Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness will face rigorous questioning about his role on Bloody Sunday when he testifies before the Saville Inquiry today.
The self-confessed IRA leader will deny a number of controversial claims including that he fired the first shot and distributed detonators for nail bombs to members of the IRA’s youth wing.
Mr McGuinness, who is appearing at the city’s Guildhall, has admitted he was second-in-command of the IRA on January 30, 1972 when 13 unarmed civilians were shot dead by paratroopers during a civil rights march.
Interest in the Sinn Féin leader’s testimony has been intense with about 50 journalists converging on the city to cover his two day appearance before the tribunal.
In his statement to the Inquiry issued two years ago, Mr McGuinness insisted he had attended the rally as a supporter of the civil rights movement.
He is expected to say that there were no Provisional IRA weapons in the Bogside on Bloody Sunday.
And he will also deny claims by a British agent code named “Infliction” that he told him he fired a shot from a Thompson sub-machine gun from the Rossville Flats on Bloody Sunday.
When these claims were made at the Saville Inquiry in April 2000, Mr McGuinness dismissed them as “pathetic fabrication”.
“If this is the best that the British military can do they are going to have a miserable time in Derry Guildhall for the next two years,” he said.
Last month, former IRA man Paddy Ward gave evidence claiming Mr McGuinness handed out detonators for 16 nail bombs, which were to be used on Bloody Sunday.
He said an attack due to take place at Guildhall Square was later aborted.
The claims were first revealed in the book ‘Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government’ written by journalists Liam Clarke and Kathryn Johnston, who gave evidence to the Inquiry last week.
The Mid-Ulster MP has handed in a supplementary statement to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry dismissing the claims as “pure fantasy”, adding he did not even know Mr Ward.
In his statement, he condemned the book by Mr Clarke and Ms Johnston as politically motivated.
Last week, both journalists conceded they were past members of the Official Republican Movement but denied that they had set out to damage Mr McGuinness’s reputation.
Mr McGuinness is expected to tell the Inquiry that he was instructed to inform all IRA volunteers that the IRA would not engage militarily with the Army – to ensure the march passed off peacefully.
Six other former IRA members are expected to give evidence to the Inquiry corroborating Mr McGuinness’s evidence that the terror group was not active on Bloody Sunday.
Approximately 13.5 million words have been spoken during the 390 days of hearings so far and 8.5 million people have visited the inquiry’s website.
The cost of the inquiry to date is £120m (€175m), with the estimated total bill expected to reach £155m (€226m).
Around 900 witnesses will have testified to the inquiry in total by the time it finishes taking evidence on December 19, 2003.
The closing stages of the inquiry, including submissions and closing speeches, will take place early next year with the three Commonwealth judges due to deliver their report later in 2004.
However, few days of testimony are likely to receive as much international media attention as the Sinn Féin chief negotiator’s stint in the witness box.