Martin McGuinness remembered as a force for change

Tributes are being paid from all sides of the peace process

Martin McGuinness remembered as a force for change

Ian Paisley (left) and Martin McGuinness after being sworn in as ministers of the Northern Ireland Assembley at Stormont in 2007 | Image: Niall Carson/PA Archive/PA Images

Those involved in Northern Ireland peace process have praised Martin McGuinness, who has died aged 66.

The former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland passed away after Tuesday a short illness.

Tributes have been paid to Mr McGuinness across the political spectrum, and across the border.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is to send a private message to the family of Martin McGuinness.

The pair famously shook hands in Belfast back in 2012. It was seen as one of the most symbolic acts of reconciliation.

The pair subsequently met on several other occasions, including at Hillsborough Castle in 2016.

When Mr McGuinness asked her was she well, Queen Elizabeth II quipped: "Well I'm still alive".

Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Martin McGuinness  at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast in 2012 | Image: Paul Faith/PA Archive/PA Images

It is understood the Queen could be contacting Mr McGuinness' widow, Bernie, directly.

While those involved in Northern Ireland have been remembering him as a force for change.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said Mr McGuinness had several interests.

"He was outstanding, he was trustworthy, he was always frank, he was precise about what he wanted to achieve.

"And he was also a good, fun person - you could talk to him about sports, about football about Gaelic football, about soccer - his love was fly-fishing.

"He was a wonderful, wonderful person, a great colleague and a great person to deal with".

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "I came to know the Martin McGuinness who set aside that armed struggle in favour of making peace.

"There will be some who cannot forget the bitter legacy of the war. And for those who lost loved ones in it that is completely understandable.

"But for those of us able finally to bring about the Northern Ireland peace agreement, we know we could never have done it without Martin's leadership, courage and quiet insistence that the past should not define the future.

"I will remember him...with immense gratitude for the part he played in the peace process and with genuine affection for the man I came to know and admire for his contribution to peace."

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness smiles after being sworn in as ministers of the Northern Ireland Assembley in 2007 | Image: Paul Faith/PA Archive/PA Images

Alastair Campbell was an advisor to Tony Blair when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.

He says Mr McGuinness was a formidable politician.

"The Martin McGuinness that we saw was somebody who was incredibly tough, he was very hard-headed but he really had a sense of humour, he was able to see other people's perspective.

"And he was somebody I think who had genuinely made that change".

Democratic Unionist Party MP Ian Paisley Junior, whose father Ian Paisley was First Minister with Mr McGuinness, said he was a changing force.

"We had at one end of the scale the godfather of the Provisional IRA and at the other end of the scale the man who became pivotal - as our party leader has said - in being in the government of Northern Ireland, and of bringing republicans to that point where peace was the way forward."

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said Mr McGuinness rose above prejudice.

"He became somebody absolutely indispensable in getting Northern Ireland from the horror and terror of the past into a new future of peace and hope.

"He was very good to deal with - both tough, highly professional - but at the same time a warm personality.

"And this is the important thing about his role in the peace process: he could reach out to people, people that he'd deeply offended, he'd embittered and who he felt deeply opposed to - in this case the Democratic Unionist Party and Ian Paisley in particular.

"He formed what was known as the Chuckle Brothers relationship as they led Northern Ireland into this new future.

"He had that ability to go beyond his past, as all important leaders do throughout history.

"He may have done things that we all object to deeply...that is true of a lot of leading politicians in troubled places like Northern Ireland - and it was true on the unionist side as well.

"He had that capacity to rise above his past, to look to the future and to lead his supporters out of the terror and out of the bombing and mayhem and horror".

Martin McGuinness gives a helping hand to Ian Paisley at Stormont in 2007 | Image:

Former Taoiseach John Bruton said he always found him to be a very friendly person and easy to talk to - despite their political differences.

"The good and warm personal relationship he developed with Ian Paisley set a very good example.

"But it has yet to be followed by a genuine political reconciliation between the two communities they represented."

But he told Newstalk Breakfast that the work Mr McGuinness started is not yet finished.

"I was particularly struck by the very good relationship he developed with the late Dr Ian Paisley, where I felt as the younger man - and I saw this first-hand when they were visiting the United States together and I was ambassador - that he took almost a personal interest in Ian Paisley's welfare, making sure he wasn't overtired by the programme.

"The human side if him is the one I think we should recall on a very sad day like this.

"I hope his legacy will be full reconciliation between the two communities in Northern Ireland, it is obvious that that reconciliation has not yet taken place.

"We saw that in the divergence over Brexit, in the breakdown of the government system that occurred in the last few months that led to an election - so there's a lot of work remaining to be done in terms of building bridges.

"And that's the prerequisite for any more general progress".