Belfast Telegraph

Michelle O'Neill: Martin McGuinness wanted future built on respect, I want us to deliver that

By Michelle O'Neill

I had the privilege to work alongside Martin McGuinness as an MLA for Mid Ulster and as a minister in the Executive he led from 2007.

I first canvassed for Martin when he stood in Mid Ulster in 1997. I was proud asking people to vote for our party and Martin. It was an exciting campaign.

I was in awe of this republican legend. Never once did I think I would go on to become his friend, his running mate or his successor. But I did.

Because throughout this time Martin was my mentor. He was always pushing me and encouraging me. Good leaders don't make followers, they make other leaders.

Martin McGuinness was a political visionary. He played a key role in delivering fundamental change and transforming relationships on these islands.

He was a gifted political strategist, orator, thinker and occasional angler. For the republican family, he was our leader, inspiration, role model and our dear friend.

It is with a broken heart, but one bursting with pride, that we remember and celebrate his life a year on from his sudden passing.

He was our leader, but he was Bernie's beloved husband, a father, grandad and brother.

We will never forget the sacrifices his family made through long years of struggle, during which Martin led from the front. The McGuinness clan have symbolised Martin's legacy, attending the many events held in his honour with great dignity, while grieving their own personal loss.

I hope they can take some comfort that Martin gave so much of his life, time and energy to make the lives of others better and to build a better future for all.

Martin grew up in the poverty of the Bogside. He witnessed discrimination, inequality and oppression. He did not run away from the challenges. He decided to confront these injustices. The struggle for equality, respect and self-determination for the people of this island became his life's work.

His leadership will continue to inspire those determined to build a better future.

As in so many things, Martin set the standard. He challenged us constantly to do more by doing more himself, by reaching out to political opponents.

He believed society should be judged by how it treats the most vulnerable, and he stood up for those who needed his help and support. He forced people out of comfort zones, taking bold initiatives to drive the peace and political processes forward.

His final act as Deputy First Minister was a challenge to this entire society. His letter of resignation made it clear that genuine power-sharing must be built on genuine equality and mutual respect. That is as true now as it was a year ago. In his last public appeal, Martin urged people to choose hope over fear - to put equality and respect for all at the heart of the power-sharing institutions.

The legacy Martin wished for was a better future based on equality and measured by the laughter of our children.

I want us to focus on completing his life's work and achieve his vision of national reconciliation and an agreed Ireland and new Republic.

Michelle O'Neill is Sinn Fein's vice president

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