Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness dies after short illness

President pays tribute to McGuinness' "immense contribution to the advancement of peace"

21st March, 2017
Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness dies after short illness
Martin McGuinness Pic: Getty
Martin McGuinness Pic: Getty

Martin McGuinness, the former IRA commander turned peacemaker, has died at the age of 66 after a short illness. Along with Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, McGuinness was the dominant figure in Irish Republicanism over the last four decades, serving most recently as the North's deputy first minister before stepping down in January over a row with the DUP.

One of seven children, he left school at 15 and later joined the IRA in his native Bogside at the start of the Troubles, becoming its most powerful figure in Derry. He was never convicted of any terrorist act but was twice imprisoned in the Republic for IRA membership.

But he went on to become Sinn Féin's chief negotiator in the peace process, leading the party into power sharing with the Democratic Unionist Party in 2007. Diagnosed with a rare heart disease in December, he died in Altnagelvin Hospital.

"It is with deep regret and sadness that we have learnt of the death of our friend and comrade Martin McGuinness who passed away in Derry during the night. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him," Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said.

"He was a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the re-unification of his country. But above all he loved his family and the people of Derry and he was immensely proud of both.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said McGuinness' passing was "a significant loss, not only to politics in Northern Ireland but to the wider political landscape on this island and beyond" while British prime minister Theresa May said he "made an essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace".

"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," Kenny said. "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."

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said McGuinness was a man who travelled on a long journey with great conviction and always showed "the ability to stretch himself in pursuit of peace, in pursuit of stability".

"We have lost somebody who embarked on a really significant personal journey from militant republican to deputy first minister and made a really great contribution to the Good Friday agreement," Flanagan told RTÉ Radio.

President Michael D Higgins also paid tribute to what he described as McGuinness' "immense contribution to the advancement of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland - a contribution which has rightly been recognised across all shades of opinion".

“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.

Former First Minister Arlene Foster offered her “sincere condolences, both personally and on behalf of our party, to the McGuinness family. The DUP leaders 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,” she added.

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