Martin McGuinness, the former IRA chief of staff turned peace negotiator who stepped down as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister just months ago, has died at the age of 66.
His life charted a remarkable transition. From a quiet-mannered butcher's apprentice, he first became a militant committed to violently overthrowing British rule, before working to convince his former comrades to lay down their guns. He became a statesman, crucial in building a tenuous but enduring peace between Northern Ireland's warring communities, divided over whether the province should remain part of the United Kingdom or unite with Ireland.
But some would never forgive him for his role in the conflict, known as the Troubles, in which over 3,500 people were killed and tens of thousands wounded.
McGuinness in his own words:
On his mother’s reaction to him joining the IRA:
“A few months after I joined she found a belt and beret in my bedroom, and there was a big row. She and my father told me to get out of it, and for the sake of peace I said I would and they calmed down. But now they have to accept it. They’ve seen the British army in action and they know I’d no choice.”
—McGuinness at age 21, then the officer commanding of the Derry Provisional IRA, as quoted in Nell, by Nell McCafferty, 2004.
On Bloody Sunday, when British soldiers opened fire on a protest march in Derry in 1972, shooting 26 unarmed civilians: *
“The worst I ever felt was Bloody Sunday. I wandered about stunned, with people crying and looking for their relatives and I thought of all that guff about honour between soldiers. The British army knew right well we wouldn’t fight them with all those thousands of people there, so they came in and murdered the innocent. I used to worry about being killed before that day, but now I don’t think about death at all.”
—McGuinness, as quoted in Nell.
On his political aims:
“I want a United Ireland where everyone has a good job and enough to live on. … I’d be willing to sweep the roads in my world, and it wouldn’t seem like a bad job if they got the same wage as everybody else, but do you not think now that people are just too greedy? Somebody always wants to make a million. Anyway, before you can try, you have to get this country united. We’d make sure that Protestants are fairly treated.”
—McGuinness, as quoted in Nell.
On convincing the IRA to call a ceasefire:
“At the time of the ceasefire I had to go to the IRA and say, ‘Gerry Adams and I believe that it would be a good thing to call a ceasefire.’ At that time it would have been heresy to an awful lot of Irish republicans, and we had to try to outline for people what we thought would be a process that would see other parties have to respond to what the IRA had done. And, of course, all the parties have responded to what the IRA have done. The DUP wouldn’t be in government today were it not that they were convinced that the IRA were serious about the peace process.”
—McGuinness, as quoted in Alternative Ulsters: Conversations on Identity, by Mark Carruthers, 2013.
On meeting Queen Elizabeth in 2012:
“So, I said to myself, will this encounter assist the peace process and increase people’s understanding of the journey that we all have to travel? I’m travelling on a journey to do this; I’ve suffered, my friends have suffered, my community has suffered at the hands of the British Army—but Queen Elizabeth has suffered at the hands of the IRA also, and I think it was an important thing to do. I’ve been criticized for it by a minority within republicanism who didn’t like it and didn’t agree with what I’d done.”
—McGuinness, as quoted in Alternative Ulsters: Conversations on Identity.
Others on McGuinness:
Tony Blair's negotiator Jonathan Powell on meeting McGuinness:
“A few days after the meeting I got a call from Martin McGuinness asking me to come and meet him in Derry, incognito. He asked me not to tell the ‘securocrats’ and to come alone. I flew to Aldergrove, took a taxi to Derry and stood on a street corner feeling mildly foolish. After ten minutes or so, two men with shaved heads approached me saying ‘Martin sent us’ and pushed me into the back of a taxi. They drove me round in circles for an hour until I was completely lost and then ejected me when we arrived in front of a neat modern house on a small estate. I knocked on the door and Martin McGuinness opened it on crutches, making a not very funny joke about kneecapping, the IRA’s favoured method of punishment. I spent three hours with him in front of an open fire with tea and sandwiches left by the considerate owner of the house.”
—From Talking to Terrorists: How to End Armed Conflicts, by Jonathan Powell
"I value Martin McGuinness as inspiring example of peace and reconciliation. I lost my Dad in Brighton Bomb." [This was a 1984 attempt by the Provisional IRA to kill then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet. Five people were killed including Anthony Berry, a Conservative lawmaker.]
—Jo Berry, founder of Building Bridge for Peace, a conflict-resolution charity, reacting to news of McGuinness's death on Twitter
“My principal thought is that the world is a sweeter and cleaner place … a coward, a murderer, what else? He had a significant role because of his cowardice. He knew that the IRA had been penetrated to its highest levels by British intelligence and that before long he would have been arrested and charged with some of the many murders which he personally committed, and so he opted for the coward’s way out and said ‘oh, I’m a man of peace.’”
—Norman Tebbit, former U.K. minister under Margaret Thatcher whose wife was paralyzed in an IRA bombing, speaking to BBC
“Few public figures have made such a journey from violence to peace as Martin McGuinness, and many people will acknowledge the contribution and commitment to the common good which he made in the latter part of his life.”
—Frank Sellar, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
“He was a great man in my opinion. ... Martin led the IRA when there was a war but he led the IRA into peace. He genuinely believed in reconciliation even when it made people uncomfortable.
Martin McGuinness never went to war. The war came to him. It came to his streets, it came to his city, it came to his community.”
—Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, speaking to RTE.
* This article originally misstated that 26 unarmed civilians were killed. We regret the error.
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