Martin McGuinness, the Irish Republican Army commander who led his underground, paramilitary movement toward reconciliation with Britain, and was Northern Ireland's deputy first minister for a decade in a power-sharing government, died Tuesday, his Sinn Fein party announced. McGuinness, 66, suffered from amyloidosis, a rare disease with a strain specific to Ireland's northwest. "Throughout his life Martin showed great determination, dignity, and humility and it was no different during his short illness," Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said. "He was a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the re-unification of his country."
McGuinness' transformation as peacemaker was all the more remarkable because, as a senior IRA commander during the years of gravest Catholic-Protestant violence, he insisted that Northern Ireland must be forced out of the UK against the wishes of Protestants, the AP reports. Even after the Sinn Fein party—the IRA's legal, public face—started to run for elections in the 1980s, McGuinness said that "armed struggle" remained essential. Yet within a few years of making that stubborn vow, McGuinness was exploring the opposite option in covert contacts with British intelligence that led eventually to a truce, inter-party talks and the installation of the IRA icon in the heart of Northern Ireland's government.