Northern Ireland Assembly to reflect on life of Martin McGuinness

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A special sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly will be convened today to allow politicians to reflect on the life of Martin McGuinness.

With Stormont still without a power-sharing executive or new speaker in the wake of the recent snap election, traditional protocols have been overridden to mark the death of the 66-year-old former Sinn Fein deputy first minister.

Events at Parliament Buildings will play out as preparations for Mr McGuinness' funeral intensify in his native Londonderry.

The IRA commander-turned political leader died in the early hours of Tuesday after a short illness. Requiem mass will be held in Derry on Thursday afternoon.

On Tuesday night thousands of people gathered to pay tribute at a candlelit vigil in the republican heartland of west Belfast.

Crowds held black flags aloft and sang the republican ballad I Wish I Was Back Home In Derry.

The sombre event off the Falls Road happened hours after crowds in Derry accompanied the Sinn Fein veteran's coffin on his final journey home to his beloved Bogside neighbourhood.

Addressing the vigil in Belfast, priest Gary Donegan hailed Mr McGuinness's contribution to the peace process.

"Martin was a hero in life and a hero in death," he said.

Sinn Fein MP for west Belfast Paul Maskey told the crowds: "Martin fought for justice, equality and respect. He was a patriot, a peace maker and a reconciler."

While thousands of republicans lauded the legacy of the veteran politician, his death has drawn a very different response from many victims of the IRA, with some bereaved relatives not prepared to forgive him for his paramilitary past.

John Eaglesham, whose father - a postman and part-time soldier - was shot dead by the IRA in 1978, said: "People say about what he has done for the peace process - they seem to forget that for a very, very long time he wasn't part of the solution he was part of the problem, in fact he was the main part of the problem."

Crowds braved snow and sleet in Mr McGuinness's native Derry to accompany his coffin, draped in an Irish tricolour, from the funeral parlour to his home in the Bogside.

Another tricolour flag flew at half-mast near the Bogside's landmark Free Derry Corner.

An emotional Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said his long-time friend was a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for reconciliation in Ireland.

"We are very, very sad that we lost him overnight," he said.

Prime Minister Theresa May, Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, ex-US president Bill Clinton and former Democratic Unionist first ministers Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster praised Mr McGuinness' contribution to peace.

Key political figures in the peace process, including former prime ministers Sir John Major and Tony Blair and ex-Irish premier Bertie Ahern, have also credited his efforts to bring about an end to violence.

Mr McGuinness, who died from a rare heart condition, completed an extraordinary political journey from an IRA leader in Derry to sharing power and a remarkable friendship with erstwhile foe, Democratic Unionist leader Dr Ian Paisley.

He also struck up a warm relationship with the Queen, whom he praised for her contribution to peace. She is to send a personal message to Mr McGuinness's family.

The Sinn Fein stalwart is survived by his wife Bernie and four children.

Mr McGuinness' last major act as a politician was to pull down the power-sharing executive at Stormont when he resigned as deputy first minister in January in protest at the DUP's handling of a green energy scandal.

The move forced Mrs Foster from office and 10 days later, showing signs of physical frailty, Mr McGuinness announced his retirement from front-line politics due to ill health.