McGuinness took 'a lot of flak' for some decisions made in peace efforts - Mid Ulster MP

McGuinness and Foster in Cookstown
McGuinness and Foster in Cookstown

Martin McGuinness "put his heart and soul" into the role of deputy First Minister and even when faced with difficulties took "bold decisive actions", says his predecessor in Mid Ulster.

Paying tribute to his party colleague after his retirement announcement, Francie Molloy, MP for the area has paid tribute to the former deputy First Minister.

"Martin McGuinness has been a remarkable character in Irish political life over many, many years. I cannot overstate the influence he has had on moving our society from conflict to a society where it is recognised that every individual has political power when they use their vote," he said.

"When Martin stood for election in Mid Ulster in 1997 he was not just taking on the challenge of unseating Willie McCrea, but he was setting out the stall that Republicans were the people seeking to make the peace process work.

"Despite the actions of successive British governments in stalling negotiations and the peace process, the people sent a clear message that it was time for change.

"That election signalled a sea-change in the politics of Mid Ulster and across Ireland which was to follow over the next decade. It was a message to the British government that you were going to have to negotiate with Republicans not through any back channels or intermediaries but directly, face-to-face and in a way different to everything that had gone before.

"Martin McGuinness took on the mantle of the lead negotiator, not for the title or the publicity but for the very clear reason that this was a unique opportunity to bring about lasting peace in Ireland. It was a role that he put his heart and soul into."

But he said it wasn't always easy for Mr McGuinness, who "never shirked his responsibility or walked away from the challenges of the job".

"He didn’t shy away from saying it as he seen it and he took a lot of flak for some of those decisions – but he was always clear that leadership required bold decisions and decisive actions" He continued.

"The political outreach to Unionism in the decision to meet the British Queen was never going to be an easy one for any republican.

"However it was the view of Martin McGuinness that it was the right thing to do at the time – making peace with your enemies or the heads of state that you have politically fought against all of your life challenges not only yourself but also challenges your opponents that they too have to stand up and be counted.

"Unfortunately political unionist leadership in the north has always been begrudging and very few have opened their eyes and their minds to the fact that equality and respect is something that they have to face up to. Many still consider themselves in the mould of old house unionism, thankfully that time is over.

"The decision to resign as Joint First Minister should have sent unionism a very clear message that they are not masters of the big house any longer and nationalists and republicans will not allow them to treat our communities as second class citizens," he added.

"The decision by Martin to step down from elected politics must have come as one of the most difficult decisions, but perhaps one of the easier ones also. He has been the architect of change in our society, the builder of peace.

"Martin McGuinness has always been a giant of a figure in Republican circles, he has been recognised the world over as a sound political statesman who could deliver for all the people of Ireland, in the spirit of the 1916 Proclamation.

"Personally I pay tribute and thank Martin McGuinness for all he has done – for the Republican struggle, for Sinn Féin and most importantly for the people of Ireland. Go raibh mile maith agat."