N. Ireland official to reveal IRA link

But he will deny having violent role in `Bloody Sunday'

April 30, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - After 29 years of uncertainty over his role in one of the most searing incidents in the modern history of Northern Ireland, the province's education minister, Martin McGuinness, is poised to disclose publicly that he was the Irish Republican Army's second in command in Londonderry on "Bloody Sunday," according to British and Irish news reports.

But he is expected to label as "rubbish and a lie" allegations made by a security services agent that he fired the shot that triggered the mayhem on the streets of Londonderry on Jan. 30, 1972, which came to be known as "Bloody Sunday."

News reports yesterday indicated McGuinness soon will give his account to an inquiry headed by Lord Saville of Newdigate into events that occurred on "Bloody Sunday," when British troops fired on Roman Catholic demonstrators, killing 13 men and wounding 13 others, one of whom later died.

Throughout his long career, McGuinness' alleged links to the IRA have been a source of contention.

McGuinness transformed himself from alleged rebel republican to tough negotiator and politician, even winning election to Britain's House of Commons in 1997, but he declined the seat by refusing to take an oath of loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II.

According to Britain's Press Association, McGuinness was twice convicted of IRA membership in the southern Irish Republic during the 1970s but was never convicted in a British court.

His role as chief negotiator for Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, was crucial during the talks that led to the Good Friday peace agreement. The pact brought stability and eventually a local power-sharing government to Northern Ireland, which was roiled for 30 years by a terrorist war that left more than 3,600 dead as majority Protestants and minority Roman Catholics struggled over land and history.

"Bloody Sunday" was one of the most violent days of the modern "terrorist troubles." Britain's Parachute Regiment fired on civil rights demonstrators during a march through Londonderry's Bogside district. No criminal charges were filed.

A government investigation, completed 11 weeks after the shootings, concluded that the soldiers returned the IRA's fire and said there was a "strong suspicion" that some of those shot might have been armed earlier.

In 1992, then-Prime Minister John Major of Britain described the victims as innocent. Six years later, Prime Minister Tony Blair ordered the inquiry headed by Lord Saville.

The Press Association said that, according to a source, McGuinness is expected to tell the investigators he backed a proposal to have the IRA accept that Londonderry "should be peaceful to facilitate the march." He will say that he carried out instructions to tell other IRA members not to "engage militarily" with British forces and that those he spoke with agreed.

The Press Association added that McGuinness is expected to say eight IRA members in two units were "armed" and "instructed" to stay in the Brandywell and Creggan areas of Londonderry, while "all other IRA weapons were placed in a closed dump."

Seven weeks ago, McGuinness said he wanted to cooperate with Lord Saville's inquiry, telling reporters he was "very anxious" to give evidence.

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