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Martin McGuinness receives heartfelt tributes from Bertie Ahern and... Ian Paisley Jr

The former First Minister’s son said that by his cooperative actions with the DUP McGuinness had doubtless “saved lives” and “made countless lives better”.

paisley Ian Paisley Jr Source: Screengrab/BBC

Updated 9.30am

RETIRING DEPUTY FIRST Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness has received a heartfelt tribute from something of an unlikely source – Ian Paisley Jr.

Speaking on BBC’s The View, the DUP MP for North Antrim said he wanted to “wish Martin McGuinness well in his retirement”.

“I hope he has time to enjoy his retirement with his wife and family.”

The second thing I want to say is ‘thank you’, and I think it’s important to 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 have been for the work that he put in, especially with my father, at the beginning of this long journey.

Paisley Jr, who currently occupies his father’s former seat at the UK Parliament in Westminster, has in his time been one of the most stridently outspoken of unionists, making his conciliatory comments all the more remarkable.

His statement reflects the remarkable turnaround in relations between his father and McGuinness, who became renowned for the closeness of their relationship when acting as First Minister and Deputy First Minister between 2007 and 2008, a situation that could barely have been comprehended during the darkest days of Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’.

In commending McGuinness, he suggested that some of the spirit of co-operation demonstrated by Paisley’s father  and the Sinn Féin politician 10 years ago would be quite welcome in Northern Ireland today.

“Perhaps if we got back to some of that foundation work of building a proper relationship and recognising what partnership actually means we can get out of the mess that we are currently in,” he said.

I do not believe it is necessary for Ian Paisley, or any unionist, to qualify every comment with the fact that (a) I’m a Protestant so I think something different to the Catholic beside me, and (b) I’m a unionist and a loyalist so I think something different to the nationalist and the republican sitting beside me, can we please get over that.
Everyone else out there has gotten over it. I think the sooner we do that, then me saying thank you to someone I am diametrically opposed to (will be fine).
Then I can say thank you to them honestly and humbly and recognise that the remarkable journey that Martin McGuinness went on has not only saved lives, but has also made the lives of countless people better in Northern Ireland because of the partnership government that we worked in and put together.
I think it’s incredibly important to say that, and it’s important that I say it.

Martin McGuinness retired from politics yesterday evening due to health reasons. He will not stand for Sinn Féin in the snap election due to take place on 2 March.

‘A huge figure’

This morning former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern likewise paid a glowing tribute to McGuinness, who he had dealt with intensely during the Northern Irish peace process negotiations of the mid-to-late 1990s.

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Speaking to Cathal Mac Coille on RTE’s Morning Ireland, Ahern said McGuinness was a “huge figure in moving from the Troubles to what is now a very peaceful time in Northern Ireland”.

“No doubt he was a hard man, if 10% of the stories are true, but as a negotiator, he believed in his cause, but he was also courteous, you could have some fun with him,” he said.

He was a person you could talk to on very many fronts. I hope to do that again, I hope he makes a full recovery, he’s a very good personality.

The former Taoiseach described McGuinness as a man “with loads of interests”.

“His big hobby is fly fishing which surprised many people and particularly the British government,” he said.

When discussing Ian Paisley Jr’s tribute, Ahern said “Ian Paisley genuinely believed he (McGuinness) was a good person who had moved his position from where he was, and that’s a great tribute to Martin”.

Once we had agreed on the Good Friday Agreement, and then the St Andrews Agreement, there was no-one more passionate in seeing it through. As far as he was concerned once you had agreed, then you had agreed.

Read: Who do Sinn Féin have lined up to fill Martin McGuinness’ shoes?

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