LONDON (AP) — Allies and political opponents paid tribute Friday to Martin McGuinness, the Irish Republican Army commander-turned-peacemaker who is stepping down as one of Northern Ireland's most influential politicians.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said McGuinness had played a key role in moving the Irish nationalist Republican movement toward "peaceful and democratic means."
Leading pro-U.K. Protestant politician Ian Paisley, Jr., said McGuinness' "remarkable journey ... not only saved lives, but made the lives of countless people better."
McGuinness' surprisingly productive political partnership with Paisley's late father, firebrand Protestant preacher Ian Paisley, helped end Northern Ireland's decades of violence.
When Northern Ireland's Catholic-Protestant power-sharing government began in 2007, the elder Paisley and McGuinness were leader and deputy in the coalition between Sinn Fein and the major British Protestant party, the Democratic Unionists.
The administration proved remarkably stable, but relations between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists have deteriorated recently amid allegations of abuse and mismanagement in a multimillion-pound program to encourage the use of renewable energy.
McGuinness quit as Northern Ireland's deputy first minister last week in protest over the botched green-energy scheme, plunging the government into crisis.
His resignation triggered an election for the Northern Ireland Assembly, to be held March 2.
On Thursday McGuinness announced he would not run in the election, saying he needed to concentrate on recovering from "a very serious illness." He did not say what the illness is.
McGuinness said he had concluded "that I am not in any physical state" to fight an election.
The potentially brutal election could determine whether the unity government — centerpiece of Northern Ireland's peace accord — can ever be put back together again.
McGuinness said he believed reconciliation was more vital than ever.
"I hopefully will overcome this illness through time," he said. "I am very determined to be an ambassador for peace, unity and reconciliation."