- 21 Mar 17
The former IRA leader turned peacemaker and statesman, who was Sinn Féin's chief negotiator in the peace process, died this morning at the age of 66-years-old, following a short illness with a rare heart disease that was diagnosed only back in December.
Martin McGuinness, who will be remembered as one of the most influential Irish political figures, died this morning at the Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry with his family by his side.
Paying tribute to his colleague and friend, Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams said: "Throughout his life Martin showed great determination, dignity and humility and it was no different during his short illness."
Also leading the tributes this morning, President Michael D. Higgins said that it was with "great sadness" that he heard of Mr McGuinness' passing.
He said Mr McGuinness made an "immense contribution to the advancement of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland – a contribution which has rightly been recognised across all shades of opinion."
As one of seven children, Martin McGuinness was born in Derry in 1950 and left school at the age of 15 to become an apprentice butcher. He actually grew up beside former Hot Press columnist Nell McCafferty. "Our streets ran parallel to one another. A very interesting story — and I’m not even sure if Nell knows about it — my father was born in 1912. Where was he born? In the house that Nell McCafferty was raised in," he once told our man, Jason O'Toole.
His small family two-bedroom home on Elmwood Street was situated only 50 yards from Celtic Park, the home of Derry GAA. Martin’s brother Tom would go on to represent his county — reaching two All-Ireland semi-finals — and holds an All-Ireland medal at Under-21 level. His father, William, worked as a foreman in the local foundry until his sudden death in 1973.
"There was seven of us — six boys and one girl. We lived in a two-bedroom house. It had a kitchen which was probably the size of your down- stairs toilet! It was an alcove really," he said.
"How my mother and father coped raring seven of us on the one wage he earned was absolutely incredible. He was a foundry worker; he was a foreman there.
"My mother was a very innovative person, someone who could turn her hand to anything to in terms of making clothes and darning socks and all the rest of it. It was a very humble upbringing."
Martin McGuinness joined the IRA at the age of 20 and by the time he was in his early twenties he was already a leading local player in the Derry Brigade of the IRA. 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 Mr 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 Mr McGuinness himself was scathingly dismissive of the accusation.
Badgered about this allegation, during the course of a Hot Press interview, Mr McGuinness was adamant that it was “a cock and bull story”.
Despite being arrested several times – and convicted of IRA membership – Mr McGuinness never served a lengthy prison sentence. Speaking to Hot Press about this, he said: "I spent a lot of time in interrogation centres – and I was in prison. I was in Mountjoy prison, I was in The Glasshouse in the Curragh, I was in Portlaoise prison, I was in Crumlin Road prison. The only prison I wasn’t in was Long Kesh. The period in prison was – first time, six months; the second time it was a year.
"Now, I was consistently arrested by the RUC’s Special Branch in the North and brought for interrogation to Castle Bay and sometimes released after a full seven days, and brought back a week later for another seven days. And obviously, during all that time, I was able to keep my mouth shut! "
Mr McGuinness said that he honestly expected to be killed in his mid-twenties. "To be quite honest, in those times I thought I would’ve been dead by the time I was 25. Many of my friends have lost their lives because of the conflict. There have been a number of occasions when I came very close to losing my life. I don’t intend to go into the details of it. Suffice to say, the British army, it wasn’t for the want of trying on their part. Particularly in the early days," he said.
During the height of the troubles, he was banned from entering Britain under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. At the time, Mr McGuinness was allegedly a member of the IRA’s Army Council. On one occasion, he was described by Unionists as the “IRA godfather of godfathers”. Reacting to this title, he told Hot Press: "It sounds like someone who absolutely believes in demonising Irish Republicanism. But no doubt – I don’t know where the quote came from – it probably came from some leading Unionist politician somewhere."
Regardless of whatever titles he may or may not have held, there is no disputing the fact that Mr McGuinness, along with Gerry Adams, was one of the most influential figures within the Irish Republican movement.
Mr McGuinness’ high-ranking role within the IRA was verified by the fact that the Republican movement turned to him to represent them during their initial, secret talks with British intelligence, back in the 1970s and ‘80s. He went on to become Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator in the 1990s and helped secure the Good Friday Agreement.
Speaking to our man Jason O'Toole in 2011, Mr McGuinness was asked about his violent past. The following question was put to him: "Do you feel guilty at all? Do you find it hard sometimes to sleep? Did you have to wrestle with your soul about this?" His answer was a straightforward, "No."
But he did add: "‘There were many things that the IRA did which were terribly wrong. And which I could not give any support to. Everything that happened was terrible and an awful lot of people suffered and lost their lives. There was nothing romantic about what happened.
"I’m not in a position to say that I’ve no responsibility for what happened when I was a member of the IRA. I can’t distance myself."
He also likened himself to Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera. "I think there’s no difference between what I did and Éamon de Valera and Michael Collins did, and, indeed, many others."
In 2007, Mr McGuinness led Sinn Féin into a power sharing agreement with the DUP and was appointed Deputy First Minister alongside Rev Ian Paisley, who was appointed First Minister of Northern Ireland. The two men built up a strong working relationship and were dubbed the "chuckle brothers" by the press.
At the time of Mr Paisley's death in 2014, Martin McGuinness paid a warm tribute to his former "political opponent" turned friend. "In the brief period that we worked together in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister I developed a close working relationship with him which developed into a friendship, which despite our many differences lasted beyond his term in office," he said in a statement.
Mr McGuinness also once insisted to Hot Press that even though the Good Friday Agreement was a "compromise", the IRA were "not defeated" and that he believed Ireland was on a "countdown" to eventually be united.
"I get a wee bit hurt at times that, when people like myself raise the prospect of a united Ireland, some people will snap at you as if you haven’t got the right to speak about it which is, you know – OK – what sort of a democratic process is that?" he told Hot Press. "That I, as an Irish Republican, can’t articulate a view that will say I am part of a process to establish it (united Ireland), which I believe – worked properly by myself as a Republican leader – will lead to a united Ireland at some stage in the future?"
On the subject of a united Ireland, he told Hot Press: "I believe we are on a countdown to a united Ireland, but it must happen by purely peaceful and democratic means. Already, many Unionists at grassroots level have conceded that there will be a united Ireland at some stage in the future."
He was once bizarrely accused of being a British spy. "Obviously it was something that really annoyed me and my family. That said, most of my friends weren’t annoyed about it at all because they just regarded it as typical – I think that I described it as ‘hooey’ at the time, which it clearly was. But, I mean, the allegations were rubbish – total and absolute, confounded rubbish. And the vast majority of people, I think, understood that," he told us.
He also told Hot Press that he believed the spy allegation was made to put his life in danger. "Absolutely. I don’t have any doubt whatsoever that this was a militant force within British intelligence, or someone who had previous connections to British intelligence, who – with whatever information they had – added up two and two and they got nine. But I was always conscious that my role within the leadership of Irish Republicanism would at times have been a very dangerous role to play," he told us.
Despite his reputation as a feared IRA man, up close and personal Mr McGuinness was an affable character. During one sit down with Hot Press, he joked to us about how many people thought he looked very similar to the musician Art Garfunkel.
"I love ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ – my favourite tune. Simon and Garfunkel – not because some people say I looked, when I was younger, like Art Garfunkel. I have a lot of friends who thought that," he quipped at the time, adding that he was a big fan of Snow Patrol.
Mr McGuinness ran for the presidency in 2011. Speaking this morning, President Michael D. Higgins remembered him fondly as a political opponent during the presidential race. "As a political colleague of many years, and having participated together in the Presidential election campaign of 2011 that brought us all over Ireland, Sabina and I have appreciated both Martin McGuinness’ warmth and his unfailing courtesy," stated President Higgins.
One of Mr McGuinness' last political acts was to trigger an election in Northern Ireland when he stepped down as Deputy First Minister after a decade in the role.
Here's the footage of Mr McGuinness announcing his resignation following a political row with the DUP.
On the subject of religion, Mr McGuinness insisted to Hot Press that he didn't have a "sectarian bone in my body". He described himself as a practicing Catholic, but added philosophically: "I am a practising Catholic, but I also believe that if I had been born on the Shankill Road, I’d probably have been a practising Protestant. Or if I had have been born in India, I would have been a practising supporter of Buddhism. Or if I was born in the southern states of America, I might have been a Mormon. I actually have a very broadminded view of religion."
Asked by our man Jason O'Toole if he believed in heaven and hell, he reflected: "That is a difficult question. I don't have the answer. I don’t believe there’s a heaven, and I don’t believe there’s a hell. I don’t know what’s out there. I would like to think that there is some place where people go, where they will be happy.
"But I would hate to think that there are people out there who would be condemned to an eternity of suffering and torture and abuse. I don’t think that the God that I believe in believes in that type of punishment for eternity. I think that I have an open mind about all of this."
Tributes have been pouring in since Mr McGuinness' death was announced this morning.In a statement, Taoiseach Enda Kenny had this to say: "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.
"Martin was one of the chief architects of the Good Friday Agreement and he worked resolutely in the years that followed it in pursuit of its full implementation. I got to know Martin well in recent years, including through our working together in the North South Ministerial Council. His commitment to securing enduring peace and prosperity for all of the people of Northern Ireland was unwavering throughout this time. He strove to make Northern Ireland a better place for everyone, regardless of background or tradition.
"Above all, today is an especially sad day for Martin's family - his wife Bernie, and his children - and for the people of Derry, who held a special place in Martin's heart."
The British Prime Minister Theresa May said Mr McGuinness "made an essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace."
She continued: "While we certainly didn't always see eye to eye, even in later years, as deputy first minister for nearly a decade he was one of the pioneers of implementing cross-community power-sharing in Northern Ireland. He understood both its fragility and its precious significance and played a vital part in helping to find a way through many difficult moments.
"At the heart of it all was his profound optimism for the future of Northern Ireland - and I believe we should all hold fast to that optimism today."
While Tony Blair , who worked closed with Mr McGuinness during the peace talks, said: "I grew up watching and hearing about the Martin McGuinness who was a leading member of the IRA engaged in armed struggle.
"I came to know the Martin McGuinness who set aside that armed struggle in favour of making peace. There will be some who cannot forget the bitter legacy of the war. And for those who lost loved ones in it that is completely understandable.
"But for those of us able finally to bring about the Northern Ireland peace agreement, we know we could never have done it without Martin's leadership, courage and quiet insistence that the past should not define the future."
Also paying tribute this morning, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that Mr McGuinness was a "critical part of changing the course of history toward the path of peace in Northern Ireland".
The Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, who is also from Derry, said this morning that Martin McGuinness made an "immense contribution to sustaining peace".
Archbishop Eamon Martin also said in his statement: "Like many people I was shocked before Christmas to hear about the serious illness of Martin McGuinness, and, despite our hopes and prayers for his recovery, today I am saddened to learn that he has died. My first thoughts are with his dear wife Bernie, his children, grandchildren, brothers and sister, and all his many friends and loved ones.
"I will remember Martin as someone who chose personally to leave behind the path of violence and to walk instead along the more challenging path of peace and reconciliation. As a leader he was courageous and took risks in order to bring others with him, convincing them that goals could be achieved by politics and persuasion.
"He channelled his many gifts into creating and sustaining the peace process of which he was one of the key architects. I have no doubt that Martin's faith and relationship with God guided him along this journey. He was a man of prayer and I am personally grateful for his good wishes and encouragement to me, as a fellow Derry man, in my own vocation."
Archbishop Eamon Martin continued: "The story of conflict in Ireland has brought much pain and trauma and I thank God that in recent years we have preferred peace to the horror of violence and war.
"People like Martin McGuinness have made an immense contribution to sustaining peace by reaching out a hand of friendship and reconciliation and being prepared to model alternatives to dispute and division.
"Martin's personal warmth and open, friendly personality was able to melt away suspicion and help build trust with those coming from very different perspectives. Being grounded in love for his family, community and native city of Derry, he understood the importance of a peaceful, just and prosperous future for all. Martin was ambitious for peace. He knew that peace was worth striving for and was within reach in his life time.
"A fitting legacy for Martin would be a redoubling of efforts on all our parts to find solutions to our current problems and continue along the journey to a shared future. May he rest in peace. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis"
Bertie Ahern also made the point that "Ireland today has lost a great leader", adding: "Martin McGuinness was a pivotal figure in Irish republicanism for over 40 years. He made a journey, if not without historical precedent, then certainly without equal in modern Ireland. It began for a very young man in pursuit of violent struggle. It ended only weeks before his death, after years in office, spent strengthening the peace he worked for and to which his leadership was essential."
While President Michael D Higgins also said Martin McGuinness' death leaves a gap that will be difficult to fill". He added in his moving tribute, "The world of politics and the people across this island will miss the leadership he gave, shown most clearly during the difficult times of the peace process, and his commitment to the values of genuine democracy that he demonstrated in the development of the institutions in Northern Ireland."
Speaking this morning, Gerry Adams also said that Mr McGuinness was a "passionate republican". Mr Adams added that he "worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the re-unification of his country. But above all he loved his family and the people of Derry and he was immensely proud of both."
He concluded: "On behalf of republicans everywhere we extend our condolences to Bernie, Fiachra, Emmett, Fionnuala and Grainne, grandchildren and the extended McGuinness family."