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Martin McGuinness: Ex-IRA chief who would go on to toast the Queen

By Michael McHugh

Martin McGuinness is a former IRA commander who shook the Queen's hand and dined at her table.

In 1972 it would have seemed absurd that she would one day greet a man who helped lead the Provisionals in a bloody campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland.

The Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday said he "probably" carried a sub-machine-gun during the massacre of 14 unarmed civil rights protesters by soldiers in Londonderry.

He admitted to being second-in-command of the IRA that day.

A former butcher from the Bogside in Derry, a man of action during the street fighting of the 1970s, he ended up toasting the Queen at Windsor Castle.

Mr McGuinness was Sinn Fein's chief negotiator of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended violence, secured IRA arms decommissioning in 2005, and shared power with former enemies in Belfast as Deputy First Minister. During his time as Deputy First Minister he forged such a good working relationship with former DUP leader and First Minister Ian Paisley that they were dubbed the 'Chuckle Brothers'.

The very act of the DUP and Sinn Fein, once staunch enemies, entering into coalition government with Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness at its helm was epoch-making for Northern Ireland.

But it was his more strained relationships with Mr Paisley's successors - Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster - that led to difficulties in recent years at the top of the power-sharing Executive at Stormont

Recently he has been plagued by ill-health, being forced to withdraw from a business trip to China with Mrs Foster on medical advice.

When he announced his resignation in Belfast earlier this month he appeared gaunt and tired.

Under the power-sharing arrangements he took the First Minister with him, ending a decade of testy coalition government with the DUP and forcing an election.

A republican who vowed to bring about a united Ireland, he had always acknowledged his IRA past.

In 1973 he was convicted by the Republic's Special Criminal Court after being arrested near a car containing explosives and ammunition.

After his release, and another conviction in the Republic for IRA membership, he became increasingly prominent in Sinn Fein, eventually becoming its best known face after Gerry Adams.

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