LONDON: Martin McGuinness, the Irish Republican Army warlord who led his underground, paramilitary movement toward reconciliation with Britain, and was Northern Ireland's deputy first minister for a decade in a power-sharing government, has died, his Sinn Fein party announced on Tuesday on Twitter. He was 66.
The party said he died after a short illness.
Unlike his close Belfast associate, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, McGuinness never hid the fact that he had been a commander of the IRA — classed as a terrorist organisation by the British, Irish and U.S. governments. Nor could he.
Born on May 23, 1950, he joined the breakaway Provisional IRA faction in his native Londonderry — simply "Derry" to Irish nationalists — after dropping out of high school and working as an apprentice butcher in the late 1960s. At the time, the Catholic civil rights movement faced increasing conflict with the province's Protestant government and police.
He rose to become Derry's deputy IRA commander by age 21 as "Provo" bombs systematically wrecked the city centre. Soldiers found it impossible to pass IRA road barricades erected in McGuinness' nearby Bogside power base.
McGuinness appeared unmasked at early Provisional IRA press conferences. The BBC filmed him walking through the Bogside discussing how the IRA command structure worked and stressing his concern to minimize civilian casualties, an early sign of public relations savvy.
In 1972, Northern Ireland's bloodiest year, McGuinness joined Adams in a six-man IRA delegation flown by the British government to London for secret face-to-face negotiations during a brief truce. Those talks got nowhere and McGuinness went back on the run until his arrest on New Year's Eve in the Republic of Ireland near a car loaded with 250 pounds (110 kilograms) of explosives and 4,750 rounds of ammunition.
During one of his two Dublin trials for IRA membership, McGuinness declared from the dock he was "a member of the Derry Brigade of the IRA and I'm very, very proud of it."