In Brief

Former IRA commander Martin McGuinness dies

Gerry Adams leads the tributes to the divisive paramilitary who helped 'pave the way for peace' in Northern Ireland

Former Sinn Fein leader and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness has died at the age of 66.

He "had been receiving treatment for a rare health condition", the Irish Times reports, and stepped back from politics in January.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, a friend of McGuinness, spoke of his "deep regret and sadness" at the news.

"He was a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him," he said.

The Daily Telegraph describes the former IRA chief, who worked at the heart of the power-sharing government following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, as "the ruthless paramilitary leader who helped pave the way for peace in the province and the hard-line Republican who was happy to shake the Queen's hand and share a joke with her."

He had been "long vilified in Britain for his commitment to the IRA's 'armed struggle'," adds the paper, adding that "at one stage it was alleged that he was a member of the seven-man IRA Army Council".

McGuinness was also accused of knowing in advance that IRA bombers were planning to attack the Enniskillen Remembrance Day service in 1987 – an allegation he denied.

Aged 21, he was second-in-command of the IRA during Bloody Sunday in 1972, when British soldiers killed 14 civil rights protesters in Londonderry. He also served two prison sentences in the Republic of Ireland for terrorist offences.

The BBC says "his leadership potential was spotted early and he was just 22 years old when he and Gerry Adams were flown to London for secret talks with the British government. MI5 considered him serious officer material with strategic vision".

More than 25 years later, that assessment proved correct as McGuinness was chief negotiator in the Northern Ireland peace process. 

He became deputy first minister of the province in 2007, working alongside arch-unionist Rev Ian Paisley.

"The two forged an unlikely alliance," says the BBC. They even came to be known as the "Chuckle brothers".

In recent years, McGuinness turned away from the actions of his past, saying: "My war is over. My job as a political leader is to prevent that war and I feel very passionate about it." 

A divisive figure

Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that "[McGuinness] strove to make Northern Ireland a better place for everyone, regardless of background or tradition," while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called McGuinness a "a great family man".

First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster, under whom McGuinness served as deputy leader, said: "History will record differing views and opinions on the role Martin McGuinness played throughout the recent and not-so-recent past. But history will also show that his contribution to the political and peace process was significant."

Former Conservative MP Lord Tebbit, who was injured in the IRA's 1984 bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton along with his wife, was highly critical of McGuinness.

"The world is now a sweeter and cleaner place," Lord Tebbit told ITV's Good Morning Britain."He was a coward. The reason he suddenly became a man of peace, was that he was desperately afraid that he was going to be arrested and charged with a number of murders."

Jim Allister, head of Northern Irish political party Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), was equally damning: "My primary thoughts are with the many victims of the IRA who never got to the age of 66, who never saw their grandchildren because McGuinness's IRA snuffed out so many lives.

"Whatever became of Martin McGuinness I will not be a party to white-washing the vile, vicious, wicked terrorism he brought to our streets."

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