Jacket photograph © Kelvin Boyes Photography
Jacket design: Tina Hudson
This publication is copyright Liam Clarke and Kathryn Johnston (2001) and is included on the CAIN site by permission of Mainstream Publishing and the authors. You may not edit, adapt,
or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without express written permission. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.
From the backcover:
'Martin was standing at the bottom of the stairwell surrounded by women chatting and making small talk. He looked like a pop star standing there blinking at them. The guy undoubtably has charisma and presence. It was remarkable, he went from being bogey-man to getting accepted by people and being found fascinating on that human level.'
Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government tells the story of Martin McGuinness' personal journey, from undistinguished IRA volunteer, to the man that the Cook Report called 'Britain's No 1 Terrorist'. By the end of the '90s, Esquire magazine rated him the second most powerful man in the United Kingdom after Rupert Murdoch. And although he denies ever having been IRA Chief of Staff, he says that he regards the charge as a compliment.
Introduction: October 2001 7
A Boy from the Bogside 13
Sticks, Stones and Good Old Petrol Bombs 25
The Volunteer 39
Bloody Sunday 54
The Blue-Eyed Boy 67
The Sinews of War 91
18 Paras and Mountbatten 105
The Hunger Strike 120
The Armalite and the Ballot Box 132
The Cutting Edge 145
Turning Point 170
Judge, Jury and Executioner 182
Operation Taurus and the Ceasefire 194
The Learning Curve 207
Guns to Government 218
The Long March Away from the Gun 230
Conclusion: An End to the IRA? 242
Introduction: October 2001
I have to point out that those purporting to be writing autobiographical (sic)
accounts of my life are doing so without my cooperation or approval’
Martin McGuinness, 21 August 2001
What has McGuinness got to hide?
Letter in Irish News, from
‘No to Censorship’, Dublin, 27 August 2001
For years Martin McGuinness has complained that his views have been censored, yet when we asked to interview him he ignored the first two requests and replied to the third with a solicitor’s letter.
Barra McGrory, McGuinness’ lawyer, advised us solemnly that our letter to ‘the Minister for Education, Mr Martin McGuinness, MP, MLA seeking a meeting with him to discuss your forthcoming political biography of him, has been passed to me for reply. Mr McGuinness wishes me to make it clear to you that he will not be cooperating in any way with this project.’
It was a reply worthy of Howard Hughes and it didn’t stop there. In August 2001, McGuinness interrupted his holiday to issue a press statement ‘to ask republicans to withhold cooperation’ with us. Timing is everything; and his was poor. By now all our interviews had been completed and the final manuscript was sitting on the publisher’s desk.
As George Orwell wrote in 1984, ‘Who controls the past . . . controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ Right through the research process, McGuinness’ power and influence were evident. Sources, even some who were sympathetic to him, asked for their names and personal details to be changed for fear of annoying him. The usual explanation was ‘I have to live in this town.’
When a request was made to the RUC press office for cooperation it went straight to Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the Chief Constable, who instructed his staff to write to us saying, ‘his decision is that we should not assist in the project’. An RUC spokesperson later made it clear that Flanagan’s refusal was not to be taken personally; it was due to the ‘sensitivity’ of the peace process and of the subject matter. A personal meeting with Flanagan produced a promise to get a senior officer to consider a list of questions but none of them was answered.
Every police officer and every republican who assisted in our research had to be willing, to some degree, to break ranks in the interests of setting the record straight. It is gratifying that there were so many of them. We appreciate their honesty and courage and are proud to count many of them as friends. The insights belong to them, the mistakes are our own.
Special mention must be made of the excellent resources at the Linenhall Library, Belfast, and the outstanding CAIN Archive (Conflict Archive on the Internet), at the University of Ulster’s Derry campus, under the direction of Project Manager, Dr Martin Melaugh. We would also like to thank Peter Heathwood for giving us generous access to his unique private video archive of television news broadcasts and documentary programmes.
Colleagues we would like to thank personally for contributing material or recollections are Trevor Birney of UTV Insight, photographer Kelvin Boyes, Stephen Grey of the Sunday Times, Hugh Jordan of the Sunday World, Walter McAuley, Chief Librarian of the Belfast Telegraph, Eamon Melaugh, Dr Martin Melaugh of the University of Ulster’s CAIN Archive (http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/), Dean Nelson, Scottish Editor of the Sunday Times, Rebecca North of the Sunday Times picture desk, Barrie Penrose, Jonathan Miller and Nic Robertson of CNN, journalist Ted Oliver, photographer Crispin Rodwell, Pat McArt, editor of the Derry Journal and our solicitor, Paul Tweed.
Liam Clarke would like to thank Fiona McHugh, the Irish Editor of the Sunday Times, and his other colleagues at the Sunday Times. We would like to acknowledge the serenity and fortitude of all the staff at Mainstream Publishing in Edinburgh, especially Sharon Atherton, Bill Campbell, Tina Hudson, Peter MacKenzie, Jess Thompson, Becky Pickard, Fiona Brownlee and in particular, to our editors, Ailsa Bathgate and Alison Provan.
This book could not have been written without the tolerance and understanding of our families; their many offers of help and support were deeply appreciated. Finally, we would like to thank our sons Adam and Daniel, and our daughter, Alice. They showed great patience during the writing of this book in summer 2001, and we are grateful. This book is for them.
If you have any comments about the material in this book please contact the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org
Quotations attributed to ‘author interview’ refer to previously unpublished interviews which McGuinness gave to Kathryn Johnston in 1992. Several people asked that their identities be kept confidential. For this reason and for legal reasons, a number of people have been given pseudonyms. The names we have given them are: Burke, Des Clinton, Charlie Coogan, Chick Donnelly, Peter Doherty, John Joe McCann, Stubby Wall, Paddy Lawlor and Martin Ingram. The following are deceased: Kevin Agnew, Gerry ‘The Bird’ Doherty, Jimmy Drumm, Kathleen and Willie Gallagher, Cathal Goulding, Eamon Lafferty, veteran republican Sean Keenan, Malachy McGurran, Sean MacStiofain, Micky Montgomery, Daithi O Conaill, Phil O’Donnell, J B O’Hagan, Seamus Twomey, Kevin Ward, Eddie McSheffrey, George McBrearty, Charles Maguire, John Gerard Holmes and Paddy Deery.
Dennis Bradley: Former priest, founder member of the Link, Oscar winning film-maker
Willie Breslin: Former teacher and Derry Labour Party activist
Willie Carlin: FRU agent in Derry Sinn Féin
Pat Devine: Former SDLP Mayor of Derry
James Doherty: Nationalist Party politician and businessman, employed Martin McGuinness at the start of the Troubles
Martina Donnelly: Wife of Michael
Michael Donnelly: Former ‘hooded man’, attacked by IRA in 1998
Brother Egan: Teacher at Brow of the Hill Christian Brothers School
Monsignor Denis Faul: Campaigner on human rights abuses
Raymond Gilmour: RUC agent within the IRA, later gave supergrass evidence. Interviewed prior to his confidentiality agreement with MI5
George Harrison: Irish American activist
John Hume MP, MEP: SDLP leader
Pat Hume: Wife of John Hume
‘Martin Ingram’: Former FRU agent handler and intelligence collater
Phil Kent: Irish activist living in North America
Pat McArt: Editor of the Derry Journal
Martin McGartland: Former RUC agent within the IRA
Paul McGill: Education journalist
Peter Mandelson: MP for Hartlepool
Lord Ken Maginnis: Ulster Unionist Party Security Spokesman
Sir Patrick Mayhew: Former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Eamon Melaugh: Civil rights and political activist
Liam O Comain: Former organiser for Sinn Féin in Derry at the start of the Troubles
Michael Oatley: MI6 agent, known as ‘Mountain Climber’
David Shayler: Former MI5 agent facing charges of breaching the Official Secrets Act
Peter Taylor: Journalist and broadcaster
Jill Uris: Photographer
Paddy Ward: Former IRA member
Sammy Wilson: MLA, DUP Education Spokesman
Norman Walmsley: Civil rights activist
Conclusion: An End to the IRA?
In many ways Martin McGuinness is an exemplary man. He is a good father, a good husband, a strong churchgoer, I believe him to be honest and upright in his personal conduct. No, my only quarrel with Martin was with the legitimacy and morality of using violence for political purposes.
Bishop Edward Daly, Financial Times, 4 December 1999
Bugger me, I thought, this is a murderer and terrorist talking about spending more on integrated education.
Dr Marjorie ‘Mo’ Mowlam MP, April 2001
On 8 May 2001, Peter Robinson, the Democratic Unionist Party MP and Member of the Local Assembly for East Belfast moved a debate in Stormont: ‘That this Assembly has no confidence in the Minister of Education, Mr Martin McGuinness MP.’
McGuinness did not speak in the debate, but his hooded pale blue eyes flickered at Robinson’s opening words:
A document was sent to my home recently, and I read it out in the House of Commons. The document outlines the present Army Council membership of the IRA. It indicates that the Chief of Staff is Thomas Murphy, and the Assistant Chief is Brian Keenan. The other members are Martin McGuinness, Gerard Adams, Martin Ferris, Patrick Doherty and Brian Gillen. The Headquarters Staff are as follows: the Quartermaster is Kevin Agnew; the Adjutant General is Martin Lynch; Bernard Fox is in charge of the Engineering Department; the Director of Education is James Monaghan; the Director of Finances is Patrick Thompson; the Operations Officer is Sean Hughes; the Director of Intelligence is Robert Storey; and Patrick Murphy and Kevin McBride are in charge of Internal Security - although I suspect that they will have to get new jobs after this. These are the people in charge of the Provisional IRA today. That information is on the record at the House of Commons, and it is now on record in this House.
Robinson’s staccato words were accurate. McGuinness has maintained control of the IRA like a vice since his early days as the first leader of Northern Command in 1976. There have been few changes in the Army Council since then. Brian Keenan, one of the most influential men in the secret world of international arms dealing, rejoined the Army Council shortly after his release from prison in 1993 after serving 14 years of a 21- year sentence for masterminding 18 terrorist outrages. In early 2001, Keenan travelled to Colombia to set up a joint IRA/Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) training camp. Jim ‘Mortar’ Monaghan, named by Robinson as a member of Staff, is the man who designed and developed the IRA’s homemade mortar from its 1974 prototype, the Mark One, to the sophisticated Mark 18 Mortar, ‘the barrack buster’. At the time of writing, Monaghan was one of three IRA men being held in the infamous La Modelo jail in Bogotá, where they were charged on 23 August 2001 with travelling on false documents and aiding terrorism.
Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy was a founder member of Northern Command Staff and Pat Doherty, McGuinness’ close friend from Donegal, replaced Daithi O Conaill as OC Southern Command shortly afterwards. The relationship between Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness has its foundations in their joint membership of the 1972 IRA delegation that met William Whitelaw in Chelsea. The two men remain close. In 1984, Adams convalesced in McGuinness’ grandmother’s house in the Illies as he recovered from gunshot wounds he received in the loyalist attempt on his life in March that year.
This parliamentary tactic had been employed before by the DUP. On 4 February 1998, during a debate on the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Bill, Robinson’s party leader, Ian Paisley MP, MEP, MLA read an extract from an article he said was written by ‘a Roman Catholic journalist from the Bogside.’ He continued:
This journalist says about Mr McGuinness: ‘How dare you, big chief republican, current killers’ mouthpiece, former killers’ colleague, clamour for prosecutions. If we inquired into the entirety of the violence of the early 1970s with half the vigour you want for the Bloody Sunday investigators, who would stand accused beside the paratroopers?’ ‘I think General Sir Robert Ford (Commander of Land Forces in Northern Ireland in 1972) in particular is going to come under the microscope,’ you said. It’s a pity you could not go under with him. Perhaps the search for truth and justice will someday uncover the role of command you had in another land force of the time. Mrs Rose Hegarty must long to know. ‘Who is Rose Hegarty?’ The article continues, saying to Martin McGuinness, ‘you promised, on bended knee, that her son was safe to return from exile. He was in hiding from the IRA who had threatened to kill him. You promised and cajoled and charmed her into telling him to come home. A few boys would question him and he’d be free to go, you told her. His sister drove him to the appointed place. His sister, unwittingly, drove him to his death. He was shot and his body unceremoniously dumped.’
Those women long for the truth behind that atrocity. They won’t hold their breath waiting for you to speak it. As Sinn Féin spokesman, your truths, like your morality, are selective. Your double standards are sickening . . . Sinn Féin should shut up . . . they have covered a dirty, murky, bloody past of their own in a way that makes Widgery look positively Godly.
McGuinness is a grandfather now, but back in 1972, he was just 21 and eager to flex his muscles in his first chance at command. After almost 30 years, his early enthusiasm remains undimmed.
While Martin McGuinness, Chief Negotiator for Sinn Féin, took part in the negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement, the secret army he belonged to trained, targeted, imported weapons and even, on occasion, killed. On 17 June 1999, police believe Scott Gary Monaghan, a Scotsman who has served time for bombing offences in Belfast, tried to murder Martin McGartland, a former RUC agent within the IRA who resettled in Tyneside under a new identity after his cover was blown. McGartland was seriously injured in the attack and has been campaigning for his attackers to be charged ever since. In 2001, Sergeant Ian Mills, a victims’ liaison officer with the police at Tynemouth Area Command wrote to tell McGartland who his attackers were. One suspect, Monaghan, had been released from prison early under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, and the other, Harry Fitzsimmons, had been a member of McGartland’s unit. McGartland is one of the most vocal and courageous of the many ‘exiles’ that cannot return to Northern Ireland for fear of IRA reprisals.
While the RUC and the Garda Siochana tended to agree that the IRA had no firm plans to go back to war, they realised that they maintained the capability to do so. Like a nuclear deterrent in inter-state relations, the IRA’s arsenal was a powerful bargaining tool in the talks, especially when the arms were not used. Republican targeting exercises, often carried out under the very nose of surveillance teams, might be accompanied by repeated IRA assurances that they ‘posed no threat to the peace process’, but police were in no doubt that they still constituted a form of gunboat diplomacy, which could at times have its uses. There was little doubt in the mind of the British that if republicans wished, they could return to violence.
These were the cards that history had dealt McGuinness, and he was not in a hurry to surrender any of them. British suspicion of republican intentions emerged graphically just eight days after he took office when a bug was discovered in a car that he had used to meet the IRA during the Mitchell review. Mowlam had personally sanctioned the listening and tracking device found in the vehicle, as she later confirmed in a television interview. MI5 later briefed the Sunday Times that the twenty-thousand-pound device had also been intended to help locate IRA weaponry. The target of the surveillance was an IRA intelligence officer, Martin Lynch, whose unsuspecting wife owned the car. Adams tacitly confirmed the vehicle’s status as IRA transport when he stated that it was used by both Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator, and himself when they travelled to meetings with the IRA. He accused the British of endangering the peace process, describing the affair as ‘an outrageous breach of faith which must be addressed at the highest levels’. His complaints were largely ignored.
Peter Mandelson, who took over as Secretary of State after Mowlam, was an astute observer of human nature. Of McGuinness, he said, ‘If you were in his bad books, he would treat you in a very tough, usually unpleasant, way. If you were in his good books, he was completely charming.’ The two men were not close. Mandelson did not like the habit McGuinness had of jabbing him in the chest at moments of tension, and McGuinness regarded his detailed expositions of the political constraints on British action as little more than excuses for delay. When Mandelson shared his impressions of McGuinness with Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin President told him, ‘Well, the nice thing about Martin is that he is so human - so emotional, quick to anger, quick to charm, quick to show his humour, always reacting very sharply in a situation. Martin takes everything very seriously, expresses himself very passionately.’ Mandelson continued, ‘In a sense, I know what he was saying. On the other hand, there was an aggression, almost a violence sometimes, in the way he expressed his point of view, and attacked you for your own, which was off-putting and not very constructive.’ Mandelson found that, ‘Martin would come with an agenda - actually both he and Gerry would come with exactly what they wanted to say and what they wanted to hear from you. Martin would oftentimes talk to you as though you were being deliberately perverse, quite stupid. How could you not see this, why can you not see our point of view, why can you not realise that the British Government has got to do this?’
One particular occasion when Mandelson and McGuinness crossed swords was after Mandelson temporarily suspended the Assembly and other institutions in February 2000 to avoid triggering Trimble’s resignation: ‘You will look back on this day and realise that you have destroyed what we achieved. This is the worst decision anyone has ever taken - what you have done is of such historical magnitude.’ The Secretary of State felt: ‘It was all calculated to make you feel that you had indeed done something of earth-shattering destructiveness, that you had really wrecked things. It was meant to make you feel utterly awful and unnerved. When you are first on the receiving end of something like that, it does take you aback, it does make you think, and you do of course reflect on it. But it was a speech I got many times subsequently, on many different occasions.’
Mandelson found McGuinness to be an intransigent bully in negotiations; even so, he had to admit that Sinn Féin’s tactics were among the most effective he faced as Secretary of State. While the Provos were constantly chiselling at his position, negotiating and moving from one issue to another, the Ulster Unionists expended all their political capital more or less fruitlessly on the issues of policing and decommissioning.
As McGuinness played hardball with the British in his demand for the full implementation of the Patten report into the future of the RUC, he took every opportunity to drive a wedge between them and the Unionists, squeezing every situation until the pips squeaked. McGuinness would even exploit divisions within the IRA and dissident attacks to extract further concessions with which to bolster the Sinn Féin leadership. As part of his game plan, McGuinness stretched the consensus with the SDLP to its limits, using the spectre of breakdown and violence to frighten the larger party away from a deal with unionism. It was a predatory relationship, aimed at hollowing out their support in order to supplant them.
In the short term, McGuinness would often use Hume’s party to decisively influence the Irish government’s Northern policy and, through Dublin, could often induce Clinton to pressurise the British. If McGuinness could play the sophisticated spin-doctor, he could also do the common touch. An initial flurry of protests at state schools, orchestrated by the DUP, died away when the reality sunk in that there was nothing to be gained from antagonising the Education Minister. The civil servants liked McGuinness. Unlike Minister of Health, Bairbre de Brun, he did not press his staff to learn Irish or waste departmental budgets on bilingual statements. One civil servant said, ‘There was some initial trepidation but he is basically very easy to deal with and not at all temperamental. He has a few clear objectives and he follows a brief intelligently.’ His one controversial proposal was the egalitarian one to abolish selection at the age of 11, which he had failed himself. With the well-honed skill of a politician, he floated the proposal off to an independent commission, covering his back against any fallout.
His high-budget Education portfolio allowed him an opportunity to spend government money, particularly in constituencies that Sinn Féin held or was targeting, and provided an opportunity for him to soften his public image by having photographs taken with young children and clergy. McGuinness was eager to put his hard man reputation behind him. In conversation he cultivated the diffident, almost academic, image of a shambling grandfather, prone to clumsy, if innocent, faux pas. After his daughter, Grainne, gave birth, he charmed the press outside Hillsborough Castle by announcing, ‘It’s a boy, six foot, three inches - I mean six pounds, three ounces.’ His backwoods style may well have been contrived, like the story he repeated with self-deprecating glee at every leg of his American tour in 2001. As McGuinness took the podium, he would tell the apparently spontaneous yarn of the Chinese woman who had grasped his hand, exclaiming, ‘Are you David Letterman?’ to which McGuinness replied, ‘Well, at home they think I’m Art Garfunkel.’ According to Nic Robertson, the CNN journalist who followed him, ‘It brought the house down every time.’
McGuinness made attempts at outreach, inviting leading churchmen, Protestant as well as Catholic, to lunch with him at Stormont. He told CNN of one Protestant Church leader who suggested, ‘Martin, this situation would move along an awful lot easier if you would say you were sorry for the events of the last 30 years.’ McGuinness, an IRA leader throughout the Troubles, replied, ‘The responsibility lies with successive British governments, right through those decades, who turned their heads away from what was happening in the North of Ireland. It is very easy to blame a little black boy in Soweto, or to blame a little Catholic in the Bogside. It’s very easy to salve your conscience and wash your hands of all of that and place the responsibility on a small person as if they were to blame.’
Criticisms of past IRA actions are characteristically met by McGuinness in one of two ways. The first is ‘what-about-ery’, a blatant attempt to change the focus to the sins of others. The second, accompanied by a sorrowful shaking of the head, was an exhortation to leave the wrongs of the past behind, for after all, are we not all victims? As McGuinness explained to Nic Robertson, ‘I think that the legacy of the Troubles is something that we are going to have to deal with, because there’s pain in this for everybody and on all sides. But I do think that it’s a serious mistake to attempt to apportion blame and responsibility for that around the shoulders of people in this city who decided, because of the oppression that was being used against them, to confront the British Army.’ This, however, was not his attitude to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, where he demanded full disclosure. McGuinness resisted requests to give evidence to the Saville Inquiry for as long as possible and was among the last to give a statement. As Lord Saville of Newdigate pointed out to McGuinness’ solicitor, Barra McGrory, when he applied for full interested party status for McGuinness on 13 December 2000, the Inquiry ‘had no reply to that letter in April, a reminder was sent in May and another reminder was sent in July; another in July and to none of those letters was a reply sent.’ McGrory was left to apologise for his client, who, he suggested, had not been aware of the ‘full gravity of his personal situation in respect of these proceedings’.
At the time of writing, the suspicion of a smoke-screen still lingers over the accounts given by both the Ministry of Defence and the IRA to the Inquiry. Several IRA members who had been active at the time of Bloody Sunday were ‘visited’ after news broke that McGuinness had decided to give evidence. After being politely asked if they intended to follow McGuinness’ example, any who said they did were bluntly warned not to proceed.
His image as the IRA’s trustee in the peace process, the hard man whose unquestioned integrity could be wheeled out to convince hardline republican doubters, has begun to move out of focus, to dissolve into the new persona of the genial, fly-tying grandfather with a common touch - an image he is clearly keen to promote. Martin McGuinness would now like us to picture him more at home with a fishing rod than an Armalite. The hoary mantle of the IRA has slipped from McGuinness’ shoulders and looks as though it might be assumed by Brian Keenan, the international Marxist and arms trader, whose suspicions of McGuinness’ role in his own arrest in Operation Hawk in 1979 have never entirely faded.
The puritanical image of Martin McGuinness has also relaxed with the years. He once said, ‘I don’t drink and I don’t like dancing, but I do like to go out to socials where there would be ceilidh dancing and a bit of crack and traditional music.’ As a teenager, he had experimented with alcohol, but renounced it to maintain his guard when he joined the IRA. Previously, he would only have drunk occasionally and in private, in the house with Bernie, whereas now he takes the odd glass of wine, usually a West Coast cooler, in company. The softening of his image since the ceasefire has allowed the man once called ‘Britain’s No 1. Terrorist’ to admit to more homely pursuits. McGuinness admits himself that he is a little heavy-handed with the garlic when he follows his favourite Delia Smith recipe for meatballs - something his daughters told him when they were dating as teenagers. The man who in 1985 denied being Chief of Staff of the IRA with a smile, saying that if it were true he would regard it as a compliment, now cheerily admits that he enjoys hoovering, if he has the time.
His regular reading includes each week’s An Phoblacht/Republican News. He used to read the Sunday Times until around 1993, but by 10 June 1996, as he told the Media Guardian, he had ‘grown dispirited by its biased coverage of Northern Ireland.’ He relaxes by reading Trout & Salmon Magazine, ‘which transports me to the lakes, rivers and mountains where I feel most at peace.’ Among films he has enjoyed are Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson, and Into the West, starring Gabriel Byrne. McGuinness enjoys RTE’s Questions & Answers, as well as its BBC equivalent, Question Time, and considers John Humphrys of BBC Radio Four ‘tough but fair’. Less serious viewing includes wildlife programmes and Last of the Summer Wine.
McGuinness’ political hero, ‘apart from Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers’, is Tashunka Witko (Crazy Horse) of the Oglala Sioux, who was run through with a bayonet by a US soldier while imprisoned. ‘His dying words were: "All we wanted was peace and to be left alone."’ His long-time favourite leisure pursuit is fishing, however, and perhaps by now he has fulfilled his ambition for a holiday salmon fishing in the Scottish Highlands, from where he was excluded for so many years under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 1982.
McGuinness summed up his future vision for the IRA in an interview with Emily O’Reilly in The Observer, when she asked him where they went from here: once decommissioning had been resolved; the assembly was up and running and the Good Friday Agreement had been fully implemented. Poker faced, he replied, ‘The old IRA existed in the south for years. They attended commemorations, they buried old comrades, and they did so peacefully. It’s an odd question in my opinion. Why should we worry about it?’ The image is of some cherished antique, the pike rusting in the thatch, even while partition flourishes and British rule continues.
With the benefit of hindsight, and in terms of whether or not it has achieved its stated objectives, the IRA campaign has been a waste, both of time and of life; and this is something which many veterans find deeply troubling. The political differences between Sunningdale and the Good Friday Agreement are too minor for either the campaign or the massive loss of life that intervened to be logically or morally justified. However, life is not lived with hindsight; to argue against the decision to end the campaign on the best terms available - and McGuinness did get the best terms - is to argue for the continuation of a struggle which experience has shown to be futile. In any case, one major factor distinguishes between the Good Friday Agreement and Sunningdale: under Sunningdale, Sinn Féin would not have attained power, nor McGuinness, ministerial office.
McGuinness’ great achievement is to have steered his movement through almost 30 years of largely fruitless violence; to emerge, not defeated as they might otherwise have been, but, with his hand on the tiller, as one of the most powerful forces in Irish politics. It is an achievement not so much for his community, as for his comrades.
A police officer who has spent the best of his career career studying him observed:
McGuinness has been an extremely cold and ruthless man and he has had a very keen sense of self-preservation. Where others have died, he has lived; and his tactics have only been restrained by what his followers would tolerate, not by humanitarian concerns. Yet I would have to admit he is a religious man and apparently a loving father, he has his own integrity and he is not corrupt. From all that we can see, there is no sign of him going back to terrorism.
Many who spent their careers despising him for his role in the IRA now, almost against their will, find him a likeable and engaging individual. His old gift of devoting all his attention to one individual, so evident when he flattered and groomed young Derry men for the IRA is also a valuable commodity for a politician. One man who watched McGuinness and Clinton together says, ‘It’s no contest - no one can work a room like McGuinness, not even the President. He could charm the birds out of the trees.’
Lord Maginnis, the recently retired Ulster Unionist Party MP, a former UDR Major, found McGuinness the most likeable of all the Sinn Féin members he has met during the talks process. ‘If I hadn’t a fairly serious grievance,’ Lord Maginnis admitted, ‘if I wasn’t thinking about the way in which terror was conducted, I probably would find McGuinness quite a palatable companion - there is an earthiness and directness about him which can be quite attractive, whereas I still wouldn’t like Adams. I find him laughable because he is so pompous. Things are never going to be right between people like McGuinness and myself, there are too many bad memories, but for our children and our children’s children, things will inevitably be different.’
Martin’s younger brother Willie, an activist like him, has avoided the hardship suffered by most IRA volunteers. In fact, he is now Chairman of Iona Enterprises, a community development programme. He is also carving out a niche in the security field for himself. On 6 March 2001, Paul Greengrass, a film director for the January Films production Bloody Sunday, thanked ‘Mr William McGuinness and his colleagues who provided security and stewarding.’
In July 2000 former MI5 officer David Shayler revealed that MI5 and the Metropolitan police anti-terrorist squad had kept regular surveillance on a cousin of Martin McGuiness, Cyril ‘Jimmy’ McGuinness. Writing in Punch magazine, Shayler claimed that bungling by MI5 in 1992 allowed McGuinness to escape arrest. Two months after the Bishopsgate bomb in London on 24 April 1993, the Met issued a photofit picture of Cyril McGuinness, but by that time he had gone on the run to the Irish Republic. In November 1995, he was fined one thousand five hundred pounds for refusing to complete an embarkation card at Cairnryan ferry port. Shortly after the Docklands lorry bomb which had marked the end of the first ceasefire on 9 February 1996 and had killed two people, he was arrested in Britain again - bolt cutters found in his car after a police search were allegedly linked to the theft of agricultural fertiliser in the south of England. The six-foot man, who lived in a mobile home at Rosslea, Co. Fermanagh at the time, was released on police bail and returned to Northern Ireland.
In 1990, his former brother-in-law, Joseph McColgan, was sentenced to four years in prison by a Florida court after being found guilty of attempting to export a Stinger missile to Ireland without a licence. The FBI caught McColgan as he tried to hide the missile in a suitcase. When arrested, McColgan told the FBI, ‘I am just a poor Irishman on holiday.’ His comments provided some light relief to jurors. On 4 April 2001, Joe McColgan assured the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that ‘I would not know an IRA gunman if I seen one.’ He also claimed never to have discussed the events of Bloody Sunday with his former brother-in-law, who he had never even asked if he had been on the march.
His mother, Peggy, has certainly become more politicised, telling An Phoblacht/Republican News on 25 January 1996, as she reflected on her own experiences: ‘Hundreds of tragedies have affected me: Bloody Sunday, deaths of volunteers, children murdered by plastic bullets, the lists is endless. I agonise to this day over the horrific deaths of the hunger strikers. These people were starving themselves to death for justice and all I could do was join in the daily protests or lead a crowd of women in saying the Rosary at the street corner every night. The frustration I felt to try and relieve their pain was terrible.’
One remarkable feature of his career, remarked on by colleagues, policemen and unionists alike is the fact that he has managed to avoid serving any major term of imprisonment. For a man who has been involved in violence and intrigue for many years he has emerged from it in remarkably good shape. He bears no injuries and his family, unlike the families of many republican and loyalist activists, is functional and unscathed. None of them have been imprisoned or deprived of either parent because of the Troubles, which their father did so much to orchestrate.
His mother Peggy worries, as she told the BBC’s Real Lives programme in 1985, about him: ‘Any mother would worry who had a son involved in a political struggle. I worry all the time about his safety and about all the family.’
At least twice loyalists have threatened his life; initially when his first marital home was targeted for a bomb attack; and once when Michael Stone was plotting to kill him. On each occasion, he received timely warnings from sources he never acknowledged and changed his movements. In 1992, he admitted the possibility of an attempt by loyalists to assassinate him, saying, ‘I’m conscious of that and it doesn’t worry me at all. I have no fear of them whatsoever, absolutely none. I think that taking sensible precautions like being careful, not having a regular routine, assists you in protecting yourself.’
When Mo Mowlam was Secretary of State, McGuinness’ name was on a list of 30 republicans to receive home security grants at taxpayers’ expense, which was submitted to her by Sinn Féin after she accepted their demand that the RUC should not be involved in the assessment procedure.
Ian Phoenix, the head of the RUC’s surveillance unit who was killed in the Chinook crash, recorded in his diaries that surveillance of McGuinness and other Sinn Féin leaders was officially curtailed on 27 September 1993. Phoenix challenged the decision, considering it to be a result of political pressure. Some have hinted that McGuinness may have been protected by the British state at some level. It seems beyond rational belief, however, that he was an informant or agent. For much of his life, he lived in relative poverty; too many of the IRA operations of which he had knowledge were carried to a successful conclusion, and over too long a period, for McGuinness to have been a security force agent. The republican struggle would not have continued as it did if McGuinness had been seeking consistently to subvert it from within. Much of his apparent luck is explained by what the police officer referred to as ‘his very keen sense of self preservation.’
Some former IRA men say that McGuinness rarely took the same chances with his life and liberty as others, and held back from the worst of the action. However, there can be little doubt that a prosecution could have been mounted against him if it had been a priority. Sean O’Callaghan and Robert Quigley were just two of the potential witnesses who would have been willing to give evidence against him. Operation Taurus, the RUC’s concerted and major effort to prosecute him in the 1990s was ended in circumstances where charges might have been expected and where senior police officers warned of political sensitivities.
One possible explanation for his apparently charmed existence is that McGuinness was selected at an early stage by the British authorities as someone who could prove useful, and was preserved in a leadership position with future negotiations in mind. It is standard international intelligence practice to leave the leadership of paramilitary or subversive groups intact. If security measures remove the top tier of leadership, a new generation of Young Turks will have to spend years going through the learning curve their predecessors have already experienced. In the intervening years, they will secure their position through militancy. Preserving the leadership does not prevent the security service from attacking the organisation itself, narrowing the leadership’s options and even, when necessary, taking out more militant factions who show serious signs of escalating the campaign and threatening the leadership’s grip on the levers of power. It is a classic technique, and some attempt at it must have been in place even as Lord Widgery prepared his report in the months that followed Bloody Sunday in 1972.
By the mid-1970s, British policy had abandoned earlier models of stamping out the first signs of an uprising with saturation level troops for the more sophisticated option of the long haul of Ulsterisation, containment and ultimately, political negotiation. It was at this point that McGuinness met British ministers and officials when he was plucked from the obscurity of the Bogside to join the delegation to meet William Whitelaw in Cheyne Walk. Dennis Bradley, the former priest who was the central link between McGuinness and British Intelligence, bears witness to the constant contacts between republicans and the British authorities. Bradley, now an Oscar-winning filmmaker, stresses that McGuinness was never a blind militarist:
McGuinness’ great contribution is that he knew, even quite early on, that the war could not, nor should it, go on forever; and that violence in its own right had no role to play. At an early stage I knew that if there was political movement it would allow McGuinness’ head to move into that and that he would have some authority, and I use the word some authority, within that situation to bring other people with him.
Oatley, an able and decent man, emerges from the Troubles as something of an Irish Lawrence of Arabia, a British agent who grew to appreciate the republican perspective, and who had a sense of mission. He surfaced during the 1981 hunger strike as ‘Mountain Climber’, where republicans became convinced, probably through misunderstanding him and certainly mistakenly, that there were better terms available to them than those they were being offered through the official channels of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace. Oatley’s contribution may not, in the end, be remembered as the most positive, either for the hunger strikers or, at a later stage, for the peace process. The Irish government certainly regarded his activity as an impediment to real negotiations with the Provos. Genuine progress towards a ceasefire was made only after the secret diplomacy of men like Oatley had been replaced by more or less open political dialogue.
However, the contribution of the secret diplomats may have been more positive for McGuinness personally. Oatley’s final act before retiring from MI6 in 1991 was to visit McGuinness in Derry to give him an analysis of the way forward. Afterwards, Oatley spoke warmly, even admiringly, of the republican leadership. He wrote of Adams’ and McGuinness’ courage in the Sunday Times in October 1999, saying: ‘They decided to take a risk. I was a witness to their decision. For many years, circumstances have allowed me an occasionally intimate view of political developments within the republican movement. I became aware of the leadership’s broadening attitudes, re-examination of the effectiveness and justification of the armed campaign and willingness to enter into dialogue with people who could offer fresh perspectives.’
Was it a leadership that Oatley and his colleagues saw the value of preserving?