James Martin Pacelli McGuinness


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(b. Derry, Northern Ireland, 23 May 1950)

Irish; Minister for Education 1999–2002, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland 2007–  McGuinness saw the Northern Ireland civil rights movement turn violent during his youth, and he later confirmed that he had been involved in the IRA, acting as second-in-command of the Derry Brigade at the time of Bloody Sunday in 1972. Later that year he took part in secret talks with William Whitelaw. McGuinness was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1982. In the 1980s, McGuinness and Gerry Adams appeared as the public face of Sinn Féin, although, as they were subject to the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, they were unable to enter Britain, nor could their voices be broadcast in Britain. Progress towards peace was being made during the last months of the Major government, and McGuinness became MP for Mid Ulster in 1997, the election which saw Tony Blair become Prime Minister. McGuinness led the Sinn Féin delegation in talks which culminated in the 1998 Good Friday (or Belfast) Agreement, and led to the formation of the new Northern Ireland Assembly. He was elected to the Assembly, and became Minister for Education. He served until 2002, when devolution collapsed following allegations of IRA spying at the Assembly. Talks to reinstate devolution finally bore fruit in spring 2007; McGuinness became Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, the First Minister being veteran Democratic Unionist Ian Paisley. The two men had been implacable enemies during the Troubles, and, to some surprise, the two appeared to enjoy a good relationship, being seen laughing together. Unfortunately Paisley's successor, Peter Robinson, did not have the same rapport with McGuinness.

Subjects: Politics.

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