Dublin, Mar 21 (AP) Martin McGuinness, the Irish Republican Army commander who led his underground paramilitary movement toward reconciliation with Britain, died today, his Sinn Fein party announced.

Turning from rebel to peacemaker, McGuinness served as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister for a decade in a power-sharing government.

The party said he died following a short illness.

McGuinness suffered from amyloidosis, a rare disease with a strain specific to Ireland’s northwest. The chemotherapy required to combat the formation of organ-choking protein deposits quickly sapped him of strength and forced him to start missing government appointments.

“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. But above all he loved his family and the people of Derry and he was immensely proud of both.” Irish President Michael D Higgins said: “The world of politics and the people across this island will miss the leadership he gave, shown most clearly during the difficult times of the peace process, and his commitment to the values of genuine democracy that he demonstrated in the development of the institutions in Northern Ireland.” 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 United Kingdom against the wishes of Protestants.

Even after the Sinn Fein party – the IRA’s legal, public face – started to run for elections in the 1980s, McGuinness insisted as Sinn Fein deputy leader that “armed struggle” remained essential.

“We don’t believe that winning elections and any amount of votes will bring freedom in Ireland,” he told a BBC documentary team in 1986. “At the end of the day, it will be the cutting edge of the IRA that will bring freedom.” 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.

Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole argued in January 2017 that McGuinness had been “a mass killer” – during his period of membership and leadership the IRA killed 1,781 people, including 644 civilians – whose personal amiability has been essential to the peace process.

If he were not a ruthless and unrepentant exponent of violence, he would never have become such a key figure in bringing violence to an end.”

Born May 23, 1950, he joined the breakaway Provisional IRA faction in his native Londonderry – simply Derry to Irish nationalists – after dropping out of high school and working as an apprentice butcher in the late 1960s.(AP) ABH

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.