Little mention of IRA in official tributes to McGuinness

08/11/16: Martin McGuinness at a Co-operation Ireland reception at Crosby Hall in London, with a portrait of the Queen
08/11/16: Martin McGuinness at a Co-operation Ireland reception at Crosby Hall in London, with a portrait of the Queen

There was scant mention of Martin McGuinness’ long connection to extreme violence in the Tory government’s statements on Tuesday.

Political and diplomatic figures issued an outpouring of tributes to the former paramilitary, whose death was announced on Tuesday, including Prime Minister Theresa May.

August 1985: Funeral of IRA man Chuck English. Pictured, right, is Martin McGuinness

August 1985: Funeral of IRA man Chuck English. Pictured, right, is Martin McGuinness

In addition, it emerged on Tuesday that the Queen is to send a private message to Martin McGuinness’ widow in the wake of the veteran republican’s death.

Buckingham Palace indicated that the monarch – who famously met Mr McGuinness in person in Belfast during 2012 – would be in contact with Bernie McGuinness following her husband’s death, according to the Press Association.

A statement from the government, reproduced in full here, made no direct mention of the IRA – a pattern repeated with many other official statements yesterday, including the one from the Irish president Michael D Higgins.

In it, Mrs May said: “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.”

A statement from Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire likewise made little mention of the extreme violence Mr McGuinness had been involved in.

It said, in full: “I want to extend my sympathy and sincere condolences to the family of Martin McGuinness at this difficult time.

“Martin’s personal journey and the clear influence he had on others in the Republican movement were instrumental in shaping political institutions in Northern Ireland founded on exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

“While not forgetting the past, no-one can doubt the essential role he played in helping to secure the power sharing arrangements and political progress in Northern Ireland.

“Martin’s commitment to reconciliation and understanding across communities was a significant factor.

“Whilst passionate and robust in his politics, on a personal level I always found Martin to be thoughtful and reflective and appreciated the personal consideration he showed.

“The importance of family and his home in Derry shone through.

“Martin will be remembered for his contribution to politics in Northern Ireland and particularly during his near ten years as deputy First Minister.”

Labour reaction:

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, declared himself “very sad” to learn of the death.

Although Mr Corbyn has a long-standing and well-documented links to Sinn Fein, having supported a united Ireland during the Troubles, his statement appeared to go further than that of the Prime Minister or Secretary of State when it came to apportioning blame for the bloodshed.

In it, the Labour leader described Mr McGuinness as having been “a key protagonist in the tragedy of the conflict”.

However, it went on to add: “Martin played an absolutely crucial role in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement and a peace process which, despite difficulties, remains an example throughout the world of what can be achieved when the will is there.

“As we reflect on his role, the past 20 years have shown us that if there is leadership and the will on all sides, we can achieve change.”

Appearing on the Nolan Show in 2015, Mr Corbyn had repeatedly refused to denounce the IRA directly, saying rather that he condemned “all bombing” in general.

A statement from the Northern Ireland branch of the Labour Party meanwhile said his death “marks a body blow to the hopes of the victims of the Troubles who must have hoped that McGuinness would one day fulfil his promise of full and frank disclosure of his past”.

It added: “They must fear that he has taken his secrets with him to the grave.”

Among the many other groups to also issue statements on the matter were the three the main Protestant churches, plus the Catholic church, each of which hailed Mr McGuinness’ contribution to the Province in his later life.

Irish reaction:

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins has led tributes to Martin McGuinness from the Irish Republic.

Mr Higgins, who defeated the former IRA commander in the 2011 presidential election, said his death leaves a gap that will be hard to fill.

“The world of politics and the people across this island will miss the leadership he gave, shown most clearly during the difficult times of the peace process, and his commitment to the values of genuine democracy that he demonstrated in the development of the institutions in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“As president of Ireland, I wish to pay tribute to his immense contribution to the advancement of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, a contribution which has rightly been recognised across all shades of opinion.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke about Mr McGuinness’s role in the Good Friday Agreement and said he had an unwavering commitment to enduring peace and prosperity for everyone.

“Martin will always be remembered for the remarkable political journey that he undertook in his lifetime,” he said. “Not only did Martin come to believe that peace must prevail, he committed himself to working tirelessly to that end.”

Mr Kenny added: “He strove to make Northern Ireland a better place for everyone, regardless of background or tradition.”

Bertie Ahern, taoiseach when the Good Friday Agreement was being brokered, said he could “totally” understand why Mr McGuinness joined the IRA in his hometown of Londonderry at the height of the civil rights movement, but said that he also put his life on the line to pursue peace.

“He was a good person in my view,” he said.

“He moved from a very difficult past where he took a particular side and he was a good person to negotiate with and certainly I considered him as a good friend as we went through 25 years of discussions.”

John Bruton, taoiseach from 1994 to 1997, said: “Notwithstanding our profound political differences, I always found him to be a very friendly person and easy to talk to.”