Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and the party’s leader in the north, Michelle O’Neill, have paid tribute to their long-standing colleague and friend Martin McGuinness.
The senior party figures held a Press Conference at Sinn Fein’s offices at the Rathmor Centre in Creggan yesterday.
They were joined by Foyle MlAs Elisha McCallion and Raymond McCartney; Derry councillors and local party activists and personnel , shortly before Mr. McGuinness remains were released yesterday afternoon.
During the brief conference, Mr Adams spoke of Martin McGuinness’ great love for his native city of Derry and for Donegal, and his passionate belief in Irish freedom and reconciliation.
Mr Adams said he learned from Martin’s wife Bernie that he was gravely ill, and he travelled to Derry, arriving shortly after Martin passed away.
Addressing the gathered media, he said: “I want to, on behalf of Sinn Fein and on my own behalf, extend our sympathy, condolences and solidarity to Martin’s wife Bernie, to Fiachra, to Grainne, to Fionnuala, to Emmet, and to Martin’s grandchildren and sister and his brothers.
“Martin was, as you all know, a very passionate Irish Republican. He believed that our people, the people of this island, should be free.
“He believed in reconciliation; he worked very, very hard at that.
“He was also a very proud Derry man who was steeped in the city of Derry and in Donegal.
“We are very, very sad that we lost him overnight.”
Sinn Fein party leader in the north Michelle O’Neill, who succeeded Mr McGuinness following his retirement from frontline politics earlier this year, said:
“First and foremost I am very proud to call Martin McGuinness my friend, and today Republicans right across the island of Ireland will mourn his passing.
“He was an international statesman, he was a man that was recognised as a peacemaker, and he was a man that touched the lives of so many people.”
Ms. O’Neill said she has known Martin McGuinness since she was a child and was “honoured to have worked alongside him for the past 20 years”.
“He inspired me and he inspired many others in his commitment to the Republican struggle, and he led from the front down through the decades,” she said.
“Martin set the bar very high. He set the bar very high in his style of leadership.
“He stepped outside his comfort zone time and time again because he knew it was the right thing to do.
“He remained a committed republican leader. He was a genuine, warm, honest, and decent person and we are all very proud to say he was our friend.
“He will be remembered so fondly by us all personally, but also by anybody that got to know him.”
Gerry Adams said he spoke with Martin McGuinness last week before he departed for the USA.
Mr Adams said Mr McGuinness seemed to have rallied somewhat from a few days earlier.
“He asked about the talks and I gave him best wishes from numerous people, and he acknowledged all of that.”
Mr Adams said he also had a present for his friend and colleague, dating back from 1993, when Derry won the All Ireland.
“It was a jersey that I got signed up here by the team and I’d been meaning to give it to him every year since then, and I told him a few weeks beforehand -I didn’t tell him what it was- but I told him when he got better I would give him his present.”
He said that then it became apparent that he wouldn’t be getting better, and he brought him up the framed jersey.
It was Mr Adams who yesterday morning broke the news to the world that the man who had joined him at the helm of Sinn Fein for decades had died.
Making the announcement, Mr Adams said: “Throughout his life Martin showed great determination, dignity and humility and it was no different during his short illness.
“He was a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the re-unification of his country.”
Mr Adams added: “But above all he loved his family and the people of Derry and he was immensely proud of both.”