N Ireland's McGuinness in historic Tory conference visit

5th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness made a historic first appearance at the Conservative party conference Tuesday after years of violent tensions between republicans and Tories.

McGuinness, of republican party Sinn Fein, spoke at a fringe meeting at the conference in Birmingham, central England, just hours after a car bomb exploded outside a shopping centre in Londonderry, his home city in Northern Ireland.

The bomb did not cause any injuries but was another reminder of ongoing instability in Northern Ireland which is blamed on dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.

McGuinness denied it was linked to his appearance at the conference.

"The events of the last 40 years where we saw heartbreak and conflict on all sides with loss of life both in Ireland and Britain are now consigned to the past," he said after appearing at an event on the Northern Ireland economy.

In 1984, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) -- of which McGuinness was once a leading member -- bombed the Tory conference in Brighton, southern England, killing five people and narrowly missing then prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

The IRA also killed Airey Neave and Ian Gow, two British lawmakers close to Thatcher, in 1979 and 1990 respectively.

And they launched a mortar attack on Downing Street in 1991 targeting her successor John Major and his cabinet but which injured no-one.

McGuinness said that while it was "a first" for him to be at the conference, he felt no discomfort.

"I've been travelling through Britain since 1994 since the ceasefire and all I get is welcoming remarks from people in the street... people saying 'well done, keep up the good work,'" he said.

The event was also attended by Conservative Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson and Reg Empey, former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.

© 2010 AFP

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