The first time I met Martin McGuinness was in October 1997, in Castle Buildings at Stormont together with Tony Blair. We had arranged the meeting in a small windowless room in the drab government block to avoid TV cameras filming the meeting as they had a previous meeting with Mo Mowlam, our Northern Ireland Secretary. This was the first meeting between a British prime minister and Republican leaders for 75 years. Alastair Campbell and I declined to shake hands with him as a terrorist—a decision I regret now—but Tony Blair far more sensibly shook his hand as he would any other human being.
I didn’t feel warm and cuddly about the IRA. They had shot and injured my father in an ambush in 1940 and put my brother, who worked for Margaret Thatcher, on a death list for eight years. But shortly after that meeting I got a call from McGuinness asking me to come and meet him in Derry incognito. I was not to tell the “securocrats.” After consulting Tony I agreed and flew to Belfast and took a taxi to Derry. I stood on a street corner feeling foolish until two men with shaved heads approached me, saying “Martin sent us,” and pushed me into the back of a taxi. They drove me around for an hour until I was completely lost and dropped me outside a neat little house on the edge of a modern estate. Martin McGuinness answered the door on crutches making an unfunny joke about kneecapping, the IRA’s favored way of punishing people. I spent three hours in the house trying to find a way around the key problem of the IRA decommissioning its weapons. We didn’t make any breakthroughs, but it became clear to me during that meeting that if we were going to achieve peace we were going to have to talk to our enemies and build some trust.