Trimble wrote to Martin McGuinness last week to say he was indispensable to peace process

File photo dated 31/08/95 of Martin McGuinness, leading Sinn Fein negotiator in the peace process, attending a news conference in the House of Commons. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday January 19, 2017. Mr McGuinness has announced that he is stepping down from elected politics, citing ill health. See PA story ULSTER McGuinness. Photo credit should read: John Stillwell/PA Wire

File photo dated 31/08/95 of Martin McGuinness, leading Sinn Fein negotiator in the peace process, attending a news conference in the House of Commons. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday January 19, 2017. Mr McGuinness has announced that he is stepping down from elected politics, citing ill health. See PA story ULSTER McGuinness. Photo credit should read: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Ex-UUP leader David Trimble wrote to former political foe Martin McGuinness just last week to say he believed he had been indispensable to securing the republican movement’s support for the Good Friday Agreement and devolution.

In a letter, dated March 12, which was released by the Nobel Peace prize-winner following Mr. McGuinness’ death this morning, he also said the Sinn Féin leader had been foremost in reaching out to unionists.

“Like many I was surprised to learn of your illness and of its seriousness,” he wrote.

“Then, on reflection, I thought it behoved me, as the First Minister when we first achieved devolution to the Assembly created by the Good Friday Agreement some eighteen years ago, to say how much we appreciated all that you did to make that happen.

“In doing that you reached out to the Unionist community in a way some of them were reluctant to reach out to you.

“Without knowing the detail of how the republican movement moved to that point, I and my colleagues believed that your were indispensable,” he stated.

Mr. Trimble wrote that he believed having Mr. McGuinness at the helm of the ongoing negotiations to establish a new Executive and safeguard devolution would have meant a greater chance of success.

“I will never forget the truly historic first meeting of the Executive and how we approached that seriously and in good humour, marred only by the absence of two Ministers.

“I think that that even tempered manner was characteristic of all your time in office, and we knew that it was never at the expense of your principles.

“Perhaps the best expression of your approach was your meeting with Queen Elizabeth.

“There are many today, as we sit with the clock ticking down to the deadline of getting the institutions up and running again, who think that if you were at the helm, we would face this prospect with greater optimism.”