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Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 11:51 GMT
Martin McGuinness: Sinn Fein

By BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent Mark Simpson

One of the least known facts about Martin McGuinness is that he is keen supporter of Manchester United FC.

What is better known is that the convicted IRA man is now minister of education in the devolved Northern Ireland executive at Stormont.

His appointment as a minister in 1999 led to protests from schoolchildren in some unionists areas. Mr McGuinness had long-been a hate-figure to hardline unionists.


In 1993, The Cook Report on ITV named him as 'Britain's number one terrorist'

He has been a central figure in the republican movement for three decades.

In 1972, he was a member of the IRA delegation which was flown to London for talks with the then Northern Ireland Secretary of State William Whitelaw.

In 1993, The Cook Report on ITV named him as "Britain's number one terrorist".

At the time, Mr McGuinness was involved in secret talks with John Major's government.

In recent days Mr McGuinness dispelled any remaining doubts about his role as an IRA leader when he admitted he was second in command in the organisation in Londonderry at the time of Bloody Sunday in 1972.

Although he was born in Derry, and still lives there, Mr McGuinness was elected as member of parliament for Mid Ulster, which covers towns like Magherafelt, Cookstown and Coalisland.

William McCrea of the DUP
Bitter enemy: William McCrea of DUP
In 1997, he took the Mid Ulster seat from one of his fiercest critics - the Reverend William McCrea of the DUP. The head-to-head contest helped produce a huge turn-out of 86%.

Mr McGuinness's majority was less than 2,000 votes, but Sinn Fein consolidated its hold on the constituency at the Assembly election in 1998, when it increased its share of the vote to 41%.

Chief negotiator

He made his debut on the election scene in 1983 when he opposed the SDLP leader John Hume in the Foyle constituency.

He failed to win the seat three times, before turning to his attention to Mid Ulster in 1997.

He is often wrongly described as the Sinn Fein vice-president.

That position is occupied by the West Tyrone assembly member Pat Doherty.

Gerry Adams with Martin McGuinness
Gerry Adams with his right-hand man
But Mr McGuinness is very much Gerry Adams' right-hand man, and was his party's chief negotiator in the talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

In spite of his high-profile role over many years, Mr McGuinness is younger than most political leaders in Northern Ireland. He only turned 50 last year.

In his spare time he likes fishing, and following Man Utd.

It may seem odd that an Irish republican should show allegiance to anything English, but Mr McGuinness is quick to point to the long tradition of Irishmen playing at Old Trafford.

He himself remains a key player in the republican movement.

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