Belfast Telegraph

Martin McGuinness: Clinton leads the tributes to 'a man whose word was as good as gold'

By Noel McAdam

Bill Clinton led international reaction to the death of Martin McGuinness, saying the former Deputy First Minister had "devoted his life to his beloved Northern Ireland".

The ex-US President was a key player in the peace process in the 1990s.

He said: "When he decided to fight for peace, Martin was calm, courageous and direct.

"And when he gave his word, that was as good as gold."

Mr Clinton said his lasting memory would be Mr McGuinness's efforts as Education Minister to improve schools in Protestant areas.

In a tribute, he said: "As Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, his integrity and willingness to engage in principled compromise were invaluable in reaching the Good Friday Agreement.

"In the years that followed he played an even more important role in ensuring that the peace would last - personally overseeing the arms decommissioning, joining the new government as the first Education Minister, and later serving as Deputy First Minister, and doing it all with a sense of humour and fairness that inspired both his friends and former foes."

Mr Clinton said he and his wife Hillary had been "saddened" to hear of Mr McGuinness's passing.

He added: "My lasting memory of him will be the pride he took in his efforts to improve disadvantaged schools in unionist and Protestant communities.

"He believed in a shared future and refused to live in the past.

"That is a lesson all of us who remain should learn and live by. May he rest in peace."

Secretary of State James Brokenshire yesterday spoke of his "challenging exchanges" with Mr McGuinness - and their shared love of cricket.

Among the litany of tributes, Mr Brokenshire said: "We had a number of challenging exchanges but he would always be very personally respectful and very personally thoughtful.

"If you had a family member that wasn't very well, he would always comment and ask about that, and we also discovered a shared loved of cricket, which was something I hadn't anticipated.

"He was a very complex man with all sorts of different levels and layers.

"Yes, with a strong political belief on all of those issues of the past, but also on a very personal level a good sense of humour and always conducting his politics in a very respectful and thoughtful way.

"Also (I think of) his sense of optimism, his optimism for Northern Ireland, optimism for peace and stability and equally on that sense of economic prosperity and taking the lives of people forward in that way."

Prime Minister Theresa May said: "While I can never condone the path he took in the earlier part of his life, Martin McGuinness ultimately played a defining role in leading the republican movement away from violence.

"In doing so, he made an essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace."

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "The same fierceness he brought to the armed struggle, he brought to the cause of peace.

"That leadership and the courage in bringing his movement with him was for me, and will be, the defining legacy of Martin McGuinness."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "His passing represents a significant loss, not only to politics in Northern Ireland, but to the wider political landscape on this island and beyond.

"Not only did Martin come to believe that peace must prevail, he committed himself to working tirelessly to that end."

Irish President Michael D Higgins said he heard of the passing of Martin McGuinness "with great sadness".

He added: "The world of politics and the people across this island will miss the leadership he gave, shown most clearly during the difficult times of the peace process, and his commitment to the values of genuine democracy that he demonstrated in the development of the institutions in Northern Ireland."

Queen to send private message to widow

The Queen is to write to the widow of Martin McGuinness following his death.

Buckingham Palace confirmed a private message will be conveyed to Mr McGuinness's wife, Bernie.

He met the Queen on several occasions.

The two shook hands in 2012 at a charity event in Belfast at the Lyric Theatre.

After the meeting Mr McGuinness quipped: "I'm still a republican."

At Hillsborough Castle last June Mr McGuinness greeted the Queen by asking if she was well. She replied: "Well, I'm still alive."

In 2014 Mr McGuinness stood for a toast to the Queen, proposed by Irish President Michael D Higgins, as an orchestra played God Save The Queen.

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