Martin McGuinness death: The IRA commander who offered hand of friendship to Britain

Martin McGuinness was an IRA commander who became friends with his most implacable enemy.

His partnership at the top of Stormont's power-sharing administration with unionist leader the Rev Ian Paisley would have been unthinkable in the days when the Troubles were costing thousands of lives.

Ex-first minister Dr Paisley had vowed to smash Sinn Féin but eventually said yes to sharing power with his foe in an often jovial partnership which saw them dubbed the Chuckle Brothers.

Mr McGuinness once defended the deaths of police and soldiers for a united Ireland but finally offered the hand of friendship to Britain and to unionists and toasted the British Queen.

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His partnership with the DUP leader as deputy first minister at Stormont was a shining example of peacemaking - of turning swords into plowshares - and in 2009 he dubbed the dissident republicans who killed PSNI officer Stephen Carroll as traitors to Ireland.

Mr McGuinness' own version of nationalism evolved from gunboat diplomacy to a ballot box struggle which was to see Sinn Féin become pre-eminent among nationalists and demolish a century-old unionist majority at Stormont following a party vote surge in 2017.

The Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday in 1972 said he "probably" carried a sub-machine gun during the massacre of 13 unarmed civil rights protesters by soldiers in Derry. He admitted to being second-in-command of the IRA that day.

Enniskillen, November 1987

The steely-eyed and bluntly-spoken young McGuinness was a proponent of republican opposition to British rule in the North but became a senior member of Sinn Féin as the conflict neared its end.

He was integral to nearly every major decision taken by the republican movement over the last 30 years, promising to lead it to a united Ireland. He did not succeed.

The former trained butcher from the Bogside in Derry, who was a man of action during the street fighting of the 1970s, ended up toasting the British Queen at Windsor Castle and shaking her hand in a remarkable gesture of reconciliation with Britain after a long career of peace-making.

Mr McGuinness negotiated the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, secured IRA arms decommissioning in 2005 and shared government with former enemies in Belfast as deputy first minister.

He felt the 2012 handshake with the British Queen could help define "a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the Irish people themselves".

But critics argued that just as the IRA should have halted the violence a lot sooner, Mr McGuinness could have met the British head of state earlier.

His final significant act was to resign as deputy first minister and take first minister Arlene Foster with him, ending a decade of testy coalition government with the DUP.

Mr McGuinness was born in 1950 in a terraced house in Derry's Bogside housing estate, a one-time no-go area for British soldiers and hotbed of IRA planning and activity.

He was educated at the local Christian Brothers school. Unlike Gerry Adams, who came from a traditional hard-line republican family, Mr McGuinness showed little interest in politics before the start of the Troubles.

Nor did he join the IRA until after the British Army had been sent to the North in August 1969 to restore order after a pitched battle between the RUC and inhabitants of the Bogside.

He was sufficiently highly regarded to be one of the IRA delegation flown to London to talk to Willie Whitelaw, the first-ever Northern Ireland secretary.

McGuinness was sentenced to six months in prison in the Republic of Ireland after being caught in a car containing large quantities of explosives and ammunition.

McGuinness (centre) at the funeral of IRA explosives expert Colm Keenan in 1972.

The teetotal, non-smoker with a love for Gaelic football, cricket and fishing insisted on "purity" from his fellow partisans in the IRA and when in jail in Dublin ordered his colleagues to remove pin-up pictures from their cell walls.

Mr McGuinness has said he left the IRA in 1974.

Other accounts suggested he was made chief of staff of the organisation in 1978 and streamlined it into an urban guerrilla force based on small, tightly-controlled cells.

Former Justice Minister Michael McDowell said he was a member of its ruling Army Council.

But his membership or otherwise of the IRA was irrelevant since he was regarded as having more influence than anyone over the men of violence.

He was instrumental in helping secure the IRA's first cessation of violence in 1994, while in secret contact with the British, and later reflected: "In 1994, dialogue offered the only way out of perpetual conflict."

In 1997 he was elected Mid Ulster MP but did not take his seat as he would not swear an oath to the Queen.

As Sinn Féin's chief negotiator of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement he helped establish the powersharing institutions and renounced violence.

In 1999 he became the education minister at the Assembly who was to scrap the transfer test at age 11.

The DUP refused to work with him because of his chequered past.

By 2005 the Provisionals decommissioned arms after Mr McGuinness led negotiations - a process which started with the IRA vowing to volunteer not an ounce of explosives.

By 2007 Sinn Féin had pledged support for the police force and Ian Paisley, the fiery preacher of "never", was prepared as leader of the largest party to enter government with Sinn Féin.

The pair struck up an unlikely "Chuckle Brothers" bonhomie heading the ministerial Executive.

When the Queen of England visited Dublin in 2009 the veteran republican was absent but by June 2012 he was ready to meet her.

They shook hands at a Belfast theatre and Mr McGuinness said the encounter was "a result of decades of work constructing the Irish peace process".

Martin McGuinness shaking hands with the British monarch in 2014.

In 2014 he attended a banquet at Windsor Castle as part of a state visit by president Michael D Higgins and joined in a toast to the British Queen.

In 2013 he travelled to Warrington to speak at the invitation of Colin and Wendy Parry, whose son Tim was killed by an IRA bomb, to acknowledge their pain.

But he had more a strained relationship with Mr Paisley's successor as First Minister at Stormont, Peter Robinson, as the joint office was embroiled in controversy over property dealings.

MartinMcGuinness and ArleneFoster pictured in 2016.

Difficulties also surfaced over welfare reform, investigating thousands of conflict deaths and a green energy scheme which is predicted to be £490m overspent.

After Mr McGuinness gave first minister Arlene Foster an ultimatum to step aside, which was ignored, he announced his resignation in January 2017.

It was the last act of a career forged in the flames of the Troubles which reached its zenith after the guns had fallen silent.

He is survived by his wife Bernie and four children.


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