Northern Ireland

Martin McGuinness' journey from IRA leader to meeting the Queen

Martin McGuinness, pictured in 2001
Image caption Martin McGuinness, pictured in 2001

In 1977, the graffiti on Belfast's Falls Road spelled out the republican position on the Queen's Silver Jubilee: "Victory to the IRA, Stuff the Jubilee."

As the monarch marked 25 years on the throne, the IRA marked another year in its "long war".

The face of that campaign was Martin McGuinness, who had joined the IRA as a young teenager.

In a frank interview around 1970, a baby-faced Mr McGuinness walked through the streets with a BBC reporter.

He did not correct the correspondent when he described him as the "Officer Commanding for the Derry part of the IRA Provisional operation".

The youth was asked whether the IRA's bombing would stop in future in response to public demand.

"Well, we will always take into consideration the feelings of the people of Derry and these feelings will be passed on to our GHQ in Dublin," he replied.

Soon, Mr McGuinness was on the run and was imprisoned for IRA membership.

He is reputed to have been a senior figure in the IRA for decades, although he claims he left the organisation in 1974.

However, throughout the Troubles, Martin McGuinness aligned himself with the IRA and its "war".

Image caption The Queen and Prince Philip visited Northern Ireland during her Silver Jubilee year in 1977

When the Queen was touring Northern Ireland for her Silver Jubilee, the IRA vowed to give the monarch a visit to remember.

While the British Army greeted the Queen with a 21-gun salute, there were running battles in republican areas between republicans and the British Army, particularly west Belfast.

'Queen of death'

In Hillsborough, well-wishers waved Union flags while in Andersonstown, there were protests from republicans.

Crowds carried a black banner referring to the "queen of death".

The eve of the Queen's visit fell on the anniversary of internment and it was a riotous, hot August night, as republicans vented their fury.

A young republican teenager, Paul McWilliams, had been shot dead hours earlier by the British army in controversial circumstances and anger was palpable.

A bomb had exploded the week before the Queen's Coleraine visit and the Royals stayed on the Royal Yacht Britannia amid tight security.

During the Coleraine speech, the Queen spoke of her deep concern and sadness at the Troubles.

"No-one could remain unmoved by the violence and the grief that follows it," she said.

The Queen spoke of reconciliation but two years later her cousin, Lord Mountbatten, was murdered off the coast of Sligo by the IRA, whose campaign Martin McGuinness continued to front.

Even as Sinn Fein began to win electoral success in the 1980s, Mr McGuinness was still wedded to violence.

"We don't believe that winning elections and winning any amount of votes will win freedom in Ireland," he said.

Image caption Some people opposed the Queen's visit to Dublin last year

"At the end of the day, it will be the cutting edge of the IRA which will bring freedom."

He was "the hawk of all hawks," according to author and commentator Eamonn Mallie.

By 1986, Sinn Fein was changing - ending its absentionist policy in the Irish parliament - but its message did not.

Speaking to the party faithful, Mr McGuinness declared: "Our position is clear and it will never, never, never, never change.

"The war against British rule must continue until freedom is achieved."

But a new decade brought a new message of peace. The 1994 IRA ceasefire ultimately led to the multi-party negotiations where Mr McGuinness was Sinn Fein's chief negotiator.

In 1997, in Bellaghy, where nationalists were confronting security forces over an Orange parade, the message had transformed.

Standing on a gable wall, Mr McGuinness calmed an angry crowd in front of armed policemen.

"If this here tonight degenerates into a riot, they will have won," he told them.

"That's the reality. Let's not give them that."

While power-sharing brought Sinn Fein to Stormont, the Queen also visited in her Golden Jubilee year but Sinn Fein stayed away from Parliament Buildings while she was there.

Attitude shifted

After the IRA wound down and decommissioned its weapons, Martin McGuinness became Northern Ireland's deputy first minister in 2005 and took further steps towards peace.

However, meeting the Queen in Dublin last year was still a step too far.

Image caption The Queen lays a wreath at the Irish War Memorial Gardens in Dublin

He let First Minister Peter Robinson travel to Dublin without him to greet the monarch - who, to the surprise of many, laid a wreath for the republican dead and spoke in Irish.

Within months, Mr McGuininess's attitude had shifted. He declared his willingness to meet the British head of state if he was elected Irish president.

As he left the count, he did not wish to speculate what he would do as deputy first minister.

But in several BBC interviews he did not rule out a meeting, insisting he was still pondering the question.

He praised the Queen's dignity in Dublin - and hinted a meeting was possible.

However, as recently as this month, such a meeting was described as a "big ask".

Still, most believed a meeting was about to take place, and few were surprised by Sinn Fein's announcement that Mr McGuinness would meet the Queen.

The historian and commentator Brian Feeney said Sinn Fein had been moving to the centre ground in Northern Ireland over the past decade, and there was logic in its decision.

"What they are trying to do is collect the middle-class vote in the Republic, where their main aim now is to become the main opposition party and do well in the next general election," he said.

"They didn't make any friends by refusing to meet the Queen when she visited Dublin and this is going to look good in the Republic," Mr Feeney added.

Still, for some in republican west Belfast, it still looks rather different.

Fresh graffiti was daubed on a wall in Conway Street, near the old mill which Sinn Fein used to use for its press conferences.

"Shove your jubilee, Lizzie," was the message.

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