Ailing McGuinness 'more interested in talking about Brexit'

Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness was more interested in talking about Brexit than his failing health just weeks before his death, according to MPs.

Northern Ireland's former deputy first minister is said to have been worried about the implications of Brexit on Northern Ireland and was frustrated at "the lack of leadership" being shown by the British Government.

SDLP MP for Foyle Mark Durkan, who last spoke to Mr McGuinness at the end of January, said the veteran republican was "quite clear" in his head that there was "no clear plan".

Speaking at the Embassy of Ireland in London at a Saint Patrick's Day reception on Tuesday night, Mr Durkan told the Press Association: "He just found that something that was perplexing, and I was struck by the fact that he was probably more animated on that than he was in respect of the question of his own health, which obviously you don't want to probe anyway."

Mr Durkan added: "Obviously I wished him well in the fight that he had. But the conversation actually was more about the shape of politics at that time. So it was more about the fact that we were going into an election period, it was about the kind of issues that had been factors for him in resigning.

"But he was also talking about a lot of the Brexit questions. And you could tell from that, and the previous conversation I'd had with him a few days earlier, just that he was personally quite vexed about some of the issues arising with Brexit in terms of implications for the agreement, and the British Government not having any real understanding of what those implications were."

Mr Durkan described Mr McGuinness as "passionately political" and reflecting on his last conversation with him, he said: "At that stage he was definitely markedly frailer than would normally be the case."

The SDLP politician said Mr McGuinness asked him if he was getting any insight from being on the Brexit select committee and "whether the British had any clear clue or plan as to what they were at".

He added: "He just lamented the lack of leadership and what he saw as a sense of irresponsibility."

Francie Molloy, Sinn Fein MP for Mid Ulster, also said Mr McGuinness was more focused on the political challenges ahead, adding: "Certainly I got no conversation out of him about his own health at all."

Mr Molloy said: "He never talked about himself at all. It was always about the Brexit stuff and he was really annoyed about Brexit because he saw that as a big gap. Sinn Fein, having changed their policy around the European Union and having come on board on that whole issue, and then to be left abandoned again.

"He took that particularly badly, that it could collapse and could damage the whole Good Friday Agreement. So he wanted to deal with that, and he was still hoping that some special arrangement could be worked out that the North could remain within the European Union and at the same time continue."

Mr Molloy said Mr McGuinness always wanted to keep the Northern Ireland Assembly up and running, adding: "He didn't want to see it collapsed at all. He was always, and this is going back to previous times whenever there were demands to close it down and to do all sorts of things ... his intention was to keep it going, no matter what the consequences of that were. And he fought it right through to the end."

Mr Molloy said he was "shocked completely" to hear about the death, adding: "I couldn't believe it because I was talking to people yesterday (Monday) who would have been in the know and they were saying there were indications that he was improving, he was responding well to the treatment."

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