Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: This will be a difficult day, for many different reasons

By Arlene Foster, MLA and DUP leader

Today I will travel to Londonderry to attend the funeral of former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Having worked with Martin McGuinness for almost a decade, I want to pay my respects to his family on the occasion of his death.

He was a complex character but anyone who talked with him will know that he was devoted to his wife, children and grand-children.

Regardless of where we were in the world or who we were meeting, Martin would always speak of getting home and of his family.

As the leader of unionism in Northern Ireland, I also want to acknowledge that there are many republicans and nationalists who looked to Martin McGuinness as a leader, friend or mentor, who will be feeling a very real sense of loss that he has died in this way at the relatively young age of 66.

I recognise that some will be critical of my decision to attend this funeral and I respect their view.

People will be familiar with how my home experienced the Troubles in a very direct way.

My childhood memories of Martin McGuinness are not pleasant. He was part of an organisation responsible for the murder of many neighbours and friends.

When I reflect, those memories have not waned with time and are to the fore.

As I sit in the service later today, there will be grieving family members, colleagues and friends, and I will sympathise with them.

I will also be conscious that not too far away outside the church grounds, there will be empty chairs and broken hearts as a result of the terrorism Martin McGuinness supported.

I appreciate that today will be difficult for those people, too.

Northern Ireland now enjoys relative peace.

It's not perfect but with tour buses now taking the place of troop carriers, Londonderry is almost unrecognisable from the 70s and 80s when there was daily bombings and shootings.

Martin McGuinness played a central role in the terror of those early days, but he also played a central role in leading republicans away from the bomb and the bullet.

Over the last few days, I have considered how things could have been different if other choices had been made by Martin McGuinness.

There would have been no need for a peace process if there had been no terrorism.

But we must deal with reality and Northern Ireland must draw on the lessons from Martin McGuinness's life.

We must learn that terrorism leaves nothing but heartache and broken lives.

People are not persuaded of political change by the threat of a gun but rather the merits of an argument.

Let's hold dear to our democracy and send a signal to those who would want to draw us back to the dark days of the past.

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