Republican Icon dies
The death of Martin McGuinness in Derry yesterday morning brings to an end the life of one of the most remarkable Republicans ever in the history of the movement. A person who made the transition from violent militarism to a key figure in the peace process in Northern Ireland. He died aged 66 in Derry’s Altanagelvin Hospital with his family by his bedside.
A former member of the IRA’S Army Council he became Sinn Fein’s Chief negotiator in the peace process. He led the Sinn Fein Party into power-sharing with the DUP in 2007 and served as Deputy first minister alongside Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster. In 2011 he contested the presidential election which was won by Michael D. Higgins and no one who saw the debate on television forgot the intervention by McGuinness which was critical in swaying many voters away from Sean Gallagher and ensured President Higgins election.
Undoubtedly, there are many particularly in the North who will shed no tears over his death whose family were victims of Provisional IRA violence. McGuinness always acknowledged he was a member of the IRA and never apologised for his IRA background. He came to national prominence during the Civil Rights struggle in Northern Ireland and particularly in Derry City where Catholics were the victims of ongoing and pernicious gerrymandering. During the time of the Bloody Sunday murders in Derry in 1972 by the British Army, he was a senior figure in the local IRA. In 1974 he was released from Portlaoise prison after serving a sentence for membership of a proscribed organisation.
In the years that followed the war of attrition dragged on with atrocities on both sides of the sectarian divide. However, in the background intensive talks were being undertaken by people such as John Hume who at first was excoriated for talking to the Provisional IRA. At this time McGuinness was a familiar figure alongside Gerry Adams as they trod a delicate, and at times dangerous path, to persuade their IRA membership to eschew violence and turn to the political road to achieve their objectives. Negotiations ensued ending with the Good Friday Agreement. A party to the decommissioning of IRA weaponry said had McGuinness not come from that place he would not have been able to bring other people with him on that journey.
The outcome was the creation of a devolved government representing both sides of the northern dispute as equals. A partnership developed between Ian Paisley senior and Martin McGuinness which resulted in them being dubbed “the Chuckle Brothers.” However, no one could deny that both men worked in a united fashion and constantly championed reconciliation. During this time he also visited Waterford on several occasions and indeed toured all over the country preaching the politics of reconciliation and peace. Even his most ardent opponents warmed to his genuine sincerity and belief in the path of peace as the only true way forward. One of the most significant peacetime gestures was his public handshake with Queen Elizabeth.
His final political act was to resign as deputy first minister and collapse the power sharing administration over the “cash for ash” scandal. It was only at this time that the public began to realise how seriously ill he was but his resignation was articulated in clear political terms. Gerry Adams said yesterday morning: “throughout his life Martin showed great determination, dignity and humility and it was no different during his short illness”.
His love for his native Derry and the Bogside in particular was always to the forefront. Many genuine tributes will undoubtedly be made to his work for peace and reconciliation. He was critical to forging the peace process and for that history will remember him well.
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