Rev David Latimer renews praise for Martin McGuinness in Sinn Fein video to mark his 70th birthday

A Londonderry Presbyterian minister who caused controversy by befriending Martin McGuinness has made a further video tribute to the former IRA leader on what would have been his 70th birthday.
Rev David Latimer, First Derry Presbyterian Church and Martin McGuinness at the Bloody Sunday Memorial Service in Londonderry in January 2017. Photo: Lorcan Doherty / Presseye.comRev David Latimer, First Derry Presbyterian Church and Martin McGuinness at the Bloody Sunday Memorial Service in Londonderry in January 2017. Photo: Lorcan Doherty /
Rev David Latimer, First Derry Presbyterian Church and Martin McGuinness at the Bloody Sunday Memorial Service in Londonderry in January 2017. Photo: Lorcan Doherty /

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, then Deputy First Minister of the NI Assembly, died in March 2017 from a rare heart condition, aged 66.

He was second in command of the IRA in Londonderry in the early 1970s and is reported to have gone on to become chief of staff of the organisation until the end of the IRA’s campaign of violence, meaning he would also have been a member of its Army Council, overseeing numerous murders and atrocities. He later said his ‘war’ was over and that he was working for peace.

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In his latter years he was acknowledged for his groundbreaking friendship with DUP leader Ian Paisley at the helm of the Stormont Executive, and his handshake with the Queen in 2012.

In 2006 Rev David Latimer from First Londonderry Presbyterian Church made headlines when he went on BBC Radio Foyle to appeal to Martin McGuinness to intervene and halt the paint attacks on his church.

The highly publicised friendship, which once saw the cleric praise Mr McGuinness from the platform at an annual Sinn Fein conference, caused significant controversy.

On Saturday Rev Latimer reprised his respect and praise for his friend, in a four minute tribute in a collage video tribute to Mr McGuinness to mark what would have been his 70th birthday. The video, which lasted over 90 minutes, was broadcast from the Sinn Fein Facebook page and featured tributes from politicians from around the world and specially written songs and music.

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Rev Latimer opened his tribute with a quote from former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, quoting the politician as saying: “Don’t be afraid to take a big step. You can’t cross a chasm in two small steps.”

The cleric added: “Martin McGuinness took a big step when he chose to meet with me back in 2006 in this church.

“I had been on BBC Radio Foyle appealing to the only person I believed could bring to an end the paint that was regularly being splashed across the front of our church.

“That meeting certainly had the effect of instantly stopping the paint hitting the church, but maybe more importantly, it opened a door to something neither of us could ever have imagined and that was a friendship that was ignited at our first meeting.

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“And that friendship developed and endured right up to the moment of his untimely death in March 2017.

“Imagine a former IRA leader and a British army chaplain meeting in a Presbyterian Manse of all places, drinking tea, eating scones, and talking.

“It nearly sounds like a dream or a fairy-tale, but it was neither. It actually happened.

“Two very different people coming together and as a result, we not only got to know each other, but amazingly, we got to like each other.”

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The cleric then reflected on what he thought the moral lesson was from their friendship

“We can spend our lives in one of two ways. We can waste them if we choose to draw lines. Or we can add value to our lives if we choose to cross lines. Martin was a line crosser.”

And he went on to compare Mr McGuinness to a major figure in world history, a Carthaginian general and statesman.

“Hannibal in one of his treks through the Alps was heard to say, ‘if we can’t find a way, we will make one’. Martin McGuinness was in that league. He was about making a way if he couldn’t find one.

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“And that is because he was intent about trying to reach out to people of different creeds and cultures.”

Rev Latimer continued that the role Mr McGuinness played had been crucial for a shared future.

“He knew walls didn’t work. That only kept people apart and that wasn’t going to be the answer as we move forward.

“Rather he was about building bridges because he knew that is how people come together.

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And when they come together then the next link in the chain, if you like, is travelling forwards, ever onwards towards the prize of peace, which he wanted all men and women to enjoy.

“His former colleague at the Office of First and Deputy First Minister expressed it superbly at the time of his death, when she said, ‘I doubt we will ever see his like again’.

“A true great leader of modern time and a genuine friend. That is how I will forever both regard and remember him.”

He closed his address with a few lines of Irish, translated: “A thousand thanks-yous Martin....God be with you”.

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Previously it was reported that Rev Latimer’s relationship with the then deputy first minister caused a rift amongst his congregation in the First Derry Presbyterian Church.

Up to 30 families could not accept his decision to “reach out” to the former IRA leader. Some who left had lost loved ones murdered by the IRA.

Rev Latimer told BBC Radio Foyle last year that he was retiring this year with a “heavy heart”.

Reflecting on his relationship with Mr McGuinness and the controversy it caused, he said: “You’ll never take everybody with you, but if you were to wait until all the ducks were in a row you would end up doing nothing.”

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“There was a hand that was guiding and a heart that was planning. That was the hand and the heart associated by the maker of us all - Catholic, Protestant, atheist, agnostic, black, white, republican, loyalist, and I look back and I see what I could never have imagined - meeting a man named Martin McGuiness and Martin McGuiness meeting me.”

In 2018, the minister caused added controversy amongst his congregation when he took part in the baptism of the child of a same-sex, mixed religion couple.

He said at the time: “We have to be aware that this does tear families apart and I could have said ‘no way’, but the priest and I chatted and we agreed to baptise the child in a Catholic church and I was there representing the Presbyterian family.”

The grandparents of the child later told him that they no longer felt “ostracised” as a result of the blessing, he said.