McGuinness: IRA leader turned peacemaker

Man of steel: McGuinness spent ten years as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister.

It was an extraordinary personal journey. Martin McGuinness went from being a militant IRA commander to a “courageous” peacemaker. Now he has died aged 66. How should he be remembered?

Martin McGuinness was a teenager when he joined the IRA in the late 1960s. The terrorist group believed in using violence to demand an independent, united Ireland. It was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians. And McGuinness was one of its key members.

But when he died yesterday morning, he received tributes from the highest figures in British politics. The former prime minister Tony Blair even said that people could draw “inspiration” from his life.

Why? Because McGuinness eventually left violence behind. He was the chief negotiator in the talks that led to peace in Northern Ireland in 1998. It is right to remember the role he played “in resolving one of the great conflicts in the world,” said Blair.

The agreement put an end to 30 years of violence known as The Troubles. McGuinness went on to work with his former enemies as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister.

His journey is one of the “most extraordinary ever” said one politics professor yesterday. In 2012 he even met and shook hands with the queen, whose cousin was killed by the IRA.

But some never forgave him. And for the many of the family members of IRA victims, he will always be a terrorist.

Peace and reconciliation

McGuinness should be admired for his role as a peacemaker, say some. He was involved in some terrible acts. But it was very brave to persuade the IRA to put down their weapons; he put his own life at risk in the process. It takes a great leader to move people away from violence.

Wrong — a great leader would never have resorted to violence in the first place, say others. McGuinness had blood on his hands, and he was never held responsible for the deaths caused by the IRA on his watch. Nothing he did later in life can ever make up for the pain caused by those earlier years.

You Decide

  1. Does the second half of Martin McGuinness’s life atone for the first?


  1. What makes a “great leader”? As a class, brainstorm 10 qualities you think they should have. Then discuss: did McGuinness fit the bill?

Some People Say...

“There is no point in having principles if you cannot get anything done.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Martin McGuinness was a member of the IRA and one of its senior commanders. He was caught in a car with 110kg of explosives and 5,000 rounds of ammunition in 1973, for which he spent six months in prison. He says he left the IRA in 1974 to focus on politics. However, it is not known how many people he personally killed, or ordered the killings of, while a member of the IRA.

Word Watch

The Irish Republican Army was first established in 1917. It has experienced splits in its history and still exists in different factions.
Over 3,600 people, including over 2,000 civilians, were killed during The Troubles. Some of these were killed by unionists and the security forces.
When the Good Friday agreement was signed, creating peace in North Ireland after 30 years of violence.
Lord Mountbatten was killed by a bomb while in his boat in 1979. Two teenagers were also killed in the blast, including his grandson.

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