Martin McGuinness 'an extraordinary statesmen', says Colm Meaney

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Actor Colm Meaney has described Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness as an "extraordinary statesman" after playing him in a new film.

Meaney said the former IRA commander, now Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, is an "astute politician" working towards the "laudable goal" of uniting the island of Ireland.

The Irish actor stars in The Journey, a fictional drama about the friendship forged between Mr McGuinness and his political opponent Ian Paisley during the Northern Ireland peace process.

Appearing at the Toronto International Film Festival, Meaney told the Press Association: "I think Martin McGuinness has become an extraordinary statesman, a real statesman.

"I supported him in his candidacy for president of Ireland at the last election because I thought he was the most qualified person to do it.

"He's proved himself over the last 10 years to be a very astute politician and a remarkably competent statesman, which surprises a lot of people."

Meaney - known for his roles in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa - brushed off controversy surrounding Mr McGuinness, saying: "Anyone who is involved in politics in Ireland is controversial."

He added: "I think what Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein have achieved in Ireland in the last 10 years is tremendous.

"They're the only all-Ireland party. They're moving towards bringing the island of Ireland together which I think is a laudable goal."

Mr Paisley, the Democratic Unionist Party leader who died in 2014, is portrayed in The Journey by English actor Timothy Spall.

His widow, Baroness Paisley, is reportedly boycotting the film, telling the Belfast News Letter: "I don't think it was written with great knowledge."

Director Nick Hamm insisted the the film is not a documentary but a fictionalised account of "two A-list politicians".

"We were not looking for either side to feel comfortable with the film," he said. "Neither were we looking for either side to condemn the film. We were looking to present a balanced argument where both sides would be equally comfortable and equally uncomfortable.

"It is not a documentary. It's a fictionalised, entertaining feel-good movie about peace."

A UK release date for The Journey has not yet been announced.