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21 March 2017

Martin McGuinness, former militant and peacemaker, dies aged 66

By Julia Rampen

Martin McGuinness, until recently Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister and an instrumental figure in the peace process, has died aged 66.

McGuinness, who had been battling a rare genetic disease, triggered an election when he resigned in January over a public spending scandal

His successor as Sinn Féin leader, Michelle O’Neill, tweeted: “My heart is broke this morning. We have lost a legend, a giant of a man. I’m very proud to say he was my friend and mentor.”

Arlene Foster, the Democratic Unionist Party leader, whose behaviour as First Minister triggered McGuinness’ resignation, nevertheless released a short statement saying “my thoughts and prayers are with his wife”.

McGuinness, a lifelong republican, joined the IRA as a young man and rose to become a regional leader, before being jailed. After his release, he became heavily involved in Sinn Féin.

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He became Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator in the Northern Irish peace process, and after the Good Friday Agreement was elected as a member of the Assembly (he was also elected as an MP but did not attend).

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As a politician, McGuinness surprised commentators by getting on so well with his unionist counterpart, the firebrand preacher Ian Paisley, that the two were dubbed “The Chuckle Brothers”. When Paisley died in 2014, McGuinness fought back tears as he announced he had “lost a friend”.

When he resigned in January, Paisley’s son, Ian Paisley Jr, who is a politician in the DUP publicly thanked McGuinness.

After news of McGuinness’ death broke, politicians he worked with began to pay tribute. Former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain described McGuinness as “pivotal” in the peace process.

Ireland’s President Michael D Higgins released a statement saying “the people across this island will miss the leadership he gave”.

The death of a man who was both a militant and peacemaker is likely to divide public reaction, with many on social media using the occasion to share historic articles on IRA attacks.

Norman Tebbit, who was injured along with his wife in the IRA bombing of the Conservative party conference, declared: “There can be no forgiveness without confession of sins.” Claims that McGuinness ordered murders while in the IRA continued to surface as late as 2014.

However, Colin Parry, whose son died in an IRA attack in Warrington, said he was “a quiet man totally committed to the peace process”.

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s spin doctor during the peace process, tweeted: “So sad Martin McGuinness has died. Some will never forgive his past but without him there would be no peace. The man I knew was a great guy.”