Martin McGuinness, IRA and Sinn Fein leader, dead at 66

Martin McGuinness, a former commander in the terrorist group Irish Revolutionary Army (IRA) who became a political leader and helped end decades of violent strife in his nation, died at age 66 of a rare heart condition.

The IRA sought to split Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom,keep the island whole, and establish it as a mainly Catholic enclave. The rival Unionists wanted a single country with a protestant majority, with close ties to England.

Bombings, gunfights, and bloodshed marked the nearly 100 years of fierce conflict between the two sides. It was seen by most of the world as an intractable conflict, without hope of a resolution.

McGuiness, twice convicted of IRA activities, later embraced the peace process. He was instrumental in getting bitter rivals to sign the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, ending nearly a century of violence in Northern Ireland.

In 2007 he became co-leader of Northern Ireland, serving side by side with his former Unionist enemies.

McGuiness stepped down for the post in January to protest the treatment of a scandal by current Unionist co-leader Arlene Foster.

(Reuters)