Bloody Sunday report shines spotlight on McGuinness

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The Bloody Sunday report sparked euphoria in Northern Ireland's nationalist community but also shone the spotlight on the militant past of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

The Sinn Fein politician, convicted terrorist and former Irish Republican Army member, was named in the Saville report into the 1972 shootings, when British soldiers shot dead 13 men on a civil rights march in Londonderry.

It said that McGuinness, an IRA commander in the city at the time of the killings on January 30, was present and "probably" armed with a sub-machine gun which it was "possible" he fired, but there was insufficient evidence to make a finding.

The report also found he did not engage in any activity that gave the soldiers a reason to open fire -- nor had any of the victims, a huge vindication for relatives who had for 38 years fought claims they were armed.

The deputy first minister, 60, who represents Catholic socialist republicans Sinn Fein in a power-sharing administration with the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Belfast, denied outright that he was carrying a gun that day.

"There was absolutely no foundation or substance to that allegation," he said after the report's publication Tuesday.

Earlier he had told AFP: "I went up in the witness box for two days and answered all of those questions."

But Protestant unionists have demanded clarification of his role and Gregory Campbell, a DUP member of the British parliament for East Londonderry, said that if the report resulted in any prosecutions, McGuinness should be "first in line".

"I would suggest that if the soldiers who opened fire on Bloody Sunday are to face charges -- they need to follow in behind Mr. McGuinness who would have to be first in line," Campbell told the Belfast Newsletter.

Reg Empey, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, told the same newspaper: "If he's saying that what is in the Saville Report is inaccurate about him the same could be said about what it says about any of the soldiers."

Speaking in a debate on the report in the House of Commons in London, the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson said the heavy scrutiny of the role of the British soldiers that day should be matched with tougher questions about the IRA.

"Is not the difficulty that we have the truth on one side but not the truth on the other?" he said, adding: "We do not know the truth about what Martin McGuinness and the IRA were doing that day."

McGuinness's transformation from convicted terrorist to deputy first minister in 2007 was one of the most remarkable in recent political history.

He started out by joining the Catholic Civil Rights Movement in his home city of Londonderry -- known to Catholics as Derry -- in 1968 and joined Sinn Fein, now the main Catholic nationalist political party, two years later.

Unionists once labelled him the "IRA godfather of godfathers" and his confirmation in May 2001 that he had been a member in the 1970s surprised few.

He was never detained by the British authorities but he was sentenced to six months in jail in the Republic of Ireland for terrorism in 1973, after being caught with explosives in his car. He refused to recognise the court.

McGuinness' transformation to elected politician began in 1982 when he was voted in to the short-lived Northern Ireland Assembly.

He later joined secret peace talks with the British and lead Sinn Fein's negotiations in London after the IRA ceasefire in 1994.

He also played a major part in the landmark 1998 Good Friday peace accords, which largely brought an end to the violence and set up the power-sharing assembly, in which he now holds power.

McGuinness is also a Sinn Fein member of the British parliament but has followed his party's abstentionist policy and refused to take his oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, the head of state.

© 2010 AFP

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