Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland

The death at 66 of Irish rebel, political leader, and peacemaker, Martin McGuinness, has produced an outpouring of tributes across the island of Ireland, and from across the political divide.

McGuinness, like thousands of young Irish men and women living in the Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and early 70s, was a product of the injustice that was the daily lived experience of Catholic and nationalist communities across the partitioned six county statelet. Denied equal rights by unionist controlled local authorities when it came to the allocation of housing, employment, and the right to vote, they were left in no doubt of their second class status in a state that had been cleaved from rest of Ireland in the wake of the Irish War of Independence between 1919-21, out of which the 26-country Irish Republic was born.

Martin McGuinness was born and grew up in Derry’s Bogside, a sprawling Catholic housing estate located outside the city’s walls. In the late 1960s, as with other working class Catholic communities across the province, the Bogside was one of the most poverty-stricken parts of Europe, where unemployment was rife and people lived in overcrowded, substandard housing conditions.

As with other young men growing up in such conditions, McGuinness became politically aware at a young age. He joined the Provisional IRA in response to the state-sanctioned sectarian violence that was unleashed against Catholics in Derry and throughout the province. This violence reached its nadir in response to the growth of a non-violent Irish Civil Rights Association, a mass protest movement led by young Catholics and Protestants that demanded equal rights for Catholics. Inspired by the black civil rights movement in the United States, it staged mass demonstrations across the Northern Ireland, attracting international attention in the process.

By the time of Bloody Sunday – when soldiers of the British Parachute Regiment shot 26 unarmed civil rights protesters in Derry, killing 14 – McGuinness had already risen to the position of senior commander within the local IRA. In his early twenties, his leadership qualities were already apparent in the course of a pitiless conflict that in the first half of the 1970s was at its most intense and violent. “I fought against the British Army on the streets of Derry and I don’t make any apology about that,” he said in a 2015 interview.

The conflict in Ireland, known as the Troubles, lasted over three decades. By the time it ended 3,600 people had been killed with up to 50,000 maimed and wounded, most of them civilians. It pitted the Provisional IRA and various smaller republican paramilitary organizations against British military forces and loyalist paramilitaries. The IRA and its republican supporters considered, and continue to consider, Britain to be illegally occupying a part of Ireland, while loyalists considers those six counties to be as British as any other part of the UK, refusing thereby to countenance the possibility of them being reunited with the rest of Ireland.

Though the polarization between both communities in the North remains impassioned and unbridgeable for many, politics in this tiny corner of Northwestern Europe is now conducted via the ballot box rather than the gun. Martin McGuinness played a central role in steering the Irish republican movement away from violence towards peace. His efforts, working closely with his close friend, comrade, and President of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, resulted in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA)

The agreement was finally reached after a long period of intense negotiations involving Sinn Fein, led by McGuinness and Adams, the British government, led by Tony Blair, and unionist. Signed four years after the IRA declared a cessation of violence in 1994, the GFA led to the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly, a devolved parliament in which Martin McGuinness served in the post of Deputy First Minister until forced to step down in January this year due to the rare genetic condition that ultimately was destined to take his life.

Unsurprisingly his passing has stirred strong emotions on both sides of the political divide, both in Ireland and from within the wider British political establishment. Some have decried him as an “unrepentant  terrorist” and a man with blood on his hands, while his supporters and others recognize the courage he showed in standing up for his community, his people, and the brave steps he took in order to bring an end to a conflict that shaped him from a very young age.

Many within the republican movement itself criticized Martin McGuinnes at various points along the way of the peace process, especially when he chose to meet the Queen, a decision which some viewed it as a betrayal of republican principles and the ultimate goal of a united Ireland. But McGuinness was a man who by then had wholeheartedly committed himself to the path of reconciliation, and as such was willing to weather such criticism in the process of doing so.

This commitment was perhaps best exemplified by the close, if unlikely, friendship he forged with the late Reverend Ian Paisley, a unionist leader who in his own younger days was one of the most committed opponents of anti-Irish republicanism and the Catholic faith Ireland has ever produced. In the course of the peace process and the power sharing assembly in which they worked together, both men overcame their political differences to forge a deep bond of mutual trust and affection.

It was a bond so deep that upon McGuiness’ death, Ian Paisley’s son, Kyle, issued the following tribute on social media: “Look back with pleasure on the remarkable year he and my father spent in office together and the great good they did together. Will never forget his ongoing care for my father in his ill health.”

Martin McGuinness never shied away from his violent past or his role in the IRA’s armed struggle. On the contrary, he always maintained that he was proud of the part he played in what he and all republicans, when looking back, still view as having been a legitimate and just attempt to end the occupation of their country by a foreign government.

But as McGuinness said in 2002, “My war is over. My job as a political leader is to prevent war. My political project until the day I die is to build a better future for all of our people.”

Up until the day he died his every waking moment was dedicated to doing exactly that.

More articles by:

John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1

October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
Marvin Kitman
The Kitman Plan for Peace in the Middle East: Two Proposals
Weekend Edition
October 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
My History with Alexander Cockburn and The Financial Future of CounterPunch
Paul Street
For Popular Sovereignty, Beyond Absurdity
Nick Pemberton
The Colonial Pantsuit: What We Didn’t Want to Know About Africa
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Summer of No Return
Jeff Halper
Choices Made: From Zionist Settler Colonialism to Decolonization
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Incident: Trump’s Special Relationship With the Saudi Monarchy
Andrew Levine
Democrats: Boost, Knock, Enthuse
Barbara Kantz
The Deportation Crisis: Report From Long Island
Doug Johnson
Nate Silver and 538’s Measurable 3.5% Democratic Bias and the 2018 House Race
Gwen Carr
This Stops Today: Seeking Justice for My Son Eric Garner
Robert Hunziker
Peak Carbon Emissions By 2020, or Else!
Arshad Khan
Is There Hope on a World Warming at 1.5 Degrees Celsius?
David Rosen
Packing the Supreme Court in the 21stCentury
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Threats of Death and Destruction
Joel A. Harrison
The Case for a Non-Profit Single-Payer Healthcare System
Ramzy Baroud
That Single Line of Blood: Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah
Zhivko Illeieff
Addiction and Microtargeting: How “Social” Networks Expose us to Manipulation
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
What is Truth?
Michael Doliner
Were the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a Mistake?
Victor Grossman
Cassandra Calls
Ralph E. Shaffer
Could Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Hearing Ended Differently?
Vanessa Cid
Our Everyday Family Separations
Walaa Al Ghussein
The Risks of Being a Journalist in Gaza
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal and Treachery—The Extremism of Moderates
James Munson
Identity Politics and the Ruling Class
P. Sainath
The Floods of Kerala: the Bank That Went Under…Almost
Ariel Dorfman
How We Roasted Donald Duck, Disney’s Agent of Imperialism
Joe Emersberger
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno’s Assault on Human Rights and Judicial Independence
Ed Meek
White Victimhood: Brett Kavanaugh and the New GOP Brand
Andrew McLean, MD
A Call for “Open Space”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail