Foyle SDLP Mark Durkan has paid tribute to a long-standing political competitor and colleague, Martin McGuinness, saying he epitomised the spirit of the peace process.
Speaking after the Sinn Féin leader announced he would not be standing again for election in Foyle, Mr. Durkan said: “Due fulsome acknowledgement of his role in our peace process and the calibre and tenure of his service in our democratic institutions does not have to completely ignore the questions from his previous adherence to physical force or valid political differences about the course and detail of the peace process or governance.
“However, we should not allow such legitimately felt considerations eclipse the democratic appreciation and personal recognition due to someone whose journey in peaceful democratic public service has seen him as both an agent and example of the change which our peace process has emancipated for all of us.”
The Foyle MP said Mr. McGuinness has been “an opponent, a formidable figure, a trenchant critic, an engaging negotiator, a partner in dialogue, and a partner in government and wider political leadership” during his own years in local politics from the 1980s onwards.
He said he had always been able to appreciate Mr. McGuinness’ warmth, civic purpose and collegial ethic and his ability to reach out to others.
“Clearly, Martin and I could argue our own differences about choices and episodes in the course of our process or other standpoints, but we can both acknowledge that we were both able and duty bound to engage in partnership with each other and others in working towards agreements and in trying to deliver the outworkings of agreement,” he said.
“Albeit from different starting points, the SDLP has shared with him a sense of working democratic allegiance and mandated purpose for the institutions and precepts of the Good Friday Agreement which were ratified by the Irish people North and South,” he added.
The former SDLP leader wished Mr. McGuinness well in his retirement from frontline politics but expressed hope that he would be well enough to bring some of his experience to bear in the forthcoming negotiations to secure the future of the Stormont institutions and as safe a Brexit for Ireland as is possible.
“While his current health problems have forced him to step back from elective politics, I would hope that Martin McGuinness will be well enough to contribute to such negotiations given the significant perspective and experience which this week’s tributes rightly recognise.
“I wish him, Bernie and their family all strength as he works for the full of his health. And I hope that as well as restoring himself he can still help in restoring the primacy of the Good Friday Agreement. Indeed, in the terms of his resignation he has shown already some personal service in that regard.”