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Martin McGuinness: Shared faith helped me find common ground with Ian Paisley

By Chris McCullough

Published 19/03/2016

Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster have both revealed the role that faith plays in their lives
Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster have both revealed the role that faith plays in their lives

Martin McGuinness has told how he bonded with the late Ian Paisley over their shared Christian faith.

However, comments made by the Deputy First Minister that he is a "very broad-minded Christian" and a "practising Catholic" have been slammed by a victim of the Troubles.

Mr McGuinness was speaking to Premier, Britain's largest Christian broadcaster and publisher, about his religious beliefs.

Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was murdered by the Provos, said she was "flabbergasted" to hear Mr McGuinness, a former IRA commander, call himself a practising Catholic.

During the official launch of its Northern Ireland media and resources centre at Stormont last night, Premier presented the interview with the Deputy First Minister alongside a separate one with First Minister Arlene Foster.

The Sinn Fein man said: "I was a very young man when the conflict began. I was very much involved in participating in the civil rights protests.

"What motivated me to join the IRA was what was happening on the streets of Derry, the poverty the people were enduring, the lack of jobs, the discrimination, the inequality. And, of course, the response of the British State and from the unionist administration at Stormont to the protests."

Mr McGuinness described how his family were devout and prayed every night.

"My parents were very religious. My mother came from Co Donegal to work in the shirt factory in Derry when she met my father.

"They were two very religious people. My father was a foundry worker and was a daily Mass attender, as was my mother.

"We were a family that said the Rosary every night of our lives. We got down on our knees around eight or nine o'clock and said the rosary before we went to bed."

He added: "I would describe myself as a practising Catholic. This is only my opinion, others may disagree.

"I believe if there is a God out there that there is only one God. I believe that something created this beautiful place, this beautiful planet. It's just so extraordinary in the universe that I can come to no other conclusion.

"But I am influenced by Jesus Christ. He was someone who, if the history books are as accurate as people claim them to be, was someone who was very special.

"I'm prepared to accept he was the Son of God. I do believe that there's a God out there and I do believe he was the Son of God. I would described myself as a very broad-minded Christian." Mr McGuinness also spoke about his relationship with former First Minister Mr Paisley.

"As a young man on the streets of Derry I saw Ian Paisley as an immortal opponent of everything to do with equality, justice, fairness and respect for Irishness.

"To find myself sitting down with Ian Paisley, as I did in 2007, for Ian to say to me we can rule ourselves. That was a big culture shock for me.

"People were amazed that not only he and I could develop a working relationship, we actually developed a friendship.

"I went to see him before he died. I have a very close relationship with his wife Eileen and his family. I treasure that friendship. We were part of a very extraordinary part of the peace process and one of the parts I am most proud of."

Mr McGuinness said his faith was important in finding "common ground" with Mr Paisley during the peace process.

But Ms Travers said: "I am amazed and flabbergasted that he calls himself a practising Catholic.

"If he was he would know that nobody has the right to take a human life."

Mary Travers was shot dead in Belfast in 1984.

The target of the ambush was their father Tom, a resident magistrate. He was wounded but survived.

Ann said: "He should tell the police and all the families that lost loved ones anything he knows about the Troubles.

"I do, however, welcome that he calls himself a Christian. I urge him to uphold all the true values of a Christian and recognise his fellow human beings by telling the police all that he knows."

During her interview, Mrs Foster gave details of the attack on her RUC officer father on January 4, 1979.

She also pointed to The Bible telling people to pray for their enemies.

"That's what The Bible tells us to do," said the First Minister.

"We have to pray for our enemies as well as our friends in the hope that they will seek forgiveness and seek the proper way.

"When we are in church and praying for political leaders we have to pray for all political leaders, and I think that's the absolutely right think to do."

The First Minister also made reference to how important Jesus and the "afterlife" was.

She said: "No matter what we do in this life, if we don't know Him as our own and personal saviour, then we won't see Heaven, as we are told in The Bible.

"I hope (as First Minister) I contribute to Northern Ireland in a positive way now and in the future, but it's the afterlife and our relationship with Christ that is important."

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