#Politics : Martin McGuinness,Northern Ireland's former deputy first minister, dies at 66

Martin McGuinness had a rare genetic disease affecting his tissues and organs.

Martin McGuinness, the former IRA chief of staff and a key figure in the Northern Ireland peace process, has died just two months after stepping down as deputy first minister.

The Irish republican died after a short illness in Derry’s Altnagelvin hospital surrounded by his family. He was 66, and had a rare genetic disease caused by deposits of abnormal protein – amyloid – in tissues and organs.

Gerry Adams, his closest political ally, confirmed that McGuinness had died. Speaking on Tuesday morning, Adams said: “Throughout his life, Martin showed great determination, dignity and humility and it was no different during his short illness.

“He was a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the reunification of his country.”

The Sinn Féin president added: “On behalf of republicans everywhere we extend our condolences to Bernie, Fiachra, Emmettt, Fionnuala and Grainne, grandchildren and the extended McGuinness family.”

McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in the Northern Ireland assembly on 9 January, because of the refusal of the first minister, Arlene Foster, to stand down temporarily during an inquiry into a public energy scandal.

McGuinness’s resignation triggered the collapse of the power-sharing government and the calling of new elections in which, he announced on 19 January, he would not be standing.

During his last press conference, McGuinness appeared frail and there had been reports in recent weeks that his condition had deteriorated severely. He was too ill in December to join a trade mission to China with Foster.

His death will provoke a mixed reaction in Northern Ireland and beyond. To many he was seen as a peacemaker, a man who, having once argued that the British presence in Ireland could only be ended by armed struggle, became a passionate believer in compromise with the unionist community. McGuinness and others help a man injured in a deadly gun and bomb attack at an IRA funeral in Belfast in 1988. Photograph: David Jones/PA Archive

Others will still regard him as a key figure in the IRA terrorist group that killed more than 1,500 people before its political wing, Sinn Féin, embraced the compromises its peaceful rivals in the Social and Democratic Labour party had articulated from the 1960s onwards.

Married with four children, McGuinness was the IRA’s chief of staff from 1979 until 1982 and ran the paramilitary movement when Lord Louis Mountbatten and 18 British soldiers were killed on the same day. Tony Blair (l) meets Gerry Adams (c) and Martin McGuinness (r) in his parliamentary office in 2007. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Alongside Gerry Adams, McGuinness courted Tony Blair from the moment the Labour leader won his landslide election in May 1997. The Sinn Féin leaders were able to negotiate concessions from the prime minister, ranging from early IRA prisoner releases to the controversial “on-the-runs” scheme, in which wanted republicans were given “letters of comfort” that appeared to offer them immunity from arrest or prosecution.

McGuinness struck up a close working relationship with Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff, who also held backstage meetings with senior IRA figures in Belfast.

The snap election triggered by McGuinness’s resignation resulted in Sinn Féin coming within one seat of the Democratic Unionists as the largest party in the assembly.

In the days after the result, McGuinness’s condition deteriorated and he had to be moved from his home in Derry, where he was receiving palliative care, to Altnagelvin hospital’s high dependency unit.

After his liver failed, his wife, Bernie, posted a prayer on her Facebook page stating: “Things may look dark and bleak now, but I have faith that my dawn is coming. In Jesus name, amen!”

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