Tuesday 21 November 2017

McGuinness's family asks for privacy over fears for health

Talks begin between DUP and Sinn Féin to resolve impasse over power-sharing

Former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Claire O'Boyle

The family of Martin McGuinness yesterday appealed for privacy amid reports about the failing health of the former deputy first minister.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams refused to be drawn on reports that Mr McGuinness had spent the past two weeks in hospital and asked that a request for privacy be respected.

The 'Irish News' yesterday reported the former Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland, who was replaced by Michelle O'Neill, had been admitted to hospital some time ago.

Mr Adams would not comment on his colleague's health as Sinn Féin unveiled its new Assembly team at Stormont, but he did send his best wishes to Mr McGuinness, his wife Bernie and family.

Read more: Concerns for Martin McGuinness after reports he has spent two weeks in hospital

Former IRA chief Mr McGuinness did not play a part in the election campaign he triggered with his resignation in January and did not appear at the Derry count on Friday where his party triumphed.

Mr McGuinness was not seen at the polls with his wife on Thursday, but his son Fiachra tweeted that his father had "voted Sinn Féin 1 and 2". It is not known whether he voted in person, by postal vote or by proxy.

Paying tribute to her predecessor after topping the poll in Mid-Ulster, where Mr McGuinness was once MP, Ms O'Neill said shortly after her election: "The 26,207 people who voted for Sinn Féin in Mid-Ulster are sending 26,207 good wishes to Martin McGuinness."

Meanwhile, under-fire DUP leader Arlene Foster has called for a fresh attempt at unionist unity, saying a catastrophic Assembly election must serve as a "wake-up" call for unionism.

Ms Foster said that if a formal agreement could not be reached, there should be a deal on transfer pacts between pro-union parties.

She also hit out at Mike Nesbitt's declaration that he would transfer his vote to the SDLP, saying it had damaged unionism.

Writing in the 'Belfast Telegraph', Ms Foster warned that her party's total vote in last Friday's poll would not be enough to win the next election.

"Ideally, I would like to see a renewed attempt to create unionist unity where the parties would come together," she said.

"Failing that, we need to agree transfer pacts where unionists transfer down the ballot paper to each other.

"Mike Nesbitt's transfer policy did enormous damage to the UUP, but it also hurt unionism more widely.

"This must be addressed if unionism is to remain as the dominant voice in Northern Ireland."

Sinn Féin's Stormont leader Ms O'Neill said the election had delivered a clear message to the DUP.

Also writing today, she said: "We rallied the people to get behind us to stand up against the toxic culture of DUP incompetence, against corruption and arrogance in government, and against Brexit.

Read more: Arlene Foster faces revolt as third of DUP MLAs want her to step aside and save institutions

"The unionist majority in the Assembly is gone and the notion of a perpetual unionist majority has been demolished."

The DUP finished just one seat in front of Sinn Féin, with the parties separated by less than 1,200 votes.

It has seen pressure mount on Ms Foster, who was yesterday forced to deny reports of a revolt within her party. Sources said there was anger that a full party meeting had not been called in the wake of Friday's poor election showing.

One described the last few days as a full-scale crisis for the party and unionism in general.

Ms Foster was accompanied by just deputy leader Nigel Dodds, who does not even sit in the Assembly, as she faced the cameras yesterday.

In contrast, Mr Adams was flanked by Sinn Féin's full Assembly team at a media briefing at Stormont.

Yesterday talks got under way to resolve the impasse, as a DUP delegation met Sinn Féin, with more discussions due today. Later, Ms Foster denied reports that she was facing a potential revolt from inside the DUP.

"There's no revolt," she said.

"I've had a very good meeting with my party officers, I'll meet with my full assembly team [today] and talk to a lot of my other colleagues as well.

"So there's no problem, no problem at all."

In today's article, Ms Foster described the poll results as a reality check.

"This election has undoubtedly been a wake-up call for unionism," she said.

Irish Independent

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