Hundreds mourn Martin McGuinness, ex-IRA commander

"Martin McGuinness has taken to the grave the truth and the answers that we need to be able to move forward".

Martin McGuinness, the Irish Republican Army warlord who led his underground, paramilitary movement toward reconciliation with Britain, and was Northern Ireland's deputy first minister for a decade in a power-sharing government, has died, his Sinn Fein party announced Tuesday on Twitter.

REPUBLIC of Ireland worldwide James McClean has lauded Martin McGuinness as a "hero" who had done "so much" for the freedom of Irish people.

Condolences streamed in from a number of leaders and political figures, including Prime Minister Theresa May, who acknowledged that McGuinness "played a defining role in leading the Republican movement away from violence".

"In doing so, he made an essential contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace". He understood both its fragility and its precious significance and played a vital part in helping to find a way through many hard moments.

McGuinness first rose to prominence as a leader in the paramilitary IRA during the Troubles - Northern Ireland's bloody conflict over independence from the United Kingdom.

The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Sir Malcolm McKibbin, released a statement on Tuesday saying his employees would feel his loss acutely.

East Londonderry SDLP MLA John Dallat said: "On a personal basis I always found Martin McGuinness to be professional and gentlemanly in his dealings with me".

"He was not only a multi-murderer, he was a coward", he said, adding that McGuinness only became a peacemaker to "save his own skin". "I will remember him therefore with vast gratitude for the part he played in the peace process and with genuine affection for the man I came to know and admire for his contribution to peace".

We met in Sinn Fein's Derry office - a bog-standard terraced house in the Bogside, the décor of which I described as early 1970s student squat, with ageing posters commemorating the Easter Rising and Malcolm X. McGuinness made it clear that he had agreed to an interview not because of the credibility or reach of New Internationalist but rather thanks to the esteem in which he held the local playwright Dave Duggan, who was working with me on the magazine and had opened doors for me on both sides of the unionist/republican divide. He was believed to have been involved in Bloody Sunday, a conflict which resulted in the death of several civilians, and was constantly condemned for his commitment to the IRA's "armed struggle".

The shift to politics came slowly: Mr McGuinness was chief negotiator in the blossoming peace process and took on the post of education minister.

Alliance leader Naomi Long paid tribute to Mr McGuinness for his "pivotal role in bringing the violent campaign to an end and moving us to the place we are in today". He was also instrumental in bringing about the IRA ceasefire in 1994 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

His death comes just two months after he stepped down as Deputy First Minister.

In a memorable gesture that would once have been unimaginable, McGuinness shook hands with Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Belfast in 2012.

He said: "Not only was he a hero of mine, someone I looked up to, a man that has done so much for Irish people and Irish people's freedom right to the very end, he was also a good friend and someone I had the pleasure of having a good relationship with".

"She [The Queen] knows my history".

"The legacy that Martin wished was for a better future based on equality and measured by the joy and laughter of all of our children", she said.

Margaret Veitch, whose parents William and Agnes Mullan were murdered in the bombing, said "I am so sorry for all the innocent victims of Northern Ireland because we will never, never get the true story". When he enquired about Her Majesty's health, she quipped: "Well, I'm still alive".

  • Leroy Wright