A FORMER IRA member claimed yesterday that Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein minister in the suspended Northern Ireland power-sharing executive, was involved in supplying detonators for nail bombs on Bloody Sunday.
Paddy Ward told the Saville Inquiry into the 1972 incident which claimed 14 lives, that ever since he made clear that he would implicate Mr McGuinness, senior republicans had mounted a smear campaign to discredit him.
Mr Ward - who claimed he was the leader of the Fianna, the youth wing of the IRA in January 1972 - said his men intended to attack city-centre premises in Londonderry on the day when civilians were shot dead by British soldiers.
He said Mr McGuinness, the second-in-command of the IRA in the city at the time, and another anonymous Provo gave him the bomb parts on the morning of 30 January, the date planned for a civil rights march.
Mr McGuinness has dismissed the claims as "fantasy", while Gerry O’Hara, a Sinn Fein councillor in Londonderry, has contradicted Mr Ward and claimed that he was the Fianna leader at the time.
Mr Ward, who was screened from public view as he gave his evidence, said he distributed 16 nail bombs on Bloody Sunday. He said he gave two nail bombs to Gerard Donaghy, 17, several hours before he was shot dead.
Mr Ward told the Saville Inquiry in London that former IRA members had launched a concerted effort to discredit him in recent weeks.
Christopher Clarke, QC, the senior counsel to the inquiry, said that, since Mr Ward came forward, eight separate statements had been received which contradicted his account.
Until earlier this month, Mr McGuinness was the only self-confessed IRA man to have come forward to the 150 million inquiry.
But three others who have admitted being members of the Provisionals on Bloody Sunday have also now made statements, with a fourth expected later.
Former Fianna members Mr O’Hara and Patsy Moore have also submitted statements.
Mr O’Hara said he was given an order that no action was to be taken against the security forces and that order was followed.
The inquiry has also received statements from the mother and father of Mr Ward’s first wife.
Mr Clarke said: "Those eight statements contradict in whole or in part the evidence that Mr Ward is to give."
Mr Ward told the inquiry that the former IRA men who had made the statements may have been coerced or coaxed in a bid to discredit his evidence.
He said: "It seems to me it is a concerted effort to discredit my character.
"I see the same pattern through all the witness statements that I have read, so they have obviously been either coerced or coaxed, or all pulled into line to make the same accusations to discredit my evidence to the inquiry." Mr Ward, who was 16 years old at the time of Bloody Sunday, said it was agreed with Mr McGuinness that a nail-bomb attack would be carried out in Guildhall Square in the city.
He said he gave two nail bombs to each of eight Fianna members, including Mr Donaghy, who was later shot dead.
But the attack was aborted, he said, when he realised that there was no chance of getting into the square.
He said all the nail bombs were brought back, except those given to Mr Donaghy.
The 17-year-old was later photographed with four nail bombs in his pockets, when his body was brought to an army post.
A number of civilians have given evidence to the inquiry denying that Mr Donaghy had nail bombs in his possession when he was shot.
The inquiry heard that Mr Ward had been convicted of possession of a firearm and ammunition in suspicious circumstances, conspiracy to convey weapons unlawfully and of lending a vehicle for the purpose of terrorism in Belfast in 1982.
Mr Ward was also sentenced to three years in prison at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin in 1984, on a charge of false imprisonment.
The Saville Inquiry is investigating the events of 30 January, 1972, when 13 civil rights marchers were shot dead by soldiers in Londonderry’s Bogside area. A 14th man died later.
Mr Ward was the 843rd witness to appear before the inquiry, which usually sits at the Guildhall in Londonderry but is currently hearing the evidence of military witnesses and others in London because of concerns for their safety.