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McGuinness went from rebel to minister

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Issue 2546
Martin McGuinness, former IRA leader who died this week
Martin McGuinness, former IRA leader who died this week (Pic: Jess Hurd)

Rebels are often condemned in their lifetime and praised in death. Former Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader Martin McGuiness managed to receive the praise while still alive.

McGuiness, who died this week, went from fighting the British state to negotiating with it. He went from being denounced by the bigot Ian Paisley to chuckling with him as his deputy first minister.

He explained joining the IRA as a logical outcome of being 18 when police baton-charged civil rights protesters in Derry.

He was one of several IRA members flown to London in 1972 for talks with members of the British cabinet. He was 22.

By the mid-1990s the British state hoped to reach a compromise with the Republicans that would make sectarianism in Northern Ireland manageable for Britain.

That McGuinness agreed to that compromise explains the warm weasel words from Tony Blair and his ilk. That he led resistance to the state at all explains the continuing bitter hostility from the Tory right.

Irish Republicanism was born from an honourable opposition to colonialism and empire.

But Irish politics is littered with parties that broke with insurrectionary Republicanism, ditched the gun and made peace with imperialism.

McGuinness’s life embodied a tragic truth—that courage and fighting spirit are not enough to transform the system.

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