Martin McGuinness dies at 66: Queen to send private message to widow of former IRA commander
22 March 2017 • 12:04am
I t is a measure of Martin McGuinness’s remarkable transformation from IRA commander to peacemaker that Buckingham Palace announced yesterday that the Queen has decided to send a private letter of condolence to his widow.
The IRA had, after all, assassinated Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the Queen’s second cousin and Duke of Edinburgh’s uncle, by placing a bomb on his fishing boat.
The earl’s 14-year-old grandson was also murdered in the atrocity in 1979, the same year McGuinness was appointed the Provisional IRA’s chief of staff.
Emmet McGuinness, a son of Northern Ireland s former deputy first minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness, follows his father s coffin to his home in Londonderry after he died aged 66 Credit: Niall Carson /PA
B ut 33 years after those murders, Her Majesty found herself shaking the “bloodied” hands of the “Butcher of Bogside”.
The historic photographs of their first meeting in 2012 illustrated just how far he, and Irish politics, had travelled.
O n Tuesday Buckingham Palace declined to issue a public statement on the former Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister.
But the Queen’s offer to send private condolences to Bernie, his widow, shows just how far he had travelled from IRA enforcer to senior establishment figure.
In death as in life, Martin McGuinness divided opinion. Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son Tim was murdered when the IRA bombed Warrington town centre in March 1993, could not bring himself to absolve McGuinness but praised him all the same.
“Forgiveness never comes into it. I don’t forgive Martin. I don’t forgive the IRA – nor does my wife, nor do my children,” said Mr Parry. “But setting aside forgiveness, the simple fact is I found Martin McGuinness [to be]. a man who I believe was sincere in his desire for peace and maintaining the peace process at all costs.”
S ir John Major, who paved the way for peace during his Downing Street tenure, accused McGuinness, who was 66 when he died, of having “a lot of blood on his hands”, but added: “I do recognise the part he subsequently played in building a peace process”.
G erry Adams, McGuinness’s Sinn Féin colleague, acted as a pallbearer as his coffin was followed by a huge crowd through the streets of Londonderry. Mr Adams described him as a “passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the reunification of his country”.
Theresa May said: “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.”
The Grand Hotel in Brighton after an IRA bomb attack in 1984 Credit: PA
I an Paisley Jr, whose father forged an unlikely friendship with McGuinness as First Minister and Deputy First Minister in a 2007 power-sharing government, added his own tribute.
He described McGuinness as “godfather of the IRA” before adding: “I think the Christian view in life is how a person’s journey started is of course important, but it is how it finishes which is actually more important.”
And George Hamilton, Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, while acknowledging officers’ suffering during the Troubles, added: “Martin McGuinness believed in a better future for our community, and this is a vision shared by policing.”
The young gunman at the height of The Troubles
M r McGuiness’s frail appearance in the past few weeks was in stark contrast to the television images of the young gunman who, as second-in-command of the Provisional IRA’s Derry Brigade, showed reporters around Republican areas of the city in the early 1970s, at the height of The Troubles .
He was long vilified in Britain for his commitment to the IRA’s armed struggle and at one stage it was alleged that he was a member of the seven-man IRA Army Council.
A young Martin McGuinness
I t was claimed that as head of the IRA’s Northern Command he had advance knowledge of the IRA’s 1987 Enniskillen Remembrance Day bombing, which left 11 civilians dead – something he denied.
What Bloody Sunday inquiry found about McGuinness
The inquiry into Bloody Sunday, when 14 unarmed civil rights protesters were killed by British paratroopers in 1972, concluded that although McGuinness was engaged in paramilitary activity at the time and had probably been armed with a Thompson submachine gun on the day itself, there was insufficient evidence to make any finding other than they were sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire .
I n 1993, a Central television documentary claimed that in 1986 he had been present at the interrogation of Frank Hegarty, an IRA informer who was later found shot in the back of the head. Mr McGuinness has denied all the allegations.
How he persuaded IRA gunmen to lay down arms
But his later role in using his credibility as a paramilitary commander to persuade IRA gunmen and their supporters to lay down their arms and support the peace process was recognised as central in bringing an end to the near-daily violence that had plagued the province since the late 1969 and claimed the lives of 3,532 people.
His crowning achievement: Meeting the Queen
T he former IRA commander’s achievement appeared to be crowned when he met the Queen at a charity event in Belfast in 2012, in his capacity as deputy first minister.
In a hugely symbolic moment the pair shook hands in public, an act which appeared to seal the peace between Republicans and the British state.
Mr McGuinness said later: I liked her courage in agreeing to meet with me. There’s nothing I have seen in my engagements with her that this is someone I should dislike – I like her.
“She knows my history. She knows I was a member of the IRA. She knows I was in conflict with her soldiers, yet both of us were prepared to rise above all of that.
He met her again in June last year at Hillsborough Castle when, in response to his enquiries as to her health, she responded: “Well, I’m still alive.
Queen says well, I’m still alive anyway when asked how she is by Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister