McGuinness ‘most proud of boosting funding for disadvantaged Protestant schools’

Former US President Bill Clinton speaks 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 son/PA Wire
Former US President Bill Clinton speaks 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 son/PA Wire

Former US president Bill Clinton has said Martin McGuinness’s proudest achievement was boosting funding for disadvantaged Protestant schools.

With typical charisma Mr Clinton delivered a heartfelt eulogy and a passionate plea for others to take up the mantle of peace building.

He recalled being with Mr McGuinness and former SDLP leader John Hume three years ago on the Peace Bridge in Derry when they talked about the money he budgeted for schools in poor Protestant areas.

“He thought those children would be just as crippled by ignorance as Catholic children would,” Mr Clinton said.

“I could tell he was proud as punch with himself.

“Normally it’s not a good think to be proud of yourself but I think if there’s a secret category of things you can be proud of, taking care of the children of the people you had been at odds with is surely on the list.”

Despite that well-regarded reform Mr McGuinness’ time as education minister was not without controversy as he led the drive to abolish the 11-plus.

Mr Clinton’s speech was interspersed with applause and laughter as he recalled Mr McGuinness’ “marriage” to “Gerry” Adams and compared his own upbringing in Arkansas with Mr McGuinness’ early years as one of seven children in a Bogside house with no indoor toilet.

“That’s a great political story but I’m the last American president that ever lived in a house without an indoor toilet and it’s very much overrated, except for its political value,” Mr Clinton said.

The former US president also bemoaned the bond that grew between Mr McGuinness and Ian Paisley.

“Most of the publicity Martin got as a politician was the very absurd notion that he actually got along with Ian Paisley. I thought it was great that he got a word in edgeways, I never could,” he said.

Mr Clinton had been asked to speak for three minutes at the funeral but delivered more than 10 minutes, both aspirational and inspirational.

He was introduced to Mr McGuinness’ widow Bernie and family before the mass in St Columba’s Church.

After his warm speech he spoke with them again briefly and placed a hand on Mr McGuinness’ tricolour-draped coffin as he walked by.

Mr Clinton described the Sinn Fein veteran’s life as an “amazing unfolding” and how after growing up at a time of rage and resentment, he decided to fight discrimination and “by whatever means available to the passionate young, including violence”.

“I was thinking about it - after all the breath he expended cursing the British over the years he worked with two prime ministers and shook hands with the Queen,” Mr Clinton said.

Mr Clinton praised Mr McGuinness for his ability to compromise, his integrity and listening skills.

“He realised that you could have an Ireland that was free, independent and self-governing and still inclusive. That the dreams of little children were no more or no less legitimate just because of their faith background or their family’s history or the sins of their parents,” Mr Clinton said.