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Martin McGuinness: I have decided to make way for a new leader

Sinn Fein veteran not seeking re-election to the Assembly

By Claire Williamson

Martin McGuinness has said the forthcoming election is the "right time" to make way for a new Sinn Fein leader in Northern Ireland as he announced he is not seeking re-election to the Assembly.

The Sinn Fein veteran who resigned last week as deputy First Minister after holding the position since 2007, has suffered ill health of late.

Mr McGuinness said it was initially his intention to stand down in May but that his health and the current political crisis had "overtaken the timeframe".

He added that he was not "physically able" to continue in his current role.

"I have to be honest with myself," he said. "This has taken a toll on me in the course of recent times and the reality is that I’m not physically able to put the energy and the effort that is needed into this election."

<< Martin McGuinness full statement >>

The former deputy First Minister stood down over the DUP's handing of the Renewable Heating Incentive scandal forcing a snap election which will be held on March 2.

Over the course of his political career he has transitioned from a former IRA commander to being the face of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland.

Mr McGuinness said: "I am stepping down from my role to make way for a new leader of Sinn Fein in the North.

"Over the last ten years I have worked tirelessly to make power-sharing work.

"The institutions are now in a deep crisis as a result of recent events and we are facing into an election when the people will have their say.

"After long and careful consideration, I have decided that it is time for a new generation of republicans to lead us into this election and the negotiations that will follow."

DUP leader and former First Minister Arlene Foster paid tribute to Mr McGuinness as a "major figure" at Stormont.

"As Deputy First Minister for almost a decade Martin McGuinness has been a major figure at Stormont.  While never forgetting the past I believe the work at Stormont provided the foundations for our relative peace today" she said.

Addressing his serious health issues Mr McGuinness said that he was determined to overcome them.

He said: "My obvious heath issues are being addressed by a superb team of national health service doctors and nurses.

"But I want to be open and honest with my friends and colleagues in Sinn Fein, with the electorate of Foyle and with the wider community beyond my own constituency.

"I also want to be fair to my family and to the teams of carers who are doing their best to provide me with the treatment I now require to deal with this very serious medical condition which I am very determined to overcome.

"Unfortunately, I am not physically able to continue in my current role and have therefore decided to make way for a new leader. "

Mr McGuinness said he hopes to continue to play a "full and enthusiastic part" in "building bridges, dialogue and reconciliation" as a Sinn Fein activitist.

He said: "Despite the current difficulties and challenges, I am confident and optimistic about the future. We have faced more difficult times and found a way forward."

REACTION IN FULL

DUP leader Arlene Foster

"Martin McGuinness and I have had our political differences and we come from very different angles of vision. When I was elected as First Minister in January 2016 I indicated that alongside him I was determined to work with him for the betterment of all the people of Northern Ireland in order to build a better future for everyone.

"While the current political situation is not what any of us would wish and there is much work to be done to return stable government to Northern Ireland I nonetheless value the good things achieved by the outgoing Executive and the contribution made by Mr McGuinness to it.

"As Deputy First Minister for almost a decade Martin McGuinness has been a major figure at Stormont.  While never forgetting the past I believe the work at Stormont provided the foundations for our relative peace today.

"Despite all that has happened I wish Martin McGuinness a speedy recovery and that he and his wife are able to enjoy time with their family away from the relentless focus of public life."

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams

“ I want to express my heartfelt thanks to Martin McGuinness. He and I first met over 45 years ago behind the barricades in Free Derry and we have been friends and comrades since that time.

“I also want to thank Bernie and the entire McGuinness family for the support they have given to Martin over many years and for allowing him to become the leader, the patriot, the peacemaker and poet that he is.

"We were all shocked when we saw his appearance recently. Thank God he is looking a lot better since then and responding well to the treatment he is receiving. However, he does need to take time out to get better for himself, for his family and for our struggle.

"As we now know he won’t be standing in the Assembly election. That means we have to ensure that the election works for all of the people of the North and that we succeed in building on the progress that has been made since the Good Friday Agreement.

“Martin has said he wants to come back and be part of the process to end partition, build reconciliation, unite our people and achieve Irish unity. So on behalf of Sinn Fein and republicans everywhere I want to send him our best wishes. Give him the space to get better and increase our efforts so that when he returns the process of change has advanced.”

James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

"I am sorry to hear Martin McGuinness has decided not to stand for another term in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and have spoken to him this evening.

"I thank him on behalf of the Government for his work in securing a number of significant political agreements, as well as his service as deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland."

Colum Eastwood, SDLP leader

"I want to sincerely extend Martin McGuinness every best wish as he takes the decision to step aside from public life.

"Martin has lived out nearly all of his adult life in public, I hope he is now given the time and the opportunity in private to rest and regain his health.

"I was especially heartened to hear Martin’s good spirits and his determination to overcome his recent illness.

"Today is not the day to go into the differences that myself and my party have had with Martin McGuinness over the years.

"However as he steps aside from public office it is right to share some thoughts on Martin McGuinness' role in our recent history.

"As we all know, Martin’s long journey began with a commitment to violence but it is important and telling that he found his true calling in politics.

"He was the longest serving Minister in our Executive and there is no doubting his commitment to the institutions that were established under the Good Friday Agreement.

"Perhaps most significantly, Martin McGuinness developed the ability to reach out beyond his own base and in recent years has acted generously to reach out the hand of friendship and reconciliation. That ability was best displayed in his relationships with Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson.   

"It was a rare gift and came as much from his personality as it did from his politics. Sinn Féin will miss him."

Mike Nesbitt, UUP leader:

“Martin McGuinness’s politics are very different from mine but there is no escaping that he has been a major influence over the ten years since the DUP decided to work with Sinn Fein in Stormont Castle.  His decision to take up arms in the IRA and terrorise the people of Northern Ireland has left a legacy we are still struggling to come to terms with.

“That said he is clearly unwell and I wish for him and his family what I would wish for myself and mine.”

Naomi Long, Alliance leader:

"I want to extend my sincere best wishes to Martin McGuinness for the future and wish him improved health in his retirement.

"Whilst our politics are very different, I recognise the degree to which he stretched himself and his constituency over recent years in order to move the political process forward.

"During that time he displayed significant moments of generosity, which were important in building relationships and securing the peace we enjoy."

Read more:

From IRA commander to political reconciler - the changing faces of Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness befriended enemies but failed to win over Arlene Foster

Martin McGuinness: From IRA leader to vital player in Northern Ireland peace process  

PROFILE: Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness' political career has spanned numerous momentous occasions, from the first IRA ceasefire in 1994 to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, from the decommissioning of weapons in 2005 to power-sharing with the DUP two years later.

In 1982 he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont representing his home city of Derry. He was the second candidate elected after John Hume.

But as with all elected members of Sinn Fein and the SDLP, he did not take his seat.

He was elected to the Northern Ireland Forum in 1996 representing Foyle. Having contested Foyle unsuccessfully at the 1983, 1987 and 1992 Westminster elections, he became MP for Mid Ulster in 1997.

After the Good Friday Agreement was concluded, he was returned as a member of the Assembly for the same constituency, and nominated by his party for a ministerial position in the power-sharing executive where he served as education minister between 1999 and 2002.

He became Sinn Fein's chief negotiator in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement.

The 66-year-old was a key architect in delivering the peace deal and in recent years made further history as he met the Queen on a number of occasions.

Before resigning Mr McGuinness served as deputy First Minister with three DUP First Ministers - the late Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster.

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness oversaw the devolution of policing and justice in 2010, while the Stormont House Agreement of 2014 and the Fresh Start Agreeement in 2015 attempted to address key contentious issues between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Mr Robinson stood aside as First Minister and DUP leader and was succeeded by Arlene Foster in January 2016.

Despite tensions and being on opposing sides of the recent Brexit vote - the pair had a positive working relationship until the scandal over the Renewable Heat Incentive emerged.

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