Belfast Telegraph

Martin McGuinness was devoted family man whose personable nature saw him extend hand of friendship to unionists

By Daithi McKay

There were many times when Martin McGuinness made republicans feel uncomfortable. Today republicans are thankful for that.

At different points on the collective journey from conflict to peace there have been points of major debate. The Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein joining the Policing Board. Meeting the Queen.

On each occasion Martin led from the front. While many of his colleagues could not agree to continue on his path he remained steadfast, determined to lead with his head and not his heart. He didn't bear any personal resentment towards any of his political opponents and that shone through when he struck up an extraordinary friendship with Ian Paisley.

There will be much debate in coming days about the qualities of the Derry man and what his legacy will be.

What always stood out to me when I worked with him in the Assembly was his eagerness to get home to his family each and every night. Martin went to many republican events all over the country, from Donegal to the tip of Co Cork, but he was renowned for turning down the offer of a hotel or a spare room for the night to head home to the Bogside and to his family, no matter how late the hour.

While many others in the same position would put their head down for the night and head up the road the next morning, Martin was always determined to get home and spend time with his loved ones.

Even though the Assembly gave him the grandiose title of Deputy First Minister, he remained firmly grounded throughout his time on the Hill.

In the last decade he won many unionists over in the grand surroundings of Stormont. His love of all kinds of sport was a great ice-breaker.

On a Monday morning some MLA was always going to get a bit of stick depending which county had lost in the Championship the day before.

Equally, you would often find Martin in the corridors of power deep in discussion with unionist MLAs over the recent fortunes of Manchester United.

Martin McGuinness believed passionately in making the institutions work. Central to that was his extraordinary ability to build relationships in the most difficult of circumstances.

Taking the decision to resign his position earlier this year would have been an extremely difficult thing for him to do. Conspiracy theories about republicans being opportunistic were just that. He was determined to make the Assembly and the Executive a success, but he felt that he was left with no other choice.

The olive branch that he offered to Arlene Foster was wrongly seen as a poisoned chalice.

As those same institutions now teeter on the brink, all parties should take the time to reflect on what we have achieved as a society.

A DUP mayor opening a book of condolence for Martin McGuinness in his home city would have been less likely than an alien landing from Mars just 10 years ago. We have moved on.

In order to honour not only the legacy of Martin McGuinness, but Ian Paisley, then parties should be given more space and time to reach an agreement at Stormont Castle.

Surely the Secretary of State will, by whatever mechanism, extend the time period for talks.

  • Daithi McKay is a former Sinn Fein MLA

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