Martin McGuinness dies aged 66

JOE MURPHY, NIcholas Cecil, Kate Proctor

Martin McGuinness, the ruthless ex-IRA commander who became pivotal in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, has died aged 66 after a short illness.

The Sinn Fein veteran was one of the most controversial figures in Anglo-Irish history.

In his early 20s, he was an IRA commander on Bloody Sunday in 1972.

But 40 years later, he shook hands with the Queen after the historic Northern Ireland peace process.

Mr McGuinness, until recently Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, was diagnosed with a rare heart condition at the end of last year.

He died in hospital overnight in his home city of Derry surrounded by family members.

Prime Minister Theresa May led tributes to him for his “historic contribution” in leading Northern Ireland from bloodshed to peace.

“While I can never condone the path he took in the earlier part of his life, Martin McGuinness ultimately played a defining role in leading the republican movement away from violence,” she said.

“In doing so, he made an essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace.”

Former prime minister Tony Blair said the peace process, including the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, would not have been possible without the “leadership and courage” shown by Mr McGuinness.

Bloody Sunday: Martin McGuinness departing from the Guildhall in Londonderry after giving evidence to the Saville Inquiry (PA)

“Once he became the peace maker he became it wholeheartedly,” he said.

Echoing this sentiment, Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “Not only did Martin come to believe that peace must prevail, he committed himself to working tirelessly to that end.”

However, Mr McGuinness’s violent past, before he made the journey from gunman to statesman, will never been forgiven by many in the UK.

Former Tory Cabinet minister Norman Tebbit said he hoped Mr McGuinness is “parked in a particularly hot and unpleasant corner of hell for the rest of eternity”.

The peer, whose wife Margaret was paralysed when the IRA bombed Brighton’s Grand Hotel in 1984, during the Conservative Party conference, said the world is “sweeter and cleaner” following his death.

Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son Tim died in an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993, said: “I don’t forgive Martin, I don’t forgive the IRA. Nor does my wife, nor do my children.

"But setting aside forgiveness, the simple fact is, I found Martin McGuiness an easy and pleasant man to talk to. A man who I believe was sincere in his desire for peace and maintaining the peace process at all costs.”

Political meetings: Martin McGuinness and First Minister Peter Robinson with former US President George Bush (PA)

Jo Berry, the daughter of Conservative MP Sir Anthony Berry who was killed in the Brighton bombing, said Mr McGuinness should be remembered for his efforts to build peace.

She tweeted: “Tebbit not speaking for all, I value Martin McGuiness as an inspiring example of peace and reconciliation. I lost my Dad in Brighton Bomb @GMB”

However, Stephen Gault, whose father Samuel, 49, was one of 11 people killed by an IRA bomb in Enniskillen in November 1987, said: “I will always remember Martin McGuinness as the terrorist he was.”

Julie Hambleton, whose older sister Maxine was killed in the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, stressed that many relatives of IRA victims were still waiting for “truth and justice”, including The Disappeared.

Once described as “Britain’s number one terrorist”, Mr McGuinness was second-in-command of the IRA in Derry in 1972, at the age of 21,

He held this position at the time of Bloody Sunday, when 14 civil rights protesters were killed in the city by soldiers with the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment

The following year he was convicted by the Republic of Ireland’s Special Criminal Court after being arrested near a car containing explosives and ammunition.

After his release from jail, and another conviction in the Republic for IRA membership, he became increasingly prominent in Sinn Fein, eventually becoming its best known face after Gerry Adams.

He was in indirect contact with British intelligence during the hunger strikes in the early 1980s, and again in the early 1990s.

In 1982, he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont representing his home city.

He eventually became Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator in the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement which ended violence, secured IRA arms decommissioning in 2005 and shared government with former enemies.

In 2012, after his historic handshake with the Queen, Mr McGuinness said he “genuinely regretted” every life lost during the Troubles.

He forged forged an unlikely friendship with prominent unionist, the late Reverend Ian Paisley.

During their time in office as first and deputy first minister, Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness earned the nickname the “Chuckle Brothers”.

Mr Paisley’s son Kyle tweeted: “Look back with pleasure on the remarkable year he and my father spent in office together and the great good they did together.”

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said: “Throughout his life Martin showed great determination, dignity and humility and it was no different during his short illness.”

“He was a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the reunification of his country.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Twitter: “Martin McGuinness played a huge role in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland. He was a great family man and my thoughts are with them.”

Mr McGuinness’s last major act as a politician was to pull down the powersharing executive at Stormont when he resigned as deputy first minister in January in protest at the Democratic Unionists’ handling of a green energy scandal.

Mr McGuinness, who lived in the Bogside area of Derry his whole life, is survived by his wife Bernie and four children.