Statement on death of Martin McGuinness

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Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats Chair Stephen Glenn writes about the death of the former Deputy First Minister

Today was a day that all of us involved in Northern Irish politics had seen coming since the announcement in December that Martin McGuinness was cancelling a trip to China because of health reasons. When we last saw him in public it was his resignation as Deputy First Minister but the frailty we saw in him then contrasted to the images of him as a young man during the troubles.
Martin McGuinness

These images also showed the trajectory of the man from commander of the IRA in Derry/Londonderry to the respected elder statesman and one of the architects and sustainers of the peace in Northern Ireland. The tone of his words from his first appearances before the Northern Irish public to those at the latter stages of his political career also reflect the passage of Northern Irish politics.

While there have been some today who have only looked at the early part of his life as his legacy that have failed to realise that only a person from his position within the Irish Republican Army and Sinn Féin could have used his influence not only to bring about the ceasefire bit to sustain that. While at the start of his career he spoke about armed conflict being the only way forward, he ended it talking of reconciliation.

As the son of a man born like Martin into a community on the Cityside of Derry, although raised in the other working class community on opposite sides of the walled city, I’ve seen the change brough about by Martin.

The Rev David Latimer minister of the Glenn family church First Derry Presbyterian which overlooks the city walls into the Bogside has often spoken of Martin’s influence. This was a church that overlooked the site of the Bloody Sunday shootings, where shots, petrol or paint bombs were fired towards the church. It meant that in my early years when I entered the church even in the morning or afternoon it was dark because of the shutters protecting the windows at the front. When the roof needed replacing due to rot, Martin McGuinness was one of those who was reached out to even though he wasn’t elected for the area.

A hand of peace like that of the city’s famous statue was reached out and Martin was proactive not only in getting the support for the major building works but also in reducing the attacks on the church. He was there for the reopening of the building and the difference in brightness for me is a reflection of the hope he brought for a better future in Northern Ireland.

Yes the story of Martin McGuinness is a tangle of contrasts, but it is also proof that men are not leopards and can change their spots. But the legacy is his part, along with Ian Paisley, of making the impossible not only seem possible but turned it into a workable partnership of working together. We need that as much now as when they first stood side by side 10 years ago.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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Oliver Napier

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The man who almost defeated Peter Robinson with the woman who did. Sir Oliver Napier with Naomi Long

It is sad news this morning that Northern Ireland learnt of the passing of Sir Oliver Napier.

He originally joined the Ulster Liberal Party in 1969 before becoming a founding member of the Alliance Party in 1970 he led the party from 1972-1984 as the first leader.

Indeed until last year had been the closest any Alliance candidate had come to getting elected to Westminster, when in 1979 he was came close to beating Peter Robinson in Belfast East: coming only 928 votes behind in third place in a three-way battle.  When Naomi Long took that seat off the same Peter Robinson in the 2010 General Election it could be seen as a breakthrough for the “alternative reform political programme to push through and continue reformation in Northern Ireland” that was what Napier said about the creation of the new party 40 years earlier.
In the 1973 Northern Ireland Assembly he also set a precedent for the current Assembly when he served as the Legal Minister and head of the Office of Law Reform. When the post was devolved again in 2010 it fell to the Alliance Party leader David Ford to be elected Minister of Justice.

Oliver Napier who stood here in North Down the only time I have able to vote in a Westminster election. Having stepped back up to the ballot box for the 1995 by-election to replace jim Kilfedder he stood again for the 1997 General Election, by which time I was back in Northern Ireland. So far he is the only Northern Irish politician I have voted for with an X.

As Alliance Party leader David Ford said today:

“This is an extremely sad day for Northern Ireland. Oliver embodied the spirit of Alliance and he was the man who inspired me to join the party.

“Sir Oliver was very highly respected and popular with everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him. His legacy can be seen right at the heart of the party to this day and he will very sadly missed.”

Like David, we in the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats wish to pass on our regards, thoughts and prayers to his widow Briege, nine children and 23 grandchildren at this difficult time.

Andrew Reeves – Gone too soon

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Cross posted with Stephen’s Liberal Journal

I woke up this morning to hear the tragic news that the man who changed the course of my life 7 months ago had tragically passed away.

It was Andrew Reeves, the Director of Campaigns for the Scottish Lib Dems, who when asked did he know of any good campaigners who could front up the Yes! to Fairer Votes campaign in Northern Ireland immediately thought of me and told me to apply. Of course in the four all too short years that I have really gotten to know Andrew much of that time was spent on the campaign trail, it was his job after all and my passion (until recent months when thanks to him it became my job too). It started in Glasgow East, when I myself was just returning to full campaign mode. Yet somehow I still managed a day of tenement mountaineering without any adverse health issues. That was the campaign that Stephen was back.

There followed Glenrothes, Glasgow NE, the European Election and last years General Election of course. The late night strategy meetings in Glenrothes always happened around the dart board. I was sometimes there waiting for Caron to give me a lift back, aware that the achieving a score wasn’t always as important as throwing the dart as hard as possible in the general direction of the board.

Andrew had set up his blog as Andrew’s Running Blog before he had come to Scotland. The aim was to get him into shape to run the Great North Run. Health was an issue that Andrew would visit time and again on his blog. Having lost his mother 6 weeks after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2009, he chose her Birthday this year to be the day that he got married to his long time partner Roger.

Family

But his own health was also something he fought hard for. He knew that having a sedentary life wasn’t helpful to him, so when he could he would get to the gym, walk (preferably with a bundle of leaflets in this hands). It was his approach that even though he was leading the campaign he still needed to get out and walk to keep some motion going that led me to due just the same at least once a week during the Yes! campaign. I even was on a conference call once while out and about delivering off the Falls Road in the rain.

For a while there were just three regular prominent Scottish Lib Dem bloggers, him, Caron and I. We could on occasion all take the same story and tell it in a different way that was our styles. We also could each get away with saying things in certain way because of our positions in the party and occasionally one of us knew that one of the other two was the better person to put something out there, so the idea was spread. Many of the rest of the Scottish blogosphere knew that while there only the three of us that didn’t lead to a lack of quality or quantity. Yesterday he was on about the E.Coli in Spanish and German cucumbers in a typical Andrewesque way. It seems strange to think that I will never again read a new blog post from him again.

My frequent visits into Scottish Headquarters at Clifton Terrace in recent years were always greeted with some sort of put down from Mr Reeves. For years before I was actually selected again for Linithgow and East Falkirk he would refer to me as the Potential Prospect Parliamentary Candidate PPPC rather than PPC for the seat. The case being that if Gordon Brown were to suddenly want to secure a mandate I would be willing to stand again for the seat. I was one less seat for them to worry about in a hurry. While of course he wouldn’t always have a smile on his face, he did sometimes have to be serious after all, there was always a sense that he would or could crack a joke to lighten the mood at any point.

Andrew was only a little over a year older than me, taken at the tragically young age of 43. The last words he said to me as I was leaving Scottish Conference in March were, “Go back there and win this thing, then we can talk about it next time your over.” sadly that chat will not be taking place. He was man with an immense heart for the party, for campaigning, for those he knew. Sadly this morning that heart gave way.

My thoughts are with Roger, who had to work in the recent days off that Andrew had been enjoying, therefore missing too many of what were unknown to be some of the last quality hours for his husband. Also to all the team in Clifton Terrace who have lost someone who’s motivation and passion will be hard to replace. To all my colleagues, friends and fellow campaigners, not just in Scotland but everywhere who were touched by this man that so many of us today know we have lost a dear friend.

Andrew with Katy Gordon and me out campaigning in 2009

Sir Cyril Smith 1928-2010

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Sir Cyril Smith former MP for Rochdale

Sir Cyril Smith 1928-2010

One of the earliest Liberal Party memories I have is not from the party leaders but from Cyril Smith. The ‘big man’ certainly had a way about him that made me even as a youngster look up and pay attention.

It wasn’t just the size of the man, although in recent years I did see him and hardly recognised the thinner version, but his independence of thought. What he said and the way he said it would often stand out, even from the Liberal party itself. He was the only Liberal to vote for the re-introduction of Capital Punishment for example.

Lib Dem Voice has a round-up of the tributes from around the Liberal Democrat Blogs including on from my good friend, and former agent, Caron about the Littleborough and Sadddleworth by-election. Northern Irish party secretary Pam Tilson has another memory of him from the same campaign.

She recalls that at a public rally he called Phil Woolas, who was the Labour candidate, ‘Woolyarse’ on a number of occasions through his speech, which had his audience in stitches. Considering some of the recent activity from Woolas who won the subsequent general election on the new boundary of Oldham East and Saddleworth, it appears to have been a keen observation of his Wooliness.

He was big man not just in size (though that was later reduced) but also in personality. He kept the light of Liberalism shining through some of the darkest hours. Many people remember him as being a character even if they never met the man in person.

Rest well Big Man.