Belfast Telegraph

Martin McGuinness funeral: Huge crowds expected to pay final tribute in Derry as debate rages over legacy

By Adrian Rutherford

In death as in life, Martin McGuinness's remarkable journey from IRA leader to peacemaker continued to deeply divide opinion yesterday.

As tributes poured in from political leaders in Belfast, London and beyond, there were strong words from some victims not prepared to forgive Mr McGuinness for his paramilitary past.

The former Deputy First Minister died at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry surrounded by his family in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The 66-year-old had been suffering from a rare heart condition.

Hundreds of people accompanied the coffin, draped in the Irish tricolour, as it was carried through the streets of his home city yesterday afternoon.

Family members and senior Sinn Fein figures, including party president Gerry Adams, were pallbearers along the journey to the family home in the city's Bogside.

Mr McGuinness's wife Bernie bore him past Free Derry Corner, which once proclaimed this staunchly republican area's autonomy from British rule. His two sons Fiachra and Emmett carried him into the house.

His funeral tomorrow 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, Longtower, at 2pm. He will be buried in the City Cemetery.

Mr McGuinness's IRA past raises the question of whether there will be paramilitary trappings at the funeral.

However, it is likely to be first and foremost a family service.

It is not yet known if Arlene Foster and Peter Robinson will attend the funeral.

His death comes in the final days of talks to resolve a political crisis that could bring down the devolved government which Mr McGuinness jointly led for almost a decade.

Sources said negotiations were expected to continue in some form ahead of Monday's deadline.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire urged the parties to keep Mr McGuinness's belief in the devolved institutions in mind.

The passing of one of the most important but controversial figures of the peace process drew tributes from Prime Ministers past and present, a former US President and senior figures within unionism, including Mr Robinson and Mrs Foster.

The Queen, whose handshake with Mr McGuinness in 2012 was a seismic moment in his transition to statesmen, sent a private message to Mr McGuinness' widow, Buckingham Palace said.

Yet families who lost loved ones through IRA violence were less forgiving.

Mr McGuinness admitted he was second in command of the IRA in Derry in the early 1970s.

Security sources believe he was chief of staff of the terror group from around the start of the 1980s until the end of the IRA's campaign of violence.

Stephen Gault, whose father Samuel died in the 1987 Poppy Day bombing, said he would remember Mr McGuinness only as a "terrorist".

Norman Tebbit, whose wife was paralysed when the IRA bombed the Conservative conference in Brighton, said he hoped Mr McGuinness is "parked in a particularly hot and unpleasant corner of hell for the rest of eternity".

Mr McGuinness's death followed a short battle with a rare genetic disease called amyloidosis, which can affect the heart.

The first indication that Mr McGuinness was unwell came when he pulled out of a trade mission to China in December.

After resigning as Deputy First Minister in January, in the wake of the 'cash for ash' scandal, he announced he was quitting front line politics to concentrate on recovering from what he said was "a very serious illness".

While Sinn Fein had remained silent about his health, it had become increasingly clear in recent days that Mr McGuinness was gravely ill. His death was announced around 6.20am yesterday morning.

Michelle O'Neill, Mr McGuinness's successor at the head of Sinn Fein in Stormont, described him as "an international statesman". "He was a man that was recognised as a peacemaker and a man that touched the lives of so many people," she said.

Party president Gerry Adams revealed his final conversation with Mr McGuinness was last week, before he travelled to the US, to pass on best wishes from people and update him on power-sharing talks in Belfast.

In later life Mr McGuinness completed an extraordinary political journey from IRA leader in Derry to sharing power and a remarkable friendship with former foe, Ian Paisley.

The late DUP leader's son Ian said yesterday that he had gone from viewing Mr McGuinness as the "godfather of the IRA" to considering him a personal friend. "I think the Christian view in life is how a person's journey started is of course important, but it is how it finishes which is actually more important," he said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said her thoughts were with the McGuinness family, including his wife and four children.

She added: "History will record differing views and opinions on the role Martin McGuinness played throughout the recent and not so recent past but history will also show that his contribution to the political and peace process was significant.

"He served the people of Northern Ireland as Deputy First Minister for nearly a decade and was pivotal in bringing the republican movement towards a position of using peaceful and democratic means.

"In recent years his contribution helped build the relative peace we now enjoy."

Peter Robinson, who served alongside Mr McGuinness as First Minister from 2008 to 2016, said they "had the best of personal relationships - keeping in touch even after my retirement and during his illness".

"I do not believe that any other republican could have performed the role he did during this transition.

"In the difficult days, we presently face, his influence will be greatly missed."

Prime Minister Theresa May said Mr McGuinness "played a defining role" in leading republicanism away from violence.

Key political figures in the peace process, including Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, credited his efforts to end violence.

"Once he became the peace maker he became it wholeheartedly," said Mr Blair.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "Martin will always be remembered for the remarkable political journey that he undertook in his lifetime."

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