LONDON, March 21 (Xinhua) -- Martin McGuinness, the former Sinn Fein leader whose resignation sparked the recent snap election in Northern Ireland, has died, it was announced Tuesday.
McGuinness, aged 66, was suffering from a rare heart condition and died in hospital.
Until his resignation, he was deputy first minister in the devolved parliament in Belfast.
Sinn Fein's president Gerry Adams paid tribute to McGuinness, saying he had shown great determination, dignity and humility and it was no different during his short illness.
British Prime Minister Theresa May also paid tribute, saying: "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."
"In doing so, he made an essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace," said May.
"While we certainly didn't always see eye-to-eye even in later years, as deputy first minister for nearly a decade he was one of the pioneers of implementing cross community power sharing in Northern Ireland. He understood both its fragility and its precious significance and played a vital part in helping to find a way through many difficult moments. At the heart of it all was his profound optimism for the future of Northern Ireland -- and I believe we should all hold fast to that optimism today."
Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionst Party (DUP), who served as First Minister at Stormont until McGuinness's resignation, also paid tribute. It was a row over Foster's handling of a botched heating scheme in Northern Ireland that led to McGuinness quitting his post.
Foster said: "Today's news will come as a shock to many people. First and foremost, Martin McGuinness was a much loved husband, father and grandfather. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife and the family circle at this very painful time of grief and loss."
In Dublin, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said McGuinness's passing was a "significant loss, not only to politics in Northern Ireland, but to the wider political landscape on this island and beyond".
Under the peace process formula, the currently suspended Northern Ireland Assembly can only resume if the DUP and Sinn Fein agree to work together. So far no agreement has been reached, risking home rule from Westminster being re-introduced.