Following the death of Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, unionist leaders have begun to comment on his passing.
DUP leader Arlene Foster, in a statement, acknowledged the contribution he had made to the “relative peace we now enjoy” but pointed out that “history will record differing views and opinions on the role Martin McGuinness played throughout the recent and not so recent past.”
The departing UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, meanwhile, expressed a similar view. Both figures passed on their condolences to Mr McGuinness’ family.
Arlene Foster said: “I want to express my sincere condolences, both personally and on behalf of our party, to the McGuinness family upon hearing the news of the passing of Former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
“Today’s news will come as a shock to many people.
“First and foremost, Martin McGuinness was a much loved husband, father and grandfather. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife and the family circle at this very painful time of grief and loss.
“History will record differing views and opinions on the role Martin McGuinness played throughout the recent and not so recent past but history will also show that his contribution to the political and peace process was significant.
He served the people of Northern Ireland as deputy first minister for nearly a decade and was pivotal in bringing the republican movement towards a position of using peaceful and democratic means.
“In recent years his contribution helped build the relative peace we now enjoy. While our differing backgrounds and life experiences inevitably meant there was much to separate us, we shared a deep desire to see the devolved institutions working to achieve positive results for everyone. I know that he believed that the institutions were the basis for building stability.
“We attended many joint announcements together and one that sticks in my mind is the opening of the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. He was a huge Heaney fan and I know he was particularly proud that the Executive was able to play a significant role in creating a lasting legacy to the poet he so much admired.
“Martin faced his illness with courage and, after stepping away from the glare of the public spotlight I sincerely hope he got the chance to enjoy the things he loved.
“My sympathy, thoughts and prayers are with the McGuinness family today and I pray that God will draw near to them and sustain them in the days ahead.”
Mike Nesbitt said: “First and foremost, we must recognise the loss to the McGuinness family and I extend my sympathies to them. Like any family they need time and space to mourn.
“This will also be a very challenging day for victims of the Troubles. I believe no-one needed to die to get Northern Ireland to where it is today. Clearly Martin McGuinness very actively disagreed with that analysis, but I also accept in his later years he was on a journey to create change through politics, becoming a pivotal figure at Stormont.
“It would be less than honest if I said other than that I found him a straight-dealing politician in any engagement I had with him.
“History will reflect a complex life story.”