Dublin, March 21 (IANS) Martin McGuinness, a former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and ex-commander of the Irish Republican Army, has died aged 66, Irish republican party Sinn Fein said in a statement on Tuesday.
McGuinness died on Monday night after a short illness.
A controversial figure, McGuinness was a leader in the Irish Republican Army terrorist group before becoming Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator during the Northern Ireland peace process, CNN reported.
In a statement, Sinn Fein described him as a man of “great determination, dignity and humility”.
His death comes less than three months after he resigned as Deputy First Minister, sparking an election and threatening Northern Ireland’s fragile power-sharing arrangement.
He retired from politics on January 19, saying his health had been deteriorating.
McGuinness was born in 1952 in a Catholic neighbourhood in Derry and joined the IRA in 1969.
A charismatic figure with strong political abilities, he rose quickly through the IRA and by 1972 was participating in secret peace talks with the United Kingdom, reported Efe news.
He was the group’s second-in-command on January 30, 1972, known as “Bloody Sunday”, when British soldiers shot at 26 unarmed protestors, killing 14, during a peaceful march against internment.
McGuinness was chosen to be Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator during the secret talks that led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which paved the way for peace in the region.
He shifted fully into politics with his election as a member of the British Parliament in 1997, a post he held continuously until 2012.
Many high-profile politicians in the UK and Ireland were quick to offer their condolences.
Irish President Michael Higgins said McGuinness’s passing left a gap that would be “difficult to fill”.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said peace in Northern Ireland would not have been possible without McGuinness.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said McGuinness made an “essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace”.