Sinn Fein chief, Martin McGuinness dead at 66

Martin Mcguinness speaking at Ard Fheis (source: Sinn Fein via Flickr)

By Tom Morris

“We don’t believe that winning elections and winning any amount of votes will bring freedom in Ireland.” These were words once spoken in a television interview by Martin McGuinness, who died last week.

Many here in Wales may not know much about McGuinness despite his important place in Northern Irish politics.

It is also difficult for us, with our quiet Cymraeg-and-NHS based devolution, to imagine a system wherein many of the representatives were formerly committed to armed struggle and branded terrorists.

Unlike his long-time political partner in Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, McGuinness was not just rumoured to be in the Irish Republican Army (IRA)- he was a known leader.

A lot of articles surrounding McGuinness’ death have been based on interviews with those who were harmed in IRA attacks.

Some of the victims can never forgive McGuinness, but just as many seem to agree that his commitment to peace in the country overshadows his youthful bloodlust.

Those who still hold his time in the IRA against him say he only went into politics because the IRA was on its last legs, infiltrated by British intelligence and increasingly unpopular with Catholics and Protestants alike.

Other commentators disagree with this view, saying that the IRA could well have continued their campaign of terrorism, and indeed did even as McGuinness and others tried to bring about peace.

It has to be a good sign that the last act of politics he was involved in was the Cash for Ash scandal- a good old fashioned political bribery issue about a domestic arrangement.

He served as deputy first minister alongside three successive DUP first ministers, most famously alongside Ian Paisley who himself died in 2014.

The story of how the two went from sworn enemies on opposite sides of the political spectrum to being collaborators at the centre of power has been the focus of much media attention, including a film, which was largely panned by critics and went straight to DVD.

Once again, fact is stranger than fiction, and the narrative British newspapers will continue to promote- that McGuinness was personally responsible for all the terrible things the IRA did- remains dominant.

“I’ll be a republican until the day I die.” He no doubt said words to this effect as a young man, dreaming of a long and armed struggle against British rule or perhaps a soldier’s death.

But as he said them as an old man, resigning due to health concerns, they took on quite a different meaning.