Bill Clinton urges mourners to ‘finish McGuinness’ peace building’

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton

Former US president Bill Clinton has told mourners at Martin McGuinness’s funeral to finish the peace building work he began.

As tens of thousands lined the streets of Londonderry to say farewell to the ex-IRA commander turned Northern Ireland deputy first minister, Mr Clinton used his eulogy to urge further steps towards reconciliation.

The requiem mass in Derry close to Mr McGuinness’s beloved Bogside neighbourhood was attended by past and present leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster - a symbolic sight that would have been unthinkable in the years of the Troubles.

Mr McGuinness died on Tuesday from a rare heart condition, aged 66.

Looking down on a coffin draped in an Irish Tricolour, the former US president, who along with Mr McGuinness was central to the Good Friday peace agreement negotiations, implored today’s leaders to pick up where he said the Sinn Fein stalwart had left off.

“He persevered and he prevailed. He risked the wrath of his comrades and the rejection of his adversaries,” Mr Clinton said, as Mr McGuinness’s widow Bernie and their four children looked on.

“He made honourable compromises and was strong enough to keep them and came to be trusted because his word was good.

“And he never stopped being who he was. A good husband, a good father, a follower of the faith of his father and mother and a passionate believer in a free, secure, self-governing Ireland.

“The only thing that happened was that he shrank the definition of ‘us’ and expanded the definition of ‘them’.”

Mr Clinton added: “Our friend earned this vast crowd today. Even more, he earned the right to ask us to honour his legacy by our living. To finish the work that is there to be done.”

Earlier, the Bogside came to a standstill as the coffin was walked to St Columba’s Church, led by a lone piper.

Irish President Michael D Higgins and his predecessor, Mary McAleese, attended the funeral, as did Taoiseach Enda Kenny and former Irish premiers Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen. Northern Ireland’s police chief, George Hamilton, was also there.

At a later graveside oration at the republican plot of Derry’s City Cemetery, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams urged both republicans and unionists to stretch themselves further for reconciliation.

“Here at the graveside of this good man let me appeal to our unionist neighbours,” he said.

“Let us learn to like each other, to be friends, to celebrate and enjoy our differences and to do so on the basis of common sense, respect and tolerance for each other and everyone else, as equals.

“Let me appeal also to nationalists and republicans, do nothing to disrespect our unionist neighbours or anyone else.”

Famed Irish folk singer Christy Moore played at the graveside after Mr McGuinness’s coffin was lowered into the ground.

Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry, had opened the earlier service in St Columba’s by turning to the McGuinness family.

“For you, this is not the funeral of a public figure,” he said.

“This is a funeral of a husband, father and a grandfather and our first thoughts are inevitably with you.”

Chief celebrant Father Michael Canny then recalled the many tributes made to the Sinn Fein politician since his death and said it has been acknowledged that Mr McGuinness spent year after year moving the community towards peace.

Fr Canny revealed having many conversations with Mr McGuinness in which the veteran republican said he knew only too well how many people struggled with his IRA past.

“Republicans were not blameless, and many people right across the community find it difficult to forgive and impossible to forget,” he said.

“By any standards, Martin McGuinness was a remarkable man and his life was a remarkable journey. The values he had, the principles he championed are still very much alive.

“On that journey many years ago, Martin realised that the time for peace had come and he pursued the peace process with relentless energy for the rest of his days, until illness finally struck him down.”

Among others to pay tribute during the mass were two Protestant ministers, Rev Harold Good, former president of the Methodist Church in Ireland and a member of the panel which oversaw IRA decommissioning, and Rev David Latimer of the First Derry Presbyterian Church.

Rev Latimer described Mr McGuinness as a friend and recalled praying with him.

“In memory of the man whose friendship I will always treasure we must together, all of us, pledge to keep on doing what he was doing and to persevere in the pursuit of peace,” he said.