Arlene Foster to attend Martin McGuinness funeral Mass in Derry
Arlene Foster will today attend the funeral of Martin McGuinness as the former Deputy First Minister is laid to rest in his home city.
In a hugely symbolic move, the DUP leader will take her place alongside dignitaries from across Ireland, the UK and beyond in paying respects to the one-time IRA commander turned peace-making politician. Former First Minister Peter Robinson and Bill Clinton will also attend Requiem Mass at St Columba's Church in Londonderry.
Former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt will also attend.
Mr McGuinness died in the early hours of Tuesday morning, surrounded by his family, after a short illness. He was 66.
Thousands of mourners are expected to attend the 2pm service, which takes place amid a huge security operation.
Mr McGuinness's IRA past has led to concern over paramilitary trappings at the funeral.
However, sources said he had been involved in planning the event before his death and was mindful of his legacy.
Explaining her decision to attend, Mrs Foster said: "Having worked with Martin McGuinness for almost a decade, I want to pay my respects to his family on the occasion of his death."
Mrs Foster added that while she cannot forget that "there will be empty chairs and broken hearts as a result of the terrorism Martin McGuinness supported", she also wanted "to acknowledge that there are many republicans and nationalists who looked to Martin McGuinness as a leader, friend or mentor, who will be feeling a very real sense of loss that he has died in this way at the relatively young age of 66".
Clearly anticipating criticism, she added: "I recognise that some will be critical of my decision to attend this funeral and I respect their view."
As funeral preparations continued yesterday:
- Political leaders in Westminster and Belfast commended Mr McGuinness's contribution to the peace process;
- People queued outside the family home in the Bogside in Derry to pay their respects;
- A row broke out after a book of condolence was opened in Enniskillen, the scene of the 1987 Poppy Day massacre.
Today's funeral is expected to draw thousands of mourners.
It will leave the family home at 1.20pm ahead of Requiem Mass at St Columba's Church at 2pm.
Fr Michael Canny will be the chief celebrant and will give the homily.
Bishop Donal McKeown, the Bishop of Derry, will preside at the mass.
Afterwards the remains of Mr McGuinness will be interred in the City Cemetery.
Irish president Michael D Higgins and his predecessor Mary McAleese are due to attend, as will Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire will represent the British Government.
Yesterday Mr McGuinness's legacy was remembered at Stormont and in Westminster.
At Prime Minister's Questions, Theresa May said that she could never condone his violent past, but also reflected on his "indispensable" role in securing peace.
In Belfast, Mr McGuinness's Stormont successor Michelle O'Neill hailed him as a "political visionary".
However, TUV leader Jim Allister said "his hands drip with the blood of the innocent".
Mr McGuinness's death followed a short battle with amyloidosis, a rare genetic disease which can affect the heart.
BY ADRIAN RUTHERFORD