Northern Ireland

Claims by Martin McGuinness that he left IRA in 1974 rejected in new RTÉ documentary

The documentary features archive footage and photographs of the late Martin McGuinness as an IRA activist
The documentary features archive footage and photographs of the late Martin McGuinness as an IRA activist

CLAIMS by Martin McGuinness that he left the IRA in 1974 have been rejected in a new RTÉ documentary on his life and legacy to be screened tonight.

In 'McGuinness', former IRA man Kieran Conway is among those to contradict the claim, while former taoiseach Bertie Ahern suggests the Derry man probably remained involved until shortly before the IRA announced an end to its armed campaign in 2005.

The documentary also includes interviews with former US President Bill Clinton, former British prime minister Tony Blair and Baroness Eileen Paisley, wife of former DUP first minister Ian Paisley.

It features archive footage of a Provisional IRA training camp which, according to journalist Kathryn Johnston, shows the future deputy first minister with his face masked by a stocking holding a gun.

In his evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, Mr McGuinness - who died from a rare heart condition in 2017 - confirmed he had been a Provisional IRA member but said he left in 1974.

Derry People Before Profit councillor Eamon McCann rejected suggestions that he left the organisation after his release from prison in November that year.

The fellow Bogsider said: “Martin McGuinness did not leave the IRA in 1974. What he did do is he appeared in court and said ‘I was in the IRA’. Now that was on the record so years later he could say ‘Well I was in the IRA until 1974 but then left’.

“Had it not been for that court case in Dublin, he wouldn’t have been saying that. After all, if you’re a member of a secret army, it has to be a secret that you are a member of the army."

The RTÉ documentary also shows south Dublin native Mr Conway – who now works as a solicitor – pictured along with Mr McGuinness.

He says: “I only became aware that he had given sworn evidence to the Bloody Sunday tribunal that he left at the time of his arrest and imprisonment and that he was not an active member when he came out but that’s not true.”

The programme includes claims that Mr McGuinness became the first chief of the IRA’s northern command when it was re-organised in 1976 and its chief of staff in 1977, remaining as leader until 1982.

Mr Ahern recalls negotiations with Mr McGuinness and former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.

“Martin effectively was, if not the number one leadership of the IRA, was the person who was listened to by the IRA. My assessment is that Martin was involved in the IRA probably up to near the end, the disbandment,” he says.

The documentary highlights major attacks carried out by the paramilitary group, including the 1990 “human bomb” which killed Derry man Patsy Gillespie and five British soldiers.

Journalist Ed Moloney claims that as leader, Mr McGuinness must have given his approval for such operations.

However, former republican prisoner Eamonn McDermott said the Derry man wouldn’t have had knowledge of “90%” of what the IRA did.

Former Stormont speaker and Sinn Féin MLA Mitchel McLaughlin also said whoever took the decision to carry out such attacks, it was not Mr McGuinness.

The documentary charts the former deputy first minister’s journey from Bogside IRA leader to peacemaker, including his close relationship with former adversary Ian Paisley.

Mr Paisley’s wife, Eileen, recalls his reaction to her husband’s death.

“He was in fact tearful and he bowed his head over the coffin and he said to me ‘I have lost a friend’, and I thought that said more than anything else that could be said."

His role in the peace process is also praised by a number of former political leaders.

President Clinton said: “He proved that someone who had spent a lifetime fighting could accept a victory that was shared.”

McGuinness will be screened on RTÉ One at 9.35pm.