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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 November, 2003, 18:32 GMT
Eyewitness: MP's 'code of honour'

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online at the Saville Inquiry

When Martin McGuinness arrived at the Saville Inquiry in a sharp suit and tie, he looked every inch the politician.

But after his first day of evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, there would have been many who would only have seen a 21-year-old guerrilla leader who, on 30 January 1972 had come off a night shift of patrolling, gun in hand.

Martin McGuinness in 1971
Mr McGuinness joined the Official IRA in 1970
Mr McGuinness's appearance was a watershed for the Irish Republican Army: Here was one of the most important commanders of the world's most famous underground army willingly talking to a tribunal established by his enemy.

The first of Mr McGuinness's two days at the Saville Inquiry was an often bruising encounter between himself and counsel for the tribunal, Christopher Clarke QC.

The future minister spent the small hours of 30 January 1972 with an "active service unit" before attending Mass and then joining the march.

But did he fire the first shot of the day? Did he hide a Thompson sub-machine gun?

Was he indeed to blame for the deaths? This was what this day aimed to discover.

Republican secrecy

It quickly became clear one thing that has changed very little in three decades is the almost doctrinal code of secrecy at the heart of the republican movement.

The same secrecy that had led IRA critics to complain about a lack of transparency in arms decommissioning resurfaced as Mr McGuinness refused to disclose the location of the IRA's Derry arms dump 30 years ago.

Martin McGuinness at the inquiry
We were not very well organised and were making it up as we went along
Martin McGuinness

And then, almost as quickly as he had closed down discussion on the past, he opened up again to describe a 1972 IRA which was far removed from the image painted on the gable ends of housing estates.

Mr McGuinness said the Provisional IRA had been 40-strong on Bloody Sunday - and three-quarters of its members were probably still alive today.

The many more who may claim to have been members were not, he said. They were staunch supporters but had never been sworn into the "guerrilla movement".

So how was it that he became adjutant, the second in command of a secret army, asked Mr Clarke?

"You have to remember at that time we were very young," he told the inquiry.

"We were not very well organised and were making it up as we went along. We gave ourselves these grand titles that bore little resemblance to real life."

And what about Derry's supposed four battalions of IRA men - was that simply grand phraseology? Indeed it was, conceded Mr McGuinness.

And yet despite this apparent candour, Lord Saville quickly found himself frustrated by Mr McGuinness's refusal to elaborate on his own promotion within IRA ranks - and what had happened to the IRA's weapons on the day.

"You are depriving us of the opportunity to discover the full facts and matter relating to the events of Bloody Sunday and, secondly, it will be suggested in due course that the reason you are not answering these questions is that you have got something to hide," the Law Lord told Mr McGuinness.

After consulting his lawyer, Mr McGuinness conceded on two of the outstanding questions - but resolutely refused to answer the rest.

Mr McGuinness revealed he had joined the Official IRA in 1970 and two weeks after Bloody Sunday, the 21-year-old had become commander of the now dominant Provisional IRA in the city.

And the location of the arms dump?

"I cannot answer that question because there is a republican code of honour," he said. "For me to identify who these people are would be a betrayal."

"Do I understand that your duty of honour overrides the desire the families have got to get to the full truth of events?" asked Lord Saville.

"No. It is my view that identifying where the building is does not in any material way assist this particular tribunal."

Orders for the day

So what about his orders on the day? Mr McGuinness said he had met all the IRA's members and told them to hand in weapons, apart from those with two patrol cars in other areas of the city.

"The orders were very clear. Under no circumstances were they to engage the British army during the civil rights protest march," he said.

"Anyone who was in the [Provisional] IRA was under no illusion about that fact."

Mr McGuinness said as news came in of firing on protesters, his first instinct had been to fight back.

"When we knew that people were being shot, I emotionally felt that I should go and get a rifle and try and defend the people in the free Derry area."

He didn't, he said, because he realised IRA intervention would be counter-productive.

So what of reports and testimony of him being seen at various points with a Thompson sub-machinegun? All lies, utter rubbish, fantasy and concoction, he declared throughout the day.

And the plan in the aftermath of the march?

"A huge number of the citizens considered themselves to be at war against the British. This was a state of war."

"Let us not mince our words," said Mr Clarke. "Is what you are saying that after tea, volunteers would be free to shoot at the British forces, you use these euphemisms, taking them on means shooting them, does it not?"

"Absolutely, yes."

  • Mr McGuinness's testimony continues.

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