McGuinness leaves field clear for ‘new generation of republicans’
Despite crisis, former deputy first minister is optimistic, saying dialogue only way forward
Martin McGuinness, after spending almost 10 years as deputy first minister, has resigned from active politics. He does so at a time when the Northern Executive is no longer functioning, the Assembly is about to be dissolved and with divisive elections fixed for March 2nd.
The 66-year-old former IRA leader who is being treated for a rare condition called amyloidosis said that “after long and careful consideration” he had decided it was “time for a new generation of republicans to lead us into this election and the negotiations that will follow”.
“Unfortunately, I am not physically able to continue in my current role and have therefore decided to make way for a new leader,” he said.
Mr McGuinness, Sinn Féin’s leader in the North, resigned as deputy first minister last Monday week, in protest at former first minister Arlene Foster’s refusal to temporarily stand aside to allow an investigation into the cash for ash scandal that ultimately could cost the northern taxpayer up to £490 million (€567 million).
That move effectively forced Ms Foster from office and led to northern secretary James Brokenshire this week calling Assembly elections.
Nonetheless, one of the first to issue a statement wishing Mr McGuinness well was Ms Foster.
She described Mr McGuinness “as a major figure at Stormont”, hoped that he would have a “speedy recovery” and that he and his wife Bernie would enjoy time with their family “free from the relentless focus of public life”.
‘Good things achieved’
“While the current political situation is not what any of us would wish and there is much work to be done to return stable government to Northern Ireland, I nonetheless value the good things achieved by the outgoing Executive and the contribution made by Mr McGuinness to it,” said Ms Foster.
Mr McGuinness said that as a Sinn Féin activist he would 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”.
And he expressed hope for the future notwithstanding the political collapse. “Despite the current difficulties and challenges, I am confident and optimistic about the future,” he said. “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.”
Acknowledging his health problems, he said, “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.”
The disease for which he is receiving treatment, amyloidosis, is a group of rare conditions caused by deposits of abnormal protein – amyloid – in tissues and organs throughout the body.
He reaffirmed his aspiration for a united Ireland. “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,” he said.
“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.”