Dignitaries are asked about SF man’s violent past

Former US President Bill Clinton speaks with Alastair Campbell after the funeral of Northern Ireland's former deputy first minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness at St Columba's Church Long Tower, in Londonderry. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Former US President Bill Clinton speaks with Alastair Campbell after the funeral of Northern Ireland's former deputy first minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness at St Columba's Church Long Tower, in Londonderry. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

At the end of the funeral service for Martin McGuinness the News Letter asked dignitaries their thoughts on the service.

We also asked them how they responded to concerns that opponents of IRA violence had about Mr McGuinness’s past.

Rev David Latimer offers prayers during the funeral of Northern Ireland's former deputy first minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness at St Columba's Church Long Tower, in Londonderry. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Rev David Latimer offers prayers during the funeral of Northern Ireland's former deputy first minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness at St Columba's Church Long Tower, in Londonderry. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

We only got a brief question with Bill Clinton before his security people moved him on. We asked him to elaborate on his reference to Arlene Foster being an IRA victim.

Why they came to pay respects to McGuinness – the mourners young and old

“She’s got a family history there and the point I was trying to make was so did Mandela,” said Mr Clinton, as wellwishers crowded in around the ex-US president.

“I was in Israel for Shimon Peres’ funeral and all of Yitzhak Rabin’s family are still in the peace camp – and he lost his life. I mean – so the people who are most able to have a positive impact also have legitimate problems [Mr Clinton’s last words are not audible in our tape due to other voices].”

Tony Blair’s former press secretary, Alastair Campbell, said he was surprised by how much the funeral had referred to the violent period in Mr McGuinness’s life.

“It started with that, not just Bill Clinton but the priest, one of the priests talked about how he talked to him and Martin knew how people felt about what he had done in his past.”

Mr Campbell, who has published diaries previously, said: “I was taking notes, and I thought it was astonishing some of the things that they were saying.”

Asked his thoughts on the former deputy first minister’s IRA past, Mr Campbell said: “It was a time where [that was] the only way he believed that he had to do to take forward what he believed was needed for his community. I think that underlines the extent to which, the change he made in his life and becoming a democratic politician and I think we should respect that and admire it and I do.”

Mr Campbell added that he understood “why [nationalists] felt as strongly as they did but I was always very, very strongly of the view that what the IRA got up to was wrong but I understand it. But I think that particularly today and particularly this week it really should be a focus on where he came from and where he got to. It was incredible. It is an extraordinary life and journey but I don’t think anybody has forgotten that first part.”

Rev David Latimer, who was criticised when he praised Mr McGuinness in an address to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in 2011, spoke at Thursday’s service. Asked about Mr McGuinness’s past, the Presbyterian minister told the News Letter: “Well I think that if we are going to keep looking at who he was we are going to miss who he is now. We have to look at who he is now and the legacy.”

• In Monday’s News Letter, Alex Salmond on the service and why Scots nationalists were not violent

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

Other funeral reports by Ben Lowry:

Ben Lowry: McGuinness travelled a long way but his was so ruthless that it cannot be ignored

Why they came to pay respects to McGuinness – the mourners young and old

Thousands filled the streets in homage to their departed hero