21/03/2017 10:50 GMT

Martin McGuinness Dead: Divided Reaction As Northern Ireland's Former Deputy First Minister Dies Aged 66

From 'number one terrorist' to pioneer of power-sharing.

Reaction to the death of Northern Ireland’s former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has reflected his controversial path to political office.

While tributes have poured in for the man who played a pivotal role in the country’s road to peace, others cannot forgive his earlier years as second-in-command of the IRA at the height of the Troubles.

McGuinness, 66, was once described as Britain’s “number one terrorist” and underwent a political transformation to become lead negotiator in the 1990s peace process.

Reuters Photographer / Reuters
Tony Blair alongside Martin McGuinness (centre) and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams (right) in 2005

He was later a pioneer of power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister, Theresa May, said in a statement: “While I can never condone the path he took in the earlier part of his life, Martin McGuinness ultimately played a defining role in leading the republican movement away from violence.”

Tony Blair, former Labour PM, told Radio 4’s Today programme: “The quality of his strength and determination that made him such a formidable foe during [armed] struggle was also what made him such a formidable peace maker later.”

Sinn Fein’s president, Gerry 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,” he added.

But McGuinness’s early life was marked by his role in the IRA’s 30 year reign of terror. He was himself imprisoned twice after being arrested near a car containing explosives, and for his IRA membership, the Times reported.

Yet many of those affected by IRA violence under McGuinness’s leadership expressed some sympathy in the wake of his death.

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Julie Hambleton, whose sister died in the Birmingham pub bombings, sent condolences to McGuinness's family

Julie Hambleton, whose sister, Maxine, was one of the 21 people killed in the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974, told BBC Radio 5 live: “Like every other family, Martin McGuinness has a family and they have our condolences.

“However, Mr McGuinness was very fortunate because he was able to live a full life unlike my sister, unlike 20 other victims and unlike so many other thousands of people who were murdered.

“With his death, the truth is buried.”

Victims’ campaigner Alan McBride - whose wife was killed in an IRA bomb in Belfast - told the BBC that Northern Ireland “owes a debt of gratitude” to McGuinness.

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Colin Parry, chairman of the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace, with McGuinness in 2013

Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son, Tim, died after being caught up in a double-bombing in Warrington town centre in 1993, told BBC’s ‘Breakfast’: “I don’t forgive Martin.

“I don’t forgive the IRA, nor does my wife, nor do my children. But, setting aside forgiveness, the simple fact is I found Martin McGuinness an easy and pleasant man to talk to - a man who I believe was sincere in his desire for peace, for maintaining the peace process at all costs.”

Ann Travers, a victims’ campaigner whose sister Mary died in an IRA gun attack, simply tweeted in remembrance of her.

While Lord Tebbit, a Conservative minister who was injured - and whose wife was paralysed - in the 1984 Grand Hotel bombing in Brighton, said “the world is now a sweeter and cleaner place” after McGuinness’s death.

Tebbit told ‘Good Morning Britain’: “He was not only a multi-murderer, he was a coward.

“He knew that the IRA were defeated because British intelligence had penetrated right the way up to the Army Council and that the end was coming.

“He then sought to save his own skin and he knew that it was likely he would be charged before long with several murders which he had personally committed and he decided that the only thing to do was to opt for peace.

“He claimed to be a Roman Catholic.

“I hope that his beliefs turn out to be true and he’ll be parked in a particularly hot and unpleasant corner of hell for the rest of eternity.”

He further elaborated later in the day during an interview on Talk Radio.