30/09/2011

Sinn Fein Boss 'Sympathetic To Army Deaths'

Irish Presidential candidate Martin McGuinness has this week extended sympathy to British soldiers and RUC officers who died during the Troubles, amidst fresh attacks about his IRA past.

Since Mr McGuinness announced his intentions to run for the job of Irish President he has been subjected to intense questioning about his involvement in the IRA.

Arlene Foster, Stormont's Trade and Industry Minister, has asked Mr McGuinness what he knows about the Enniskillen boming.

The senior DUP figure said there had been speculation for decades that the Derry IRA was involved in the 1987 bombing which killed 11 people as they gathered at the town's cenotaph.

These questions come just days after the Sinn Fein chief said he felt "ashamed" when incidents, such as the Enniskillen bombing, were carried out in the name of Irish republicanism.

He also said the 1987 bombing, was "atrocious" and denied he was a senior figure in the IRA at the time.

Ms Foster said: "If Martin McGuinness really believes the murders that day were shameful then he should have no problem speaking to the Historical Enquiry Team and answer any questions which they have."

Mitchel McLaughlin, Sinn Fein's South Antrim MLA and Victims Spokesman, said: "I find the timing of Arlene Foster's public comments about Martin McGuinness in the context of the Enniskillen bombing a little hypocritical considering that Ms Foster has served in government with Martin McGuinness for the last five years and never once broached the subject with him."

Separately Mr McGuinness has embarked on his 'The Peoples President' campaign. It kicked off on its tour of the 32 counties last night, starting with an open air rally in Derry's Bogside.

Mr McGuinness told the crowd of supporters that his "heart goes out" to the relatives of British soldiers and RUC officers who died during the Troubles.

Since then a solicitor for the family of a senior-ranking RUC officer murdered by the IRA in 1989 has called on Mr McGuinness to give evidence to an inquiry into the killing.

Meanwhile a Londonderry priest who attended the Sinn Fein rally said that his appearance does not mean that he is endorsing Mr McGuinness's campaign.

Father Michael Canny said he was at Free Derry Corner on Thursday night in a "personal capacity".

Fr Canny said he attended the rally to support a "son of the city" and not to encourage people to vote for him.

The Background

Mr McGuinness has temporarily stepped down from his duties as Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minster, handing power over to the Minster for Education, John O’Dowd.

Since he has been secured on the ballot papers Mr McGuinness has made many statements and been heavily criticised about his participation in the IRA.

A Senior Fine Gael Minister has said he does not think it would be good for Ireland if McGuinness becomes President.

The Environment Minister Phil Hogan said, while it is open for anyone to contest the election, the Sinn Fein candidate has "too much baggage".

Fintan O'Toole of the Irish Times also spoke out against Mr McGuinness saying he should not be President because he could be arrested for war crimes.

Former Justice Minister Michael McDowell has also condemned Mr McGuinness for his connections with the IRA.

Meanwhile Luke Ming Flanagan has said he would have backed David Norris as a presidential candidate if he could have withdrawn his nomination for Mr McGuinness.

In response Mr McGuinness has insisted that voters should not focus on his IRA past in the Irish presidential contest and will instead judge him on his record as a peacemaker.

"The reality is that people know my past," he said.

"I have put myself before the electorate on countless occasions since 1982 and particularly since 1997 when I was first elected as MP for Mid Ulster. If people want to examine the past, then let's examine the past of everybody."

Mr McGuinness has admitted to being in the IRA in Derry but insisted he left the organisation in 1974.

There are seven candidates in the race for Aras including Mr McGuinness. He will run alongside Mary Davis, Seán Gallagher, Michael D. Higgins, Gay Mitchell, Dana Rosemary Scallon and Senator David Norris.

The election will be held on October 27.

(LB/BMcC)

Related UK National News Stories
Click here for the latest headlines.

13 December 2010
Adams & McGuinness 'Knew About Robbery'
The Stormont Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was one of two leading republicans said to be aware in advance of a huge IRA bank robbery in Belfast that almost scuppered the then fragile 'peace process'.
12 June 2014
Martin McGuinness To Meet Queen In Belfast
Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has confirmed that he will meet the Queen for a second time this year during her visit to Belfast with the Duke of Edinburgh between 23 and 25 June.