Martin McGuinness Early Life
Martin McGuinness, born James Martin Pacelli McGuinness, came into this world on 23rd May 1950. McGuinness’ middle name was after Pope Pius XII. He attended the Christian Brothers Technical College and decided to leave school at the age of fifteen. He later met Bernadette Caning with whom he had four children. As a child, McGuinness has a keen interest in sports, a hobby he pursued even in his old age by cheering on football, cricket, and hurling teams. One of his favorite sports teams was Manchester United. Martin McGuinness lived a full life and was able to impact many lives during his career. It is not for naught that many grieve him to this day. May he rest in peace. He was a Sinn Fein politician, who like many others in this category, steered clear of participating in the Westminster parliament.
Other seats he served during his career include provisional IRA leader, Mid Ulster Member of Parliament and minister of education in the Northern Ireland Executive. Many people recognize him as being an Irish Republican who worked his way to being the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, a seat he occupied from May 2007 to January 2017. He resigned in protest to a scandal involving a renewable heat incentive. He later announced weeks after his resignation that he would not be contesting a parliamentary seat, owing to poor health. The former Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughlin remembers: “He had a very tight grip on the types of bombing campaigns that were admitted.”
“When Martin came into the office and some of those there were IRA guys, you just knew, there was a body language of respect,” says the former Derry Journal editor Pat McArt. “You could tell it was a case of, ‘whatever Martin says, goes’.”
Martin McGuinness Biography and Profile
Martin McGuinness (James Martin Pacelli McGuinness), born 23 May 1950, was an Irish republican Sinn Féin politician who was the deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland from May 2007 to January 2017. A former Provisional Irish Republican Army leader, McGuinness was the MP for Mid Ulster from 1997 until his resignation in 2013. As an IRA leader, there is no doubt Martin McGuinness was hated and feared. But as a peacemaker, he possessed a personal charisma that he used to win over at least some of those who had viewed him with suspicion.
Moreover, his reputation as a hard man gave him the authority among Irish republicans to deliver major concessions, such as IRA disarmament and acceptance of a reformed police service. His life followed an extraordinary trajectory between violence and politics, moving from being a senior commander in the IRA to helping broker talks that eventually led to the peace negotiations of the 1990s.
Eventually, he became Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, forging an unlikely alliance with Ian Paisley, the DUP leader who was the fiercest – and loudest – critic of the republican movement. They developed such a rapport in their years in government that they became poster boys for modern politics, earning the nickname The Chuckle Brothers.
James Martin Pacelli McGuinness was born into a large family living in the deprived Bogside area of Londonderry on 23 May 1950. His unusual third name was a tribute to Pope Pius XII. He attended Derry’s St Eugene’s Primary School and, having failed the 11-plus exam, he went to the Christian Brothers technical college, known locally as Brow o’ the Hill. He did not enjoy his time at college and his failure to qualify for grammar school rankled.
“It is my opinion,” he later said, “that no education system has the right to tell any child at the age of 10 and 11 that it’s a failure.”
He was working as a butcher’s assistant when Northern Ireland’s Troubles erupted in the late 1960s. Angry about the rough handling of protesters demanding civil rights for Catholics, McGuinness was quickly drawn into the ranks of the IRA.
By January 1972, when soldiers from the Parachute Regiment killed 14 people in his hometown on what became known as Bloody Sunday, McGuinness was second in command of the IRA in the city. The Saville Inquiry concluded he had probably been armed with a sub-machine-gun on the day, but had not done anything that would have justified the soldiers opening fire.
In April 1972, BBC reporter Tom Mangold walked with McGuinness through the “no-go area” then known as Free Derry. Mangold described McGuinness as the officer commanding the IRA in the city and asked if the organisation might stop its bombing campaign in response to public demand. The 21-year-old McGuinness made no attempt to contradict the reporter, explaining that the IRA “will always take into consideration the feelings of the people of Derry and those feelings will be passed on to our general headquarters in Dublin”.
Together with Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness was part of an IRA delegation that held unsuccessful talks with the British government in London in July 1972. The following year he was convicted of IRA activity by the Republic of Ireland’s Special Criminal Court after being caught near a car containing explosives and nearly 5,000 rounds of ammunition. Security chiefs were in no doubt that he was a key figure in the IRA as it reorganised and rearmed in the 1980s.
Oxygen of Publicity
Among its most high-profile attacks was the attempt to kill Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984.
Thatcher wanted to starve the IRA of what she called the “oxygen of publicity”, so was furious when the BBC broadcast a Real Lives documentary in 1985 featuring McGuinness, who was unashamed of his reputation.
Driving a car through the Bogside, he told the documentary makers that reports suggesting he was chief of staff of the IRA were untrue, “but I regard them as a compliment”. He was later accused of having advance knowledge of the 1987 Enniskillen Remembrance day bombing – something he denied.
The mother of an alleged IRA informer claimed McGuinness had played a role in luring her son home to his death.
He was also thought to have approved proxy bombings, such as the murder of army cook Patsy Gillespie, in which hostages were forced to drive car bombs which were then detonated before they could get away.
But behind the scenes, Martin McGuinness engaged in secret contacts with British agents which laid the groundwork for the IRA ceasefires and peace negotiations of the 1990s.
When the Good Friday Agreement led to the creation of a devolved government at Stormont, he became education minister. One of his first acts was to abolish the 11-plus examination which he had failed many years before.
Devolution proved an on-off affair, but in 2007 the hardline Democratic Unionists were persuaded to share power with Sinn Féin.
The public witnessed the almost unbelievable sight of Martin McGuinness forging not just a political partnership, but what looked like a genuine friendship with one of his erstwhile enemies, the DUP leader Ian Paisley.
“Ian Paisley and I never had a conversation about anything – not even about the weather,” he said in 2007.
“And now we have worked very closely together over the last seven months and there’s been no angry words between us.
“This shows we are set for a new course.”
His relationships with Ian Paisley’s successors appeared cooler.
But as dissident Irish republicans tried to derail the peace project, the now deputy first minister denounced them as “traitors to the island of Ireland”. He left no doubt that he believed violence could no longer serve a purpose, declaring: “My war is over.”
Martin McGuinness failed in his bid to become Irish head of state in the presidential election of 2011.
But he later struck up an apparent rapport with the British head of state, shaking hands with the Queen on more than one occasion.
In 2012, he announced he was standing down as the Member of Parliament for mid-Ulster although, in common with other Sinn Féin MPs, he had never taken his seat at Westminster.
He unexpectedly quit his post as deputy first minister in January 2017 following a row over a botched scheme, overseen by then First Minister Arlene Foster, to provide renewable energy for Northern Irish households which could end up costing the taxpayer £500m.
Ill health was also a factor in his decision to stand down. When he arrived at Stormont to hand in his resignation, he looked visibly frail.
Martin McGuinness Would Not Stand for Re-Election
Martin McGuinness told the BBC it was “a big decision” and he would not stand for re-election.
“The honest answer is that I am not physically capable or able to fight this election, so I will not be a candidate,” he said.
Martin McGuinness resignation triggered an election in Northern Ireland as, under the peace agreement, the executive cannot function if one side walks out. In the event, the 2 March poll saw Sinn Féin making gains that ended the unionist majority in Stormont.
Martin McGuinness’ Political Career
Martin’s political journey began on the streets of Derry in the late 1960s when he joined the marches for Civil Rights. From his early days he has been guided by the vision of re-uniting our country. He joined the IRA in the 1970s. He was present on Bloody Sunday when 14 of his fellow citizens of Derry were murdered by the British Army.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Martin worked alongside John Hume, Albert Reynolds, Gerry Adams and others in bringing about the IRA ceasefire and the development of the peace process. He was elected to the peace negotiations in 1996 and was appointed the Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator in the talks, which led to the Good Friday Agreement.
Martin McGuinness became Education Minister in 1999 and put equality for all children at the heart of his education policy. He took the landmark decision to end the socially divisive system of academic segregation, the ‘11 plus’, while promoting Irish-medium and integrated education. As Minister he prioritised and increased funding for children with special needs and those from socially disadvantaged communities.
Deputy First Minister
In 2007 Martin McGuinness became the north’s deputy First Minister alongside Ian Paisley a position he currently holds alongside the new DUP leader Peter Robinson. His approach on the Executive and the All Ireland Ministerial Council has been one of partnership, equality and inclusion and he has helped demonstrate that politics can and do work for all in our society.
Martin McGuinness’ Death
McGuinness took ill in late 2016, and his doctors advised him against making international trips at the time. He was insistent on keeping his condition private and termed his lack of traveling as being due to unforeseen circumstances. He underwent many tests which revealed that he was suffering from a grave disease, details of which he refused to share with the media. One media outlet, The Irish Times, however, went on to publish that he was suffering from amyloidosis, something which McGuinness did not take kindly, citing a breach of privacy. Amyloidosis affects the organs and is a rare disease with no cure. The condition progressed over time leading to his hospitalization on 6th March 2017 at the Derry’s Altnagelvin Area Hospital. Fifteen days later, he passed on at the age of sixty-six.
Martin McGuinness: The Good, the Bad Guy?
“Was there a good and a bad Martin McGuinness?” asks Dawn Purvis, ex-leader of the Progressive Unionist Party. “I wouldn’t know. I only met the good one.”
Mary Lou McDonald has a pithy message
Mary Lou McDonald has a pithy message for anyone who disapproves of her friendship with the late Martin McGuinness.
“Feck them!” she says in her contribution to Jude Collins’s new book, a collection of personal reminisces about the former deputy first minister and IRA chief. She also criticises the southern media’s “utterly repulsive” treatment of McGuinness during his failed 2011 presidential bid, railing against Miriam O’Callaghan and Vincent Browne while using language such as “hypocrisy… obnoxious… a failure of public service broadcasting.”
As McDonald’s comments suggest, Martin McGuinness: The Man I Knew will probably be best appreciated by devotees of the Sinn Féin cause. Although Collins’s interviewees include politicians, policemen, pundits, priests and Provos, by his own admission he failed to persuade many unionist voices that they should take part.
Martin McGuinness Legacy
Martin McGuinness was the IRA leader who became a peace negotiator – a committed Irish republican who ended up shaking hands with the Queen. Together with Gerry Adams, he was the main republican architect of the move towards a political solution to Northern Ireland’s problems.
Martin McGuinness Family
Martin McGuinness married Bernadette Canning in 1972 and the couple had four children. Away from politics he enjoyed Gaelic football and hurling, both of which he had played in his younger days.
Martin McGuinness Hobbies
He was also keen on fly-fishing and cricket.
- James Martin Pacelli McGuinness Biography and Profile