‘I think people who met him found it hard not to like him’

Review of the year 2017: Death of Martin McGuinness

Former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness has died at Derry's Altnagelvin Hospital aged 66. He had been receiving treatment for a rare health condition.

 

When Martin McGuinness said he was resigning as Deputy First Minister on January 10th this year, thus bringing down Stormont, it wasn’t the announcement that shocked journalists but the deathly frail condition of the man making the announcement.

Before that it wasn’t generally known how ill he was but here it was clear that Martin McGuinness, who for some 47 years – for bad and for good as an IRA and Sinn Féin leader – was at the heart of Irish society could hardly survive the rare heart condition that had assailed him.

Everyone knew his history and people had different views on that history but regardless there was a sense of impending and irreplaceable loss. People recognised the political miracle that for almost 10 years he brought about with Ian Paisley.

Peter Sheridan, head of Cooperation Ireland and former senior PSNI officer who McGuinness tried to have killed on three occasions, said about the Bogside man: “I think people who met him found it hard not to like him.”

At the MacGill Summer School in Glenties this year, DUP Assembly member Edwin Poots acknowledged this fact. “The theory that we may not be in the political difficulties that are currently being experienced had Martin McGuinness still been present is one that has been put forward by a number of people, including my former party leader Peter Robinson, ” he said, while adding, “It is not a theory that I find myself able to disagree very substantially with.”

McGuinness demonstrated that personality, generosity and humanity allied to political acumen and courage are critical attributes regardless of what went before. It was fitting that most of his benign work was carried out with the late DUP leader Ian Paisley, a politician who also left a lot of bad history behind him before deciding to fully and exuberantly share power with McGuinness.

We miss all that. Such qualities are now badly required from the current generation of leaders such as Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill if the powersharing administration that ran from 2007 to January this year and that McGuinness helped create and sustain, but ultimately walked away from, is to be reinstated.

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