May, Corbyn, and Blair react to the death of Martin McGuinness

LONDON — Martin McGuinness, the former IRA leader who later played a major role in the Irish peace process before becoming the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, has died aged 66. 

Britain’s most high-profile politicians are on Monday morning paying their tributes to McGuinness, who is believed to have passed away during the night with his family by his side after battling a rare heart condition.

McGuinness will be remembered as one of Britain’s most significant but divisive political figures.

He is lauded for the role he played in helping bring peace to Northern Ireland by negotiating the Good Friday peace deal but previously served as a commander in the IRA terrorist group during its bloody campaign against Britain.

Here is how Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and others have reacted to his death.

Theresa May

“First and foremost, my thoughts are with the family of Martin McGuinness at this sad time.

“While I can never condone the path he took in the earlier part of his life, Martin McGuinness ultimately played a defining role in leading the Republican movement away from violence. In doing so, he made an essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace.

“While we certainly didn’t always see eye-to-eye even in later years, as deputy First Minister for nearly a decade he was one of the pioneers of implementing cross community power sharing in Northern Ireland. He understood both its fragility and its precious significance and played a vital part in helping to find a way through many difficult moments.

“At the heart of it all was his profound optimism for the future of Northern Ireland — and I believe we should all hold fast to that optimism today.”

Jeremy Corbyn

Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron

“Martin McGuinness, for all his past, became a statesman. One moment sticks with me, the remarkable — and unlikely — images of McGuinness’ when he shook the hand of the Queen on her visit to Belfast in 2012. This single picture epitomised the changes in Northern Ireland.

“The historic handshake with the Queen in the quest for peace. This is something I, and millions of others, are thankful for. Peace in Northern Ireland is down, in part, to his leadership of the Republican community.”

Tony Blair, who worked alongside McGuinness in negotiating the Good Friday peace deal

“I grew up watching and hearing about the Martin McGuinness who was a leading member of the IRA engaged in armed struggle. 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.

“After first meeting in Northern Ireland and then again shortly after in Downing Street ‎ — an historic meeting, between a British PM and the republican leadership in the cabinet room where so much Irish history had been made — he explained at length to me the causes of republican grievance. I listened. We talked. And as the meeting went on he explained why he thought, despite all the grievance, there was a chance for peace.

“Over the years — through the arduous negotiation of the Good Friday agreement — and for the years after it, I got to know ‎Martin well. We met many, many times and as the trust grew between himself, my team, Gerry Adams and their team, so the discussions became increasingly open, frank and therefore productive.

“By the time that extraordinary day arrived in 2007 after almost a decade of hard work where we could witness the — to my generation — incredible sight of he and Ian Paisley sitting down together in government, the transition of Martin to reconciliator was complete.

“Whatever the past, the Martin I knew was a thoughtful, reflective and committed individual. Once he became the peacemaker he became it wholeheartedly and with no shortage of determined opposition to those who wanted to carry on the war.

“I will remember him therefore 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.”

Arlene Foster, former first minister of Northern Ireland

“Today’s news will come as a shock to many people. First and foremost, Martin McGuinness was a much loved husband, father and grandfather. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife and the family circle at this very painful time of grief and loss.”

Conservative peer Lord Tebbit, whose wife was paralysed when the IRA bombed a hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party conference in 1984

“I’m just pleased that the world is a sweeter and cleaner place now.

“He was not only a multi-murderer, he was a coward.

“He knew that the IRA were defeated because British intelligence had penetrated right the way up to the army council and that the end was coming.

“He then sought to save his own skin and he knew that it was likely he would be charged before long with several murders which he had personally committed and he decided that the only thing to do was to opt for peace.

“He claimed to be a Roman Catholic.

“I hope that his beliefs turn out to be true and he’ll be parked in a particularly hot and unpleasant corner of hell for the rest of eternity.”

We will update this story as more politicians react.

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