McGuinness won respect across divide

Posted By: January 12, 2017

Seamus McKinney Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Support: A sign at Free Derry Corner following Martin McGuinness’ resignation

AS Derry woke up yesterday to the possibility that Martin McGuinness may not hold political office again, a “Well done Martin” sign at Free Derry Corner appeared, to sum up, the mood.

Sinn Féin has not disclosed details of the veteran Sinn Féin politician’s illness, but it has been reported by RTÉ that he has a rare heart condition.

Mr. McGuinness tweeted yesterday: “I deeply appreciate the thousands of messages of support and good wishes that I and my family have received since yesterday. #ManyThanks.

Derry-born actress Roma Downey was among those to reply with best wishes.

Mr. McGuinness has said his decision to quit the executive had nothing to do with his health problems, but it is not clear if he will stand for the assembly again.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the question of who will lead the party into any election is a matter for his long-time colleague.

“He’s very resilient, he’s getting the very, very best of medical treatment, so hopefully – and if people pray, they should pray – hopefully he will be back to himself before too long.”

In Derry, there was widespread support for his decision to resign. Life-long political opponent Mark Durkan said he did the right thing.

“I have to acknowledge that Martin McGuinness was being left no choice by Arlene Foster and the DUP.”

Ulster Unionist grandee Jack Allen said he had won respect over the years even among former political enemies [in the] city.

The ex-UUP chairman and Derry mayor said while “hard-line Unionists” never wavered from the view of Mr. McGuinness as an IRA leader, some middle-class voters admired what he had done since becoming Deputy First Minister.

“They still recognize him as a former leader in a terrorist organization and the cause of so much turmoil when I was mayor in the 1970s but they also respect his gestures [like meeting the Queen],” he said.

Former priest Denis Bradley has known Mr. McGuinness since he served as a curate in the Long Tower parish.

He said his popularity in his home town tended to ebb and flow.

“He has always been very well respected within Republicanism. In the wider nationalist community, the admiration has grown and diminished according to political events. There are

some who admire him and some people who hate him because they hate all things connected to the IRA.

“But in Derry, I think he was the most respected of the senior IRA people; certainly his status and acceptability were above that of Adams. I think Derry people admired his straightness. He was respected, always respected.”

And Derry priest Fr Michael Canny, who along with Presbyterian minister Rev David Latimer endorsed Mr. McGuinness’s candidature when he ran for the Irish Presidency in 2011, said many believe his legacy to Derry is a new-found confidence among the nationalist majority.

“His easy personality made him popular. He brought the city to places it had not been before,” he said.