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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 November, 2003, 15:58 GMT
McGuinness reveals 'IRA history'
Martin McGuinness
Mr McGuinness refused to answer certain questions

Sinn Fein MP Martin McGuinness has told the Saville Inquiry that within two weeks of Bloody Sunday he was leading the IRA in Londonderry.

The Bloody Sunday inquiry is examining the events of 30 January 1972 when 13 civilians were shot dead by soldiers during a civil rights march in Derry. Another man died later from his injuries.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr McGuinness said he did not believe it was relevant for the tribunal to establish what happened to his republican career after the killings.

Lord Saville adjourned the inquiry for a short time after complaining that Mr McGuinness was failing to properly answer questions relating to events on the day.

Later, Lord Saville assured Mr McGuinness he had immunity from prosecution.

Mr McGuinness then said that he had been a member of the Official IRA which he joined first in 1970 before leaving within weeks for the Provisionals.

I was not the officer commanding on the day, the acting officer, commander or someone waiting to take over as the officer commanding as this fantasist has it
Martin McGuinness

"At the time of Bloody Sunday I was adjutant to the Derry IRA. Within two weeks, I became officer commanding of the Derry IRA".

On Tuesday, Mr McGuinness insisted that the actual Derry commander of the Provisional IRA on the day was still alive and well, but he added he did not know why he had not come forward to give evidence.

Referring to Paddy Ward, an earlier witness who accused Mr McGuinness of orchestrating violence on the day, he said Mr Ward was a "fantasist, liar, informer and totally dependent on the British military establishment who have used him".

"I was not the officer commanding on the day, the acting officer, commander or someone waiting to take over as the officer commanding as this fantasist has it."

However, he refused to tell the tribunal where the IRA's arms dump was on Bloody Sunday.

Mr McGuinness said he would not be made an exception by being asked about his republican career - that would be for some form of truth and reconciliation commission should all the people of Northern Ireland be prepared to contribute to such an undertaking.

Later, Mr McGuinness said he had advocated that the IRA should not go into the Bogside area of Derry with weapons following the shootings, but instead should "let the world see what the British army had done".

He said he believed the Provisional IRA would never have contemplated opening fire on the British army during a civil rights demonstration.

Soldiers on street on Bloody Sunday
The inquiry is examining the events of 30 January 1972
He said the IRA had a number of snipers in Derry at the time who were capable of picking off soldiers, and that the British army knew they were not fired on by the IRA.

"These people (who died) were heroes because they were prepared to march on the streets to defend the rights of their fellow citizens. For that they were murdered and massacred," he said.

Mr McGuinness said he believed the tribunal would come to no other conclusion than that the dead had been shot in cold blood.

The tribunal returned to the Guildhall in Derry last week after sitting in London for more than a year.

Letters apology

Mr McGuinness apologised for failing to respond to the inquiry's first four requests for a statement.

He said that he delayed replying because of the huge implications for himself, his party and the peace process if he appeared in the witness box as a former IRA commander.

Mr McGuinness said the crucial ingredient that added to his hesitancy was the effect it would have on pro-Good Friday Agreement unionists.

"Any statement from me as a minister of education in a power-sharing executive would have been a thunderbolt and the huge story as it has turned out to be."

Mr McGuinness denied suggestions that the republican leadership had effectively vetted who within IRA ranks would be allowed to go before the tribunal.

He said individuals had to make the decision for themselves, guided by what was in the interests of the families.

The Saville Inquiry opened in Derry three and a half years ago, but moved to Westminster's Methodist Hall to hear evidence from more than 200 former soldiers and some politicians.

This session marks the beginning of the end of the evidence - the tribunal is hoping to hear all the witnesses by Christmas.

Lord Saville of Newdigate and the Commonwealth judges accompanying him on the inquiry are not expected to report back until next year.

The inquiry was established in 1998 by Prime Minister Tony Blair after a campaign by families of those killed and injured.

They felt that the Widgery Inquiry, held shortly after the shootings, did not find out the truth about what happened on Bloody Sunday.

The BBC's Dennis Murray
"The families have always maintained the dead were entirely innocent victims"

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