Former NI deputy first minister Martin McGuinness dies aged 66

21 March, 2017, 09:53 | Author: Valerie Burke

Northern Ireland's former deputy first minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness has died aged 66.

As a young street fighter in Londonderry and later as a politician and statesman, McGuinness saw his mission as defending the rights of the Catholic minority against the pro-British Protestants who for decades dominated Northern Ireland.

He ran the terrorist organisation when Lord Mountbatten and 18 British soldiers were killed on the same day.

In December of that year, Martin McGuinness used a visit to the White House to make an observation on the scale of the political change that had come about in Northern Ireland.

He was forced to step down in January, a number of months before a planned retirement, because of an undisclosed illness.

Born in Derry in 1950, he leaves the republican movement in Northern Ireland in a position of unparalleled political strength.

If anyone had told me 25 years ago that I would be mourning the death of Martin McGuinness, I would have thought it could only be because I was confined to a padded cell in Broadmoor.

McGuinness, who was married with four children, was the IRA's chief of staff from 1979 until 1982.

Born on May 23, 1950 in Londonderry, McGuinness in childhood experienced the contempt which numerous pro-British Protestant government had for the Catholic Irish minority who dreamt of joining with the Irish Republic to the south.

In 1972, Northern Ireland's bloodiest year, McGuinness joined Adams in a six-man IRA delegation flown by the British government to London for secret face-to-face negotiations during a brief truce. He swiftly rose to become a senior commander.

He was convicted by the Republic of Ireland's Special Criminal Court after being arrested near a auto containing explosives and ammunition.

Fellow nationalist inmates recall him as a fierce football player in the exercise yard.

"It was with great sadness that I have heard of the passing of Martin McGuinness, and on behalf of Sabina and myself, may I express our deepest sympathy to his wife Bernadette and to his family", President Higgins said.

When McGuinness became deputy first minister of Northern Ireland in 2007, he served alongside Ian Paisley - one of the most vocal unionist lawmakers and a traditional enemy of republicans such as McGuinness.

McGuinness maintained more businesslike relations with Paisley's frosty successor, Peter Robinson.

Among the seismic moments in his time in government was the famous handshake with Queen Elizabeth II and a toast to her Majesty at Windsor Castle. "He will be sorely missed by all who knew him".

Over the past decade, Sinn Fein has focused much of its resources on the Republic of Ireland, where it has grown from five to 23 seats of the 166-seat parliament in a decade.

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