Martin McGuinness, the former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and one of the key figures in the country’s peace process, has died aged 66 in Derry.
Prior to his political career, McGuinness was a senior member of the Provisional IRA in Derry, and was engaged in paramilitary activity at the time of Bloody Sunday. He was imprisoned in 1973 for possession of explosives and ammunition, and declared in court: “We have fought against the killing of our people… I am a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann and very, very proud of it”.
Alongside Gerry Adams, who later became his counterpart in Sinn Féin’s Republic of Ireland branch, he negotiated with Northern Ireland Secretary of State William Whitelaw for political compromise in the North, and was elected to the Stormont Assembly in 1982. After the establishment of the Good Friday Agreement, he became the power-sharing executive’s Minister for Education. He was elected to Westminster in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010, but abstained from taking his seat.
Following the St. Andrews Agreement, McGuinness was nominated as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland under First Minister Ian Paisley. McGuinness and Paisley, who had fought a war of words for decades, became visibly friendly and were labelled “the Chuckle Brothers” by the media. Their relationship is the subject of an upcoming film, The Journey, starring Colm Meaney as McGuinness and Timothy Spall as Paisley. It’s due for release in June.
In 2011, McGuinness ran for President of Ireland, promising “a new republic”. Though he ultimately came third in the race, earning 13.7% of first-preference votes, he was himself ineligible to vote, not being a full-time resident of the Republic.
He resigned as Deputy First Minister in January, bringing an end to the power-sharing government in the North, and subsequently announced his retirement from politics due to ill health. He entered care at Altnagelvin Area Hospital on March 6, and died last night.
Gerry Adams spoke of his lifelong friend: “Throughout his life Martin showed great determination, dignity and humility and it was no different during his short illness. He was a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the reunification of his country. But above all he loved his family and the people of Derry and he was immensely proud of both.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny added: “Martin will always be remembered for the remarkable political journey that he undertook in his lifetime. Not only did Martin come to believe that peace must prevail, he committed himself to working tirelessly to that end.”
McGuinness is survived by his wife Bernadette and four children.