not a member? click here to sign up
We Need To Talk About Martin
His entry into the Presidential race came as a bombshell, throwing many political commentators, as well as the Fine Gael party, into a tailspin. It has also been the catalyst to a surge in support in the opinion polls for Sinn Féin. So who is Martin McGuinness? What is he like as a man? And can a self-confessed former IRA leader convince the Irish peope that he has what it takes to be the President?
Olaf Tyaransen, 21 Oct 2011
Of the seven individuals standing in this Presidential election, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness is by far the most controversial, leaving even Senator David Norris in the shade.
Although the 61-year-old Derryman claims to have left the IRA in 1974, not everybody believes him, least of all the Sunday Independent, who openly mock his supposed aspirations to become a “Hibernian Mandela”.
For many years, leading unionists have accused him of being a senior member of the IRA’s Army Council and, on one occasion,he was labelled the “IRA godfather of godfathers.”
And yet while there’s an undeniable whiff of sulphur about the man, it’s also true that, along with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, McGuinness has been one of the most influential figures within the modern Irish republican movement, driving its development of a political strategy even during the darkest days of the Troubles, and leading the party’s devolution negotiations.
Intelligent, articulate and seemingly dispassionate, McGuinness has been negotiating for most of his adult life. His first meeting with British politicians came in July 1972 when the Provisional leadership was secretly taken to London for what would tun out to be failed talks with the UK government. Although he avoided internment, in 1973 he was convicted by the Republic of Ireland’s Special Criminal Court, after being caught in a car containing 113kg of explosives and nearly 5,000 rounds of ammunition. He refused to recognise the court, and was sentenced to six months imprisonment. During the trial, he declared his membership of the Provisional IRA without equivocation: “We have fought against the killing of our people... I am a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann, and very, very proud of it.”
As the Troubles worsened in the ‘80s and ‘90s, McGuinness and Adams continued to spearhead a political strategy through Sinn Fein. Although he was elected to the short-lived assembly of the early ‘80s, that strategy really bore fruit for the party when the pair were returned as MPs in the 1997 general election (McGuinness for the Mid-Ulster constituency).