San Francisco award for Martin McGuinness criticised by IRA victims

Certificate of honour from US city recognises ex-Sinn Féin politician’s service in the military

Victims of IRA violence have criticised the city of San Francisco for posthumously honouring Martin McGuinness for his “courageous service in the military”.

The certificate of honour, issued by San Francisco on Friday, is the US equivalent of being given the freedom of a city. It also praises the late Sinn Féin politician and IRA member's role in the Northern Ireland peace process and securing the Belfast Agreement.

Mary Hamilton, now an Ulster Unionist Party councillor, was injured in an IRA bombing in Claudy, Co Derry in 1972. Her brother-in-law, George Hamilton was also shot and killed by the IRA that year.

"The Mayor of San Francisco should come to Northern Ireland and see the victims here and what the legacy of Martin McGuinness has left behind him," she told the BBC's Nolan Show.


Ms Hamilton said she “broke down” when she heard McGuinness had received the award as she “couldn’t believe it”.

“I remember every day the Claudy bomb victims blown to pieces at my feet and my brother-in-law, [who was] shot in the back, left a four-year-old child and a wife,” she said.


Mervyn Lewers, a retired policeman from Derry, who lost both legs in an IRA car bombing, expressed his anger at an event to mark European Day for Victims of Terrorism.

“Can I say how disgusted I feel on the award that was given to Martin McGuinness,” he said, adding that he was raised in Derry when McGuinness “was IRA commander in the city”.

David Kerrigan’s sister Heather was a 20-year-old corporal in the Ulster Defence Regiment when she was killed in an IRA landmine blast just outside their home town of Castlederg, Co Tyrone in 1984. Mr Kerrigan was on the same patrol and was badly injured in the attack.

“Martin McGuinness wasn’t in an army - he was a terrorist, he was the leader of the terrorists,” he said. “We were just disgusted when we heard it.”

Mr Kerrigan’s wife Irene said she could not understand the mindset of those behind the US award.

The certificate of honour was signed by the Democrat mayor of San Francisco, London Breed.

It states: “Martin’s courageous service in the military and as a negotiator helped cement and shape the Northern Ireland peace process and construct the Good Friday Agreement.

“His sacrifice and dedication to secure peace for his people is not only an inspiration to us all, but represents San Francisco values at their best. He leaves a legacy that embodies and celebrates the diverse history and strength of San Francisco and Ireland.”


Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie, a former British soldier, tweeted to Ms Breed: "I fought shoulder to shoulder with your country after the 9/11 terrorist attack. Yet you honour terrorists who butchered men, women and children in mine. #ShameOnYou"

McGuinness died at the age of 66 in 2017. He was second-in-command of the IRA in Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1972. McGuinness said he withdrew from an active role in the IRA in 1974 to concentrate on politics. In 1997, he became MP for Mid Ulster and in 2007 he was appointed Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister.

A Sinn Féin spokesman said: “This honour from the city and county of San Francisco is a welcome recognition of the life and legacy of Martin McGuinness.

“Martin McGuinness made a colossal contribution to the peace process, Irish unity and reconciliation. His remarkable life and legacy has been celebrated and recognised across the world.” - Additional reporting PA

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times