McGuinness a freedom fighter, not a terrorist, says Adams

Sinn Féin president urges ‘respect for all’ in oration at former minister’s funeral

With the death of Martin McGuinness Ireland lost a hero, Derry a son, Sinn Féin a leader, and his family a loving, caring and dedicated husband, father and grandfather, Gerry Adams said in his graveside oration for his friend of 45 years.

The Sinn Féin president speaking at the republican plot at the Derry City Cemetery where Mr McGuinness was laid to rest said he had lost a dear friend and comrade, and a man of humanity and compassion.

"Martin was a formidable person of the rarest kind – one who did extraordinary things in extraordinary times," he told the thronged cemetery. He said Mr McGuinness would not be surprised by some of the commentary about him, and people were entitled to their opinions particularly "those who suffered at the hands of the IRA". Mr Adams said his friend could not answer back so he wanted to answer for him.

“Martin McGuinness was not a terrorist. Martin McGuinness was a freedom fighter. He was also a political prisoner, a negotiator, a peacemaker, a healer. But while he had a passion for politics Martin was not one dimensional. He had many interests, especially in nature, in spirituality, and he was famously and hugely interested in people.”

Mr Adams said that in the early stages of his illness Mr McGuinness had planned to write a book but the severity of his illness prevented that happening. He said he was born into an “Orange state which did not want him or his kind”, adding that “the Orange state’s violent suppression” of civil rights and “the emerging conflict propelled Martin into a life less ordinary”.

Mr Adams said that from reading some commentary one would think that Mr McGuinness had a "road to Damascus conversion" by abandoning his "republican principles, his former comrades in the IRA and joined the political establishment".

“To suggest this is to miss the truth of his leadership and the essence of his humanity. There was not a bad Martin McGuinness or a good Martin McGuinness. There was simply a man, like every other decent man or woman, doing his best.

“Martin believed in freedom and equality, He resisted by armed actions those who withheld these rights, and then he helped shape conditions in which it was possible to advocate for these entitlements by unarmed strategies.

“Throughout it all Martin remained committed to the same ideals that led to his becoming a republican activist in the first instance – the pursuit of Irish unification, freedom, respect, equality and respect for all.

“Martin believed that the British government’s involvement in Ireland, and the partition of our island, are at the root of our divisions. He was absolutely 100 per cent right about that.”

Mr Adams said that without Mr McGuinness “there could not have been the type of peace process we’ve had”. He said Mr McGuinness’s mantra was never to give up.

“He was also tough, assertive and unmovable when that was needed, dogmatic at times. Wimps don’t make good negotiators – neither do so-called hardmen. Martin learned the need for flexibility,” he added.

Mr Adams said that over many years of working together he and Mr McGuinness learned that "advances in struggle require creativity and imagination and a willingness to take initiatives". The Sinn Féin president referred to his partnership and friendship with Ian Paisley, and how he met Queen Elizabeth on a number of occasions even though this "discommoded" some republicans.

“That is the real test of leadership – to reach beyond your own base. It is a test that Martin passed every time.”

‘Respect and tolerance’

Mr Adams made an appeal to unionists. “Let us learn to like each other, to be friends, to celebrate and enjoy our differences and to do so on the basis of common sense, respect and tolerance for each other and everyone else – as equals,” he said.

“Let me appeal also to nationalists and republicans – do nothing to disrespect our unionist neighbours or anyone else. Stand against bigotry, against sectarianism, but respect our unionist neighbours. Reach out to them. Lead, as Martin did, by example.”

Mr Adams said people could be proud of Mr McGuinness, that he was “another of those great and remarkable men and women who have stood up for Irish freedom and for what they believed to be right”, and that he believed a “genuinely new Ireland is possible”. He said the challenge now facing republicans was to “build a mass movement for positive change across all 32 counties on our island.”

"Facing that challenge we are the stronger because of Martin. So, don't mourn. Celebrate and organise. That's what Martin would want. It is now over to us to take the struggle from where he has left it. Like Bobby Sands he believed that our revenge should be the laughter of our children.

“By his example he showed us that it is possible to build peace out of conflict, to build a better and more equal future based on fairness, and to build unity out of division. Martin will continue to inspire and encourage us in the time ahead.”

Mr Adams said that Mr McGuinness described his wife Bernie as his Rock of Cashel and said he was lucky to have her as a wife. "Bernie was also lucky to have him. So were the rest of us." And he concluded, "We salute Martin McGuinness. We applaud Martin McGuinness. Up the Republic."

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times