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Northern Ireland Assembly recalled to mark Martin McGuinness' death

By Jonny Bell

The Northern Ireland Assembly is to be recalled to mark the death of Martin McGuinness.

Mr McGuinness spent 10 years in government as deputy First Minister until his dramatic resignation in January which led to this month's election.

MLAs are to gather at Stormont on Wednesday to mark his passing in the chamber after which a book of condolence will be opened.

Speaker Robin Newton MBE MLA said: “While I am the Speaker of an Assembly in which Martin McGuinness played an integral part as a Member, Minister and deputy First Minister, I am mindful that today a family has lost a husband, a father, a brother and a grandfather.  On behalf of the Northern Ireland Assembly, I express my sincere condolences and sympathy to his family whom I know he held dear.

“At this point after an election, the next business the Assembly is formally required to conduct before any other is the election of a Speaker and that remains scheduled for the next plenary sitting on March 27.  However, it would be entirely wrong if the Assembly in which Martin McGuinness has been a central figure since its creation in 1998, did not have the opportunity to mark his passing.

“Therefore, I will be inviting MLAs to gather in the Assembly Chamber at noon tomorrow when I will lead an opportunity for members to pay their tributes and offer condolences.  I am grateful to the party whips for having agreed to this proposal by consensus.

"Regardless of the different ways in which individual Assembly Members regarded his politics, there is no doubt that today we have lost one of the most significant figures from our politics in the last decades and it is only fitting that Members of the Assembly should come together to recognise his contribution.”

Mr McGuinness, 66, died during the night at Derry's Altnagelvin Hospital with his family by his bedside.

Following his death Michelle O'Neill described Mr McGuinness as a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation.

“Throughout his life Martin showed great determination, dignity and humility and it was no different during his short illness," she said.

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

Mr McGuinness always acknowledged his IRA past.

He met the Queen on a number of occasions and Her Majesty is to send a letter to his wife. 

Read more:

Queen sending private message to Martin McGuinness' wife following death of Sinn Fein chief 

David Trimble's last letter to Martin McGuinness: Many would feel 'greater optimism' if you were at the helm in current political crisis 

Arlene Foster leads tributes to Martin McGuinness - Sinn Fein leader 'pivotal' in bringing peace in Northern Ireland 

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

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

Mr McGuinness became Sinn Fein's chief negotiator in the peace talks 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.

He was second-in-command of the IRA in Derry in 1972 at the age of 21, a position he held at the time of Bloody Sunday, when 14 civil rights protesters were killed in the city by soldiers with the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment.

The following year he was convicted by the Republic of Ireland's Special Criminal Court after being arrested near a car containing explosives and ammunition.

After his release, and another conviction in the Republic for IRA membership, he became increasingly prominent in Sinn Fein.

He was in indirect contact with British intelligence during the hunger strikes in the early 1980s, and again in the early 1990s.

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.

His political career 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.

Mr McGuinness served as deputy First Minister with three DUP First Ministers - the late Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster, before leaving active politics in January.

He is survived by his wife Bernie, and their four children.

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