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Martin McGuinness a divisive but key figure on long road to peace

Editor's Viewpoint

Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one will understand the grief that the widow, children and family of Martin McGuinness are experiencing at this moment. To them his past as a terrorist turned peacemaker is of little consequence compared to his role as husband, father and friend - and that is what they will miss most.

His death has been marked by an extraordinary reaction from a wide range of figures. These include the Queen, Prime Ministers and even political foes, who recognised him, in his latter years, as a man who genuinely wished to create a better society from the wreckage of one that he spent so long trying to destroy.

But, understandably, there are also many people who have grieved for decades the loss of relatives, and who are unable to forgive Mr McGuinness for his past.

They remember that they were bereaved by a terrorist organisation in which he played a pivotal role for many years, a role for which he never said sorry, and that causes them to view him through a different prism.

He had once said that he would be willing to give evidence to a truth and reconciliation body if one was established, but that now will never happen and the secrets of his war will go to the grave with him, denying many relatives the answers they sought.

While they may argue that if you don't make war then you never have to make peace, it nevertheless must be acknowledged that Mr McGuinness made a remarkable journey from leader of a ruthless terrorist group to de facto joint leader of the Government of Northern Ireland.

And it has also to be accepted that he showed the same zeal and tenacity in that new role. Through his standing in republican circles he was able to shift the IRA away from the gun, oversee decommissioning and, in word and deed, show his ability to move away from some traditional republican stances.

He denounced dissidents who shot dead two soldiers at Massereene, and the killers of Constable Stephen Carroll, the first PSNI officer to die at the hand of terrorists, as traitors to the island of Ireland.

His seminal gesture of shaking hands with the Queen and attending a royal reception at Windsor Castle marked him as someone willing to shift boundaries to cement the peace process.

He struck up a personal friendship with Ian Paisley, and even if his relationships with succeeding DUP leaders ebbed at times over the years, they still recognised him as someone who wanted the institutions to work.

Peter Robinson's tribute to him in today's newspaper and the comments of Arlene Foster show that his outreach was not in vain.

It is that work at Stormont in which hope for the future lies. He demonstrated that it was possible, albeit not easy, for the extremes of Northern Ireland political life to work together, even if the present impasse might suggest otherwise.

It needs someone of his tact and skill to ensure devolution is restored.

For, whatever his past or his political ideology, on a personal level many people found him as someone they could be comfortable in the company of. He could articulate his views in a moderate and non-confrontational manner.

Whatever history makes of Martin McGuinness, what it can't deny is that he was an important figure in the life of Northern Ireland for almost 50 years.

He will also be a huge loss to his close ally Gerry Adams in Sinn Fein's political odyssey.

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