Martin McGuinness has died at 66
03:19 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Former IRA leader and Northern Ireland minister dies after short illness

Clinton praises his integrity, says his word was 'as good as gold'

CNN  — 

Former US President Bill Clinton has led tributes to Martin McGuinness, describing the former Irish Republican Army commander and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland who died on Monday as “courageous.”

McGuinness became Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator during the Northern Ireland peace process, working with Clinton on the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He died on Monday night after a short illness, according to a statement released by the Sinn Fein party. He was 66.

“When he decided to fight for peace, Martin was calm, courageous, and direct,” Clinton and former US Secretary of State, Hillary, said in a statement.

“And when he gave his word, that was as good as gold. As Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator, his integrity and willingness to engage in principled compromise were invaluable in reaching the Good Friday Agreement.

Both Bill and Hillary Clinton worked with McGuinness during their careers.

“My lasting memory of him will be the pride he took in his efforts to improve disadvantaged schools in Unionist and Protestant communities. He believed in a shared future, and refused to live in the past, a lesson all of us who remain should learn and live by. May he rest in peace.”

McGuinness died less than three months after resigning as Deputy First Minister, sparking an election and threatening Northern Ireland’s fragile power-sharing arrangement.

He retired from politics on January 19, 2017, saying his health had been deteriorating.

In a statement, Sinn Fein described him as a man of “great determination, dignity and humility.”

“He was a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the re-unification of his country. But above all he loved his family and the people of Derry and he was immensely proud of both,” Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said in a statement.

McGuinness and Adams were hugely influential the Northern Ireland peace process.

Under their tribute, Sinn Fein wrote in Irish, “I measc laochra na nGael go raibh a anam dílis,” which translates as “May he rest in peace in the presence of Irish heroes.”

He is survived by his wife Bernie and four children.

‘I am an Irish Republican’

McGuinness grew up in Derry, the epicenter of “The Troubles,” Northern Ireland’s decades’ long sectarian conflict.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (2nd R) shakes hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (L) watched by First Minister Peter Robinson (2nd L) and Prince Philip (R) at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on June 27, 2012. Queen Elizabeth II shook hands with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness on Wednesday in a landmark moment in the Northern Ireland peace process, Buckingham Palace said. The initial handshake between the queen and McGuinness, who is now deputy first minister of the British province, took place away from the media spotlight behind closed doors in Belfast's Lyric theatre.  AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITH/POOL        (Photo credit should read PAUL FAITH/AFP/GettyImages)
Historic moment McGuinness met Queen Elizabeth II
00:44 - Source: CNN

About 3,500 people were killed during the Troubles, a conflict between Catholic Irish nationalists, who wanted to join the Republic of Ireland, and Protestants who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. It ran for three decades up until the Good Friday peace agreement in 1998.

Even McGuinness’s place of birth is a question of politics – the nationalists call it Derry while the unionists refer to it as Londonderry.

Despite working with the UK government for peace in Ireland, McGuinness remained opposed to British rule in Northern Ireland until the end of his life.

“I am an Irish republican,” he told CNN’s Nic Robertson. “An Irish republican is someone who believes that the British government should have no part to play in the life of this island. We believe this island should be free.”

McGuinness and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II made history in 2012 when they shook hands during her visit to Northern Ireland, a symbol of repairing relations between the United Kingdom and the province. The Queen, whose cousin, the Earl of Mountbatten, was killed by an IRA blast in 1979, sent a private message of condolence to McGuinness’s widow, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson told CNN.

McGuinness resigned from his position in January 2017.

Many high-profile politicians in the UK and Ireland were also quick to offer their condolences. Irish President Michael Higgins said in a statement that McGuinness’s passing left a gap that would be “difficult to fill.”

“The world of politics and the people across this island will miss the leadership he gave, shown most clearly during the difficult times of the peace process, and his commitment to the values of genuine democracy that he demonstrated,” he said.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was in Downing Street at the time of the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, said peace in Northern Ireland would not have been possible without McGuinness.