Martin McGuinness: Ex-IRA man who became a master of politics

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has travelled a long political road since his role in the IRA, but unionist hard-liners remain angry that today's deal will see him share political responsibility for law and order in Northern Ireland.

Republicans claim that his highly influential term as Deputy First Minister has helped him deliver what was once thought to be politically impossible.



Over the last three years he has struck up an unlikely partnership with Ian Paisley, branded dissident republicans "traitors", and withstood taunts that the DUP was blocking Sinn Fein policies in the Assembly, while he also backed the power-sharing government when others in his party were tempted to pull the plug.



His harshest critics will never forgive his self-confessed role in the IRA, while others paint him as a wily political operator who has engineered a crisis to secure the devolution of policing powers away from Westminster and on to the island of Ireland.



But colleagues and close observers claim that, by showing a willingness to work with unionists, and by facing down death threats from disaffected republicans, Mr McGuinness has been able to "bank" political capital and is now profiting.



A Sinn Fein source said: "There were times over recent years where there was tension between people in the party who wanted to put it up to the unionists, who thought they were just creating space to get at us, to insult us in the Assembly.



"But it was often Martin who said, no, it was right to wait and that we should prove the institutions can work."



As recently as December, the DUP seemed reluctant to agree a deal on devolving policing and justice powers with republicans, which would hand the Stormont administration responsibility for policing and for the courts system.



It repeatedly rejected claims that it was bound to do so by the terms of the St Andrews agreement of 2006 which had led the two parties into government.



And as the controversy grew, it seemed certain that Sinn Fein was set to pull the institutions down in protest.



But by last month a scandal was sparked by the revelation that Democratic Unionist MP Iris Robinson, wife of party leader Peter Robinson, had secured £50,000 from two property developers to set up a business for her teenage lover.



Suddenly there was a perception that the DUP feared it would suffer severely in a snap election which would follow a collapse of the Assembly.



Critics claim, therefore, that good fortune has helped Sinn Fein and Mr McGuinness secure today's political gains. Others claim the Derry republican has "made his own luck".



When the seemingly impossible was achieved in 2007 and the DUP and Sinn Fein entered government together, the then First Minister Mr Paisley took to calling his political partner "my deputy".



But while Mr McGuinness knew the role of Deputy First Minister was equal in all but name, he gritted his teeth.



Thereafter the men struck up a remarkable rapport, regularly sharing jokes in public, and with the younger man displaying a readiness to show some respect for his older colleague.



One republican said: "I remember when the two of them were in the US and Paisley lost his train of thought during a speech. Martin stepped in and glossed over it to help Ian."



It has also emerged the former enemies even prayed together around the death of Mr McGuinness's mother.



In mid-2008 the so-called "Chuckle Brothers" were split up when Mr Paisley stepped down as DUP leader and a new era began with the arrival of Mr Robinson.



The DUP wanted to show a tougher face, and the East Belfast MP was just the man for the job.



But it was the Deputy First Minister who carved out one of the most notable political moments of the period when dissident republicans murdered two soldiers and a policeman last March.



Standing next to Mr Robinson and the then chief constable, Mr McGuinness branded dissidents traitors to the people of Ireland. Given his own past, it was a dramatic intervention.



By late last year, there was a growing feeling in Sinn Fein that their man's defence of the peace process was not being matched by the DUP, which, it claimed, was stalling the devolution of policing powers.



Mr McGuinness, who gets up at 5.30am each day to travel from his home in Derry to the Assembly in Belfast, often not returning until midnight, was getting increasingly impatient with the political impasse.



A source with long experience of the senior republican said: "I know that people were saying to McGuinness 'Why are you letting yourself be treated like this?'.



"I know he can be patient, but recently I think he felt he may have to walk. And in those circumstances he would cut you off as quick as look at you. The unionists realised that."



Under today's deal a new Justice Minister will be drawn from outside DUP and Sinn Fein ranks, but both parties will continue to lead the administration that will now boast its new law and order powers.



Last year Mr McGuinness was among senior Sinn Fein colleagues who addressed supporters in Co Tyrone. He told the audience it was now the task of republicans to "make friends with unionists".



This is dismissed by opponents, who note he openly acknowledges his former membership of the IRA. But a recent opinion poll of Catholics and Protestants voted the Deputy First Minister the Assembly's most impressive politician.



It marked a further milestone in his unpredictable political journey and added to the impression that when this period of the peace process is reviewed, Mr McGuinness may emerge as the chief political beneficiary.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, UI, JMX, FIX)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, U...

Structured Finance

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - An excellent new instruction w...

SQL Server Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Server Developer SQL, PHP, C#, Real Time,...

C#.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, Win Forms, WPF, WCF, MVVM...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone