Belfast Telegraph

Ex-US President Bill Clinton to join mourners at Martin McGuinness funeral

Former US President Bill Clinton and ex-Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson are set to join mourners at the funeral of Martin McGuinness in his native Londonderry.

Irish president Michael D Higgins and his predecessor Mary McAleese will also attend requiem mass for the ex-IRA commander turned Stormont deputy first minister, as will Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire will represent the UK government at Thursday's service in the heart of Mr McGuinness's beloved Bogside neighbourhood in Derry.

While former Democratic Unionist leader Mr Robinson is expected at the funeral, by 6.30pm on Wednesday the party had not officially confirmed whether his successor Arlene Foster would attend.

Thousands are expected to bring parts of Derry to a standstill as people say farewell to one of its most famous sons.

As preparations for the huge funeral intensified through Wednesday, political leaders in Westminster and Belfast commended Mr McGuinness's contribution to the peace process.

Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament she could never condone the ex-IRA commander's violent past but she credited his "indispensable" role in moving the Republican movement away from violence.

At a special session of the Stormont Assembly, Mr McGuinness's Sinn Fein successor Michelle O'Neill paid emotional tribute, while Mrs Foster acknowledged that Northern Ireland would "never see his like again".

In Derry, well-wishers queued outside the McGuinness family home in the Bogside neighbourhood to pay their respects.

Mrs O'Neill told the Assembly her heart was broken yet bursting with pride.

"The legacy that Martin wished was for a better future based on equality and measured by the joy and laughter of all of our children," she said.

"So on behalf of Sinn Fein I rededicate our party to completing his life's work and to living through his legacy."

Mrs Foster said Mr McGuinness's legacy was "complex and challenging".

She said his death was "hugely difficult" for victims of the IRA but said to many nationalists and republicans he was a "leader, friend or mentor".

The former first minister added: "It is precisely because of his past, because of his involvement with the IRA in the 70s and 80s because of his influence within those circles that he was able to play the role he played in bringing the republican movement towards using peaceful and democratic means and, because of all of that, I doubt we will ever see his like again."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the Commons: "Martin played an immeasurable role in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland, and it's that peace we all want to endure."

Mr McGuinness, 66, who died from a rare heart condition, completed an extraordinary political journey from an IRA leader in Derry to sharing power and a remarkable friendship with his erstwhile foe, DUP leader Dr Ian Paisley.

He also struck up a warm relationship with the Queen, whom he praised for her contribution to peace. She is to send a personal message to Mr McGuinness's family.

Mr McGuinness's last major act as a politician was to pull down the powersharing executive at Stormont when he resigned as deputy first minister in January in protest at the DUP's handling of a green energy scandal.

With Stormont still without a powersharing executive or new Speaker in the wake of the subsequent snap election, traditional protocols were overridden to enable MLAs to assemble to mark his death.

Afterwards they lined up to sign a book of condolences in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings.

A number of high profile guests are expected at the requiem mass on Thursday.

On Tuesday night thousands of people gathered to pay tribute at a candlelit vigil in the republican heartland of west Belfast.

The sombre event happened hours after crowds in Derry accompanied the Sinn Fein veteran's coffin on his final journey home to the Bogside.

During the Assembly session, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr McGuinness's journey "started in violence, but ended up very much grounded in principles of peace and partnership".

He urged politicians to resolve their current differences to form a new powersharing government.

"We have the opportunity to do what Martin McGuinness would have wanted us to do. Go down to Stormont Castle (talks venue) and finish the job," he said.

Ulster Unionist Mike Nesbitt said it would be "dishonest" of him "to ignore the pain of the victims of the IRA".

But he added: "History will also reflect on Martin McGuinness as more than an IRA commander. History will be very positive about his motivation as a politician."

Alliance leader Naomi Long paid tribute to Mr McGuinness for his "pivotal role in bringing the violent campaign to an end and moving us to the place we are in today".

Jim Allister of the TUV said his thoughts were primarily with the victims of the IRA.

"Thus I come to note the death of Martin McGuinness, not to praise him," he added.

Books of condolences for the former deputy first minister have opened across Ireland.

At the Belfast signing, DUP councillor and Orangeman Brian Kingston said Mr McGuinness would be associated with "appalling suffering", but also "with peaceful and democratic processes".

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