McGuinness defends candidacy move

Martin McGuinness

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness has claimed the North's peace process will be strengthened by his involvement in the Presidential election.

After being formally endorsed by the party’s leadership, the former IRA commander said the Northern Ireland Assembly would not be destabilised by his surprise move.

Outlining his vision for the presidency, Mr McGuinness vowed to only draw the average wage if elected and donate the remainder to the Irish people.

“I have every confidence that the (North) institutions will not be destabilised, that the work will continue, that the peace process will remain secure,” Mr McGuinness said.

“In fact I think it will be strengthened by the fact that I am now participating in this very important election.”

Sinn Féin stunned political circles on Friday by announcing that the former IRA leader, who has become a champion of the peace process, was to be its candidate.

The decision has been billed as the republican movement’s most audacious political move since IRA prisoner Bobby Sands was elected an MP while on prison hunger strike in 1981.

Opponents have already said his former IRA role could become a roadblock and could spark campaign debates that risked upsetting victims of republican violence.

But the Derry-born Republican said people view him as a peacemaker.

And he claimed Republicans, including himself, had an obligation to help “heal the wounds” inflicted by their actions.

“People know of my past and they also know of my deep commitment to peace and peace building,” he said.

“I want to continue to reach out to those directly affected by the actions of republicans in the course of the conflict.”

Mr McGuinness said he has received expressions of support from people whose loved ones were killed by the IRA, while at least three unionist politicians wished him well yesterday.

At a press conference in central Dublin after his formal endorsement by the party, Mr McGuinness was asked to condemn the IRA murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in Limerick, in the Irish Republic, in 1996.

The North's Deputy First Minister described the killing as a terrible tragedy and said the gardaí would have his 100% support if elected, but he did not overtly condemn the killing.

He later clarified his position to say he “unreservedly condemned” it.

Mr McGuinness is to formally pass the Deputy First Minister office to John O’Dowd, party colleague and Education Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, tomorrow.

He said First Minister Peter Robinson reacted “philosophically” when he told him of his plans.

Mr McGuinness claimed he would be the people’s president, and said if elected he will only draw the average wage, approximately €35,000, and donate the rest to the state.

President Mary McAleese has capped her salary this year at €250,000.

The Derry Republican said he has never sought financial gain from his career in politics and never will.

“I still live in the same community where I was born and raised, and if elected President of Ireland, I will draw the average wage and donate the vast bulk of the presidential wage to the Irish people,” he said.

It is understood party strategists believe that taking part in the campaign ahead of the October polling day will help raise the profile of Sinn Féin, regardless of the result, at a time when it wants to build on its gains south of the border.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said there was no other Irish political figure who commanded the same respect as Mr McGuinness.

“Martin would truly be a president for all Ireland and all Irish people wherever they are,” he said.

The decision to throw Mr McGuinness’s name into the race presents Sinn Féin with the tantalising prospect of the top republican holding the office in 2016, the centenary of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising.

Mr McGuinness said centenaries, both the 1916 anniversary and those involving unionists, must be dealt with sensitively.

He has signalled he would be willing to host the Queen if elected to office, but when the royal visited Ireland in May, Sinn Féin did not take part in any of the main ceremonies.

With 17 Sinn Féin Oireachtas members, Mr McGuinness needed at least three extra signatures on his nomination paper to be allowed stand in the election.

Independent TDs Finian McGrath, Luke ’Ming’ Flanagan, Tom Fleming and Michael Healy Rae have agreed to facilitate his nomination.

Mary Davis and Sean Gallagher officially became candidates on Monday after each secured the necessary support.

They are on course to fight it out with front-runner Michael D Higgins, of Labour, and Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell.

Senator David Norris used a TV interview on Friday night to say that he would like to re-enter the race, having previously dropped out.

Mr McGuinness’s candidature has already sparked anger among hard-line unionist voices in the North.

The DUP’s Gregory Campbell questioned whether Mr McGuinness would, if he met the Queen, apologise for the IRA murder of Lord Mountbatten in 1979, while Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said he was unfit for office.

Most Read in Ireland