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Ian Paisley says warm Martin McGuinness tribute is no attempt to overthrow Arlene Foster

Video courtesy BBC News NI

By Jonathan Bell

Ian Paisley has said thank you to Martin McGuinness following his retirement announcement, saying the Sinn Fein leader help save lives and rebuild Northern Ireland, denying it is a strategic bid to become leader of the DUP.

The son of the late DUP founder said he wanted to be "humble and honest" in his tribute to the veteran republican in a remarkably warm tribute, which contrasted markedly from the more qualified reaction from current DUP leader Arlene Foster.

Mr Paisley suggested the current generation of Stormont leaders needed to learn the lessons of the fledgling days of now crisis-hit Sinn Fein/DUP coalition.

More: Unionists split over Ian Paisley 'thank you' message to Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness

On Friday morning's Stephen Nolan show the North Antrim MLA said there was no strategy behind his words saying it was definitely not a leadership bid. "I am wanting to do it my way and hope people respect that," he said adding he was looking forward to supporting Arlene Foster in the election campaign.

While stopping short of criticising the DUP leader, Mr Paisley said there had been mistakes and "hiccups" but urged the people of Ulster to give his party a "second chance at allowing the party to govern the way we should" at the forthcoming election to resolve the latest crisis.

Speaking on the BBC's The View, Mr Paisley said: "I want to say thank you.

"I think it is important to reflect on the fact that we would not be where we are in Northern Ireland in terms of having stability, peace and opportunity to rebuild our country had it not have been for the work he did put in, especially with my father at the beginning of this long journey.

"I am going to acknowledge the fact perhaps if we got back to the same sort of foundation work of building a proper relationship and recognising what that relationship actually means then we can get out of the mess that we are currently in."

Sitting beside Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, Mr Paisley added: "I do not believe it is necessary for Ian Paisley or for any unionist to qualify every comment with that fact: A, I am a protestant so I think something different to the Catholic beside me. And B, I am a unionist and loyalist and think something different to the nationalist or republican beside me.

"Can we please get over that - the people have got over that.

"We as political leaders have to demonstrate by our actions and by our talk that we are over that.

"Me saying thank you to someone that I am diametrically opposed to - and I shouldn't have to say that, it's obvious - that I can say thank you to them honestly and humbly and recognise the remarkable journey that Martin McGuinness went on has not only saved lives but made the lives of countless people better in Northern Ireland because of the partnership government that we worked in.

"That's incredibly important and very important that I say it.

"As politicians we have to more honest or these crisis that we are in today will become a feature of Northern Ireland political life.

"The chuckle brothers as it was derided at the time - people look back on that relationship now and say that if it was something we had today - those issues would not be as difficult to deal with, they would still be there.

"This is not about gushing, I am being realistic."

The thank you contrasts to the view of fellow DUP members Nigel Dodds, who said while acknowledging the influence he had in the political developments his IRA past could not be forgotten.

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell, on Friday morning, said: "The latter part of his involvement was positive in the sense of trying to reach accommodation to move things forward, what we must also not do is ignore the former which was not positive progressive and unfortunately was much the opposite and involved death and destruction from an organisation which he was a leader of."

Mr Paisley said it would have been easy to adopt a hardline unionist approach to Mr McGuinness's decision to quit.

"It would be very easy to beat the drum ... dead easy to say 'great stuff, another one is off the scene, we'll deal with the next one'.

"Does that really help? It doesn't help out there. It won't put our country back together again.

"We actually have responsibilities as political leaders to put this back together again and the sooner more of us are honest about this the better."

On the show Conor Murphy said he was not surprised given Mr McGuinness's close relationship with the Paisley family.

"Martin did feel let down by the DUP leadership," he said, "and he had flagged that and then we had the RHI scnadal."

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