A Presbyterian minister who formed a close personal friendship with Martin McGuinness has spoken of his instant rapport with Michelle O’Neill.
The Rev David Latimer from First Derry outraged many unionists when in 2011 he became the first Presbyterian minister to address a Sinn Fein ard fheis.
Yesterday, he teamed up with Ms O’Neill, who succeeded the late Mr McGuinness as Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland, at a cross-community, cross-border schools’ event in Londonderry.
The pair met with youth members of the Amazing the Space steering committee – a peace building initiative involving 409 schools across the nine counties of Ulster.
“All of these schools have produced a 25-word peace pledge and we have a big tree which is going to go into Ebrington Square,” Rev Latimer said.
“It has 409 big leaves, and on each of the leaves is a school message. The initiative is about empowering young people and searching for how they can have a platform to raise their voices, and to share their vision of a better future.”
In 2011, when asked to explain his close friendship with former IRA commander McGuinness, he told the BBC: “I identified the humanity of the man and he identified my humanity and we have built up a relationship as two human beings.”
Commenting on his relationship with Ms O’Neill, Rev Latimer said the initial rapport was promising.
“I was greatly encouraged that she asked to come, but I know she is there because she is aware of that Martin and I had this very good friendship – which continues between me and Martin’s family because I have been back to see his wife Bernie on two occasions and the warmth of the welcome is very powerful.
“So Michelle is really building on that relationship and I am delighted she is, and that the door for me to speak in to Sinn Fein, and to assist them to hear just how the unionist voice is receiving some of the ideas they are sharing.”
Rev Latimer added: “I think that is joined up thinking, and that’s the way that we move forward together.”