Tributes paid to Martin McGuinness on retirement
Ian Paisley jnr urges DUP to follow example set by NI Deputy First Minister
The MP son of Ian Paisley has paid a glowing tribute to Martin McGuinness and urged the current Democratic Unionist leadership to follow the example set by the Sinn Féin veteran and his father.
Ian Paisley Jnr said he wanted to offer “humble and honest” thanks to Mr McGuinness after he announced his decision to quit frontline politics, praising the former IRA commander for “saving lives” during his personal journey to peace.
It was a remarkably warm tribute, which contrasted markedly from the more qualified reaction from current DUP leader Arlene Foster.
Mr Paisley suggested the current generation of Stormont leaders needed to learn the lessons of the fledgling days of now crisis-hit Sinn Féin/DUP coalition.
In remarks that will be interpreted by some as a pointed challenge to his party leader Mrs Foster, Mr Paisley said his status as a unionist or protestant should not mean he had to qualify a tribute to a republican figurehead.
He said people who adopted that mindset needed to “get over it”.
Mr Paisley denied he was making a coded pitch for the DUP leadership.
Wishing Mr McGuinness a happy retirement, he told BBC Northern Ireland’s The View: “I am going to say thank you and I think it is important that we actually do reflect on the fact that we would not be where we are in Northern Ireland in terms of having stability, peace and the opportunity to rebuild our country if it hadn’t been for the work he did put in, especially with my father at the beginning of this long journey.
“I am going to acknowledge the fact that perhaps if we got back to some of that foundation work of building a proper relationship and recognising what partnership actually means then we can get out of the mess we are currently in.”
Mr McGuinness stepped away from the political stage, citing his health problems, shortly after a bitter rift between the DUP and Sinn Fein triggered the collapse of the powersharing executive in Belfast.
While a green energy scheme financial scandal precipitated the meltdown, Mr McGuinness has also accused Mrs Foster and other DUP members of showing disrespect to the Irish culture and failing to reciprocate republican gestures of reconciliation.
Asked if Mrs Foster and the DUP leadership had got it wrong, North Antrim MP Mr Paisley said: “If people do not learn lessons from what we do politically we are destined to repeat mistakes.
“Lessons better be learned at the present time, so that mistakes that have been made are not repeated.”
Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said there was no doubt that Martin McGuinness is a hard man “even if only ten per cent of the stories are true.” He wished Mr McGuinness a speedy recovery. “As a negotiator he argued passionately and believed in his cause, but you could also chat with him,” Mr Ahern told RTE’s Morning Ireland. “We would talk about soccer – he’s a big Derry City soccer fan, and about the form of Derry’s GAA team. He’s also a keen fly fisherman, which surprised a lot of the British.”
He added: “The system in the North is not like a coalition government here. It is based on power sharing. It means that the two people at the top genuinely have to trust and work closely together. Martin McGuinness had that with Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson, but that broke down with Arlene Foster.”
Kate Carroll, the widow of the first murdered PSNI officer Stephen Carroll, said Martin McGuinness “put his neck on the line” when he condemned dissidents as traitors.
Carroll was officer was shot dead by the Continuity IRA in Craigavon, County Armagh, in March 2009. He died of a single gunshot wound to the head as he sat in an unmarked police car while colleagues attended a 999 call in the Lismore Manor area.
Mr McGuinness, speaking as deputy first minister, received a death threat after branding the killers “traitors”. Ms Carroll said: “I think he put his neck on the line at that particular time, to say that. People were aware that he was trying to make a change.
SIPTU president Jack O’Connor expressed “deep regret” at Mr McGuinness’s retirement from public office. “Working people across the country have reason to be grateful to Martin McGuinness for his central role in bringing to an end the decades long and tragic conflict in the North. He displayed courage and vision in his role as a negotiator and political leader in the quest for a peaceful future,” Mr O’Connor said.