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The IRA were not defeated
Martin McGuinness was one of the key figures in the troubles in Northern Ireland . Many unionists believe that the one-time IRA man was at the heart of much that was wrong and divisive in Irish life. But ultimately the quiet Derryman has taken on the role of peacemaker – and he is now the Deputy First Minister in the new power-sharing administration at Stormont.
Jason O'Toole, 21 Jun 2007
Martin McGuinness is in a buoyant, even playful, mood when we are first introduced at the door of his gargantuan office in Stormont. As we shake hands, the Deputy First Minister insists that I hum a few bars of a song. “Hum ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. Otherwise I won’t let hotpress into my office,” he cajoles.
As I turn down his kind offer to make a spectacle of myself, in front of his half-dozen aides who are now congregating at the door to see a ‘Free Stater’ humming out of tune, McGuinness reveals that he is passionate about music and how he used to enjoy the occasional read of hotpress. He even light-heartedly jokes that his friends say he had an uncanny resemblance to Art Gartfunkel in his younger days. Even now, you can see there is a resemblance.
From this first impression, it is difficult to conceive that this laid-back, jovial grandfather played – allegedly, it must be stressed – an instrumental role in the IRA’s bloody campaign to purge the British presence from Northern Ireland.
Born in 1950, McGuinness joined the IRA at the age of 20. One year later, he was second-in-command of the Provisional IRA in Derry – it is the only position he admits to ever holding – during the Bloody Sunday massacre, which saw 14 innocent civil rights marchers slaughtered by British soldiers. While the accusation has been circulated that McGuinness fired the first shot that sparked off the indiscriminate shooting by the British troops, most eyewitness accounts vigorously deny that any shots ever emanated from the crowd that day, and McGuinness himself is scathingly dismissive of the accusation. Badgered about this allegation, during the course of this hotpress interview, McGuinness is adamant that it is “a cock and bull story”.
Despite being arrested several times – and convicted of IRA membership – McGuinness never served a lengthy prison sentence. During the height of the troubles, however, he was banned from entering Britain under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.