Taoiseach’s visit ‘angered’ McGuinness

Martin McGuinness was said to have been criticial of a pre-election visit to Derry by Taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald in 1985, declassified government files reveal. The surprise visit to the city in April of that year by the Fine Gael leader attracted bitter criticism from the Sinn Fein leader, according to a memo compiled by a Northern Ireland Office (NIO) official. In a report to senior colleagues, dated May 1, 1985, SG Hewitt, of the NIO’s Political Affairs Division, noted that Sinn Fein had described the visit as a “pro-SDLP election stunt while their representatives had made it clear that the representatives of the Dublin Government were not welcome in NI”.

On nationalist reaction, the NIO official wrote: “For Sinn Fein, Dr FitzGerald’s visit could not have come at a worse time as it coincided with the launch of their election manifesto in Belfast.

Martin McGuinness, then a Sinn Fein assemblyman for Derry, hit out at the visit by referring to press photographs of Dr FitzGerald shaking hands with an RUC officer.

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“The image of Garret FitGerald shaking hands with a loyalist gunman,” said Mr. McGuinness, “should stick in the minds of nationalists as they go to the polls on May 15 [council elections].”

SG Hewitt’s memo added: “Judging by Sinn Fein reaction, the visit is likely to boost the SDLP’s election prospects.”