

In a statement, Mr McGuinness said that last year both he and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said they had a plan in place for "transition to a new leadership".

Martin McGuinness addressing Nationalists outside the Guildhall in Derry after a march. Photo: Brian Little/PA Wire
Martin McGuinness addressing Nationalists outside the Guildhall in Derry after a march. Photo: Brian Little/PA Wire
Martin McGuinness speaking at an election press conference in Belfast. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Prime Minister Tony Blair (left) meeting Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams (right) and chief negotiator Martin McGuinness in 10 Downing Street. Photo: Richard Pohle/PA Wire
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (left) and First Minister Peter Robinson (right) greeting US President George Bush at Stormont Castle in Belfast. Photo: Stephen Wilson/PA Wire
Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein standing beside a sentry box outside Hillsborough Castle before a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, arriving at Stormont. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire
First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness smiling after being sworn in as ministers of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams (right) and Martin McGuinness carrying the coffin of former senior IRA commander Brian Keenan in west Belfast. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Martin McGuinness leaving 10 Downing St after a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and his deputy Martin McGuinness (left) with party aides outside No10 Downing Street before meeting Prime Minister Tony Blair for peace talks. Photo: Adam Butler/PA Wire
Sinn Fein MP Martin McGuinness with party colleagues during a press conference at Stormont. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness speaking to the media after a meeting with Government officials at Castle Buildings, Stormont. Photo: PA Wire
Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein standing beside a table where his votes are being counted after the Northern Ireland Assembly election in Ballymena, Co Antrim. Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire
Martin McGuinness, leading Sinn Fein negotiator in the peace process, attending a news conference in the House of Commons. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Former US President Bill Clinton with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at the University of Ulster Magee campus in Derry. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness in 1996. Photo: David Giles/PA Wire
Former US President Bill Clinton (right)arriving at University of Ulster Magee Campus in Derry to meet First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (centre). Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire
Martin McGuinness walking past a Bloody Sunday mural in the Bogside in Co Derry. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness looking at a smashed window at the City Church in the University area of Belfast. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Martin McGuinness (left) and Gerry Adams addressing the media after their meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness in 1995 addressing a Republican rally in Pomeroy, Co Tyrone. Photo: PA Wire
Martin McGuinness outside the Guildhall in Co Derry after giving evidence to the Saville Inquiry, into the Bloody Sunday tribunal. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Martin McGuinness at the announcement of the first preference votes in the Irish Presidential Election at the count centre at Dublin castle. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

"For my part, it was my intention to step aside in May this year which would have marked 10 years since I entered government with Ian Paisley as joint leader of the northern Executive.

"Unfortunately, my health and the current crisis have overtaken this timeframe and I am stepping down from my role to make way for a new leader of Sinn Féin in the North," Mr McGuinness said.

He said he is being treated by "a superb team of national health service doctors and nurses".

But he added that he wants to "be open and honest with my friends and colleagues in Sinn Féin, with the electorate of Foyle and with the wider community beyond my own constituency.

"I also want to be fair to my family and to the teams of carers who are doing their best to provide me with the treatment I now require to deal with this very serious medical condition which I am very determined to overcome.

"Unfortunately, I am not physically able to continue in my current role and have therefore decided to make way for a new leader.

"This election is the right time for me to move aside so I will not seek re-election to the Assembly," Mr McGuinness said.

He said that a new leader will lead the party into the election campaign and the negotiations that will follow.

Mr McGuinness said the North's institutions are "in a deep crisis as a result of recent events and we are facing into an election when the people will have their say."

He added: "After long and careful consideration, I have decided that it is time for a new generation of republicans to lead us into this election and the negotiations that will follow."

He said it remains his ambition "to break the link with Britain and to unite all who share this island."

The former IRA commander said he was "privilleged" to be "part of a Sinn Féin leadership that delivered peace and radical change."

He said he will continue to play a role as a Sinn Féin activist and said: "Despite the current difficulties and challenges, I am confident and optimistic about the future.

"We have faced more difficult times and found a way forward," he added.

Tributes

His announcement was met with a series of tributes. His party colleague Gerry Adams tweeted that he and two others were crying in the car.

He later added a statement expressing his heartfelt thanks to Mr McGuinness.

"He and I first met over 45 years ago behind the barricades in Free Derry and we have been friends and comrades since that time."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny issued a statement tis evening commending Mr McGuinness.

He admitted that he and the Sinn Féin member "may not always have seen eye-to-eye on every issue".

"However I readily acknowledge the remarkable political journey that he has undertaken. 

"I know that Martin remains firmly committed to delivering a peaceful and prosperous society for all of the people of Northern Ireland.

"He was one of the key architects of the Good Friday Agreement, and a tireless and committed champion of the Peace Process.

"I have appreciated working closely with Martin in recent years, including in particular in the work of the North South Ministerial Council. 

"I wish Martin and his family well for the future and I hope that his health will now be his absolute priority in the time ahead."

Former Irish president Mary McAleese said it has been a "journey of remarkable leadership".

"His loss to northern politics is huge, as a consequence. He is the manifestation of the level of change required in order to establish peace."

She added: "His contribution has been enormous. And it's desperately sad that he will be missing from the frontline of northern politics."

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said Mr McGuinness's decision not to contest the election "with an equal measure of understanding and disappointment".

He said those who worked with Mr McGuinness will wish him and his family well, and will miss his "positive contribution to political discourse on this island".

Mr Flanagan said Mr McGuinness was "unstinting" in his efforts "to secure the stability of the power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland and to advance reconciliation between the unionist and nationalist communities."

He said that Mr McGuinness "sought to reach out to those who – for understandable reasons – would have regarded his past with fear, anger and suspicion."

He added: “Martin and I come from very different, and indeed mutually critical, political traditions. Yet, in the two and a half years that I worked directly with Martin, I experienced a political leader who was determined to make the future of Northern Ireland, and its people, so much better than its past.

"I hope that Martin’s political legacy – of a resilient and generous commitment to the interlocking institutions of the Good Friday Agreement – will encourage all of Northern Ireland’s political parties to emulate his efforts to consolidate partnership government."

Read the full statement here:

"Last year, Gerry Adams and I confirmed that we had a plan in place for transition to a new leadership. For my part, it was my intention to step aside in May this year which would have marked 10 years since I entered government with Ian Paisley as joint leader of the northern Executive.

"Unfortunately, my health and the current crisis have overtaken this timeframe and I am stepping down from my role to make way for a new leader of Sinn Féin in the North.

"Over the last ten years I have worked tirelessly to make power-sharing work.

"The institutions are now in a deep crisis as a result of recent events and we are facing into an election when the people will have their say.

"After long and careful consideration, I have decided that it is time for a new generation of republicans to lead us into this election and the negotiations that will follow.

"Sinn Féin is a party in constant development, renewal and evolution.

"Our struggle for freedom and equality stretches back to the United Ireland movement of the 1790s. I am deeply proud of the democratic influences that Ulster Presbyterianism contributed to the Irish republican tradition.

"It remains my own personal and political ambition to break the link with Britain and to unite all who share this island under the common banner of Irish men and women.

"I am deeply proud of the generation of Irish republicans that came before us. A generation that kept the vision of freedom alive through the difficult post-partition era when they faced unrelenting repression and persecution from the Ulster Unionist Party in an apartheid Orange state.

"I have been privileged to be part of the generation that broke that apartheid state apart and to have been part of a Sinn Féin leadership that delivered peace and radical change. There are more republicans today than at any time in my generation.

"I look across the party north and south and see energy, determination, talent and potential new leaders emerging who, I am confident, will deliver equality, respect and Irish unity.

"My obvious heath issues are being addressed by a superb team of national health service doctors and nurses.

"But I want to be open and honest with my friends and colleagues in Sinn Féin, with the electorate of Foyle and with the wider community beyond my own constituency. I also want to be fair to my family and to the teams of carers who are doing their best to provide me with the treatment I now require to deal with this very serious medical condition which I am very determined to overcome.

"Unfortunately, I am not physically able to continue in my current role and have therefore decided to make way for a new leader.

"This election is the right time for me to move aside so I will not seek re-election to the Assembly.

'I have full confidence in the strong team that we have built in the Assembly to carry forward the work of building institutions that deliver for all our people on the basis of equality, respect and integrity.

"A new leader will lead us into this Assembly election and into the negotiations that will inevitably follow on from that election.

"We need the strongest Sinn Féin team if we are to ensure the progressive change which is now an essential next step forward and our new leader will have my full and undivided support in the weeks and months ahead.

"We are on a journey to unite our people and unite our island.

"As a Sinn Féin activist I will continue to play a full and enthusiastic part in that essential process of building bridges, of dialogue and of reconciliation between our still divided people.

"Despite the current difficulties and challenges, I am confident and optimistic about the future. We have faced more difficult times and found a way forward.

"As a society we have made enormous progress.

"We must continue to move forward. Dialogue is the only option."

Online Editors

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