Presidential candidate Martin McGuinness has said he is proud of his past, despite criticisms of his involvement with the IRA.
Speaking to a crowd of around 400 republicans who had gathered to greet him at Free Derry Corner on Tuesday night, Mr McGuinness said he was proud to be part of a generation of republicans who changed society in the North.
“I don’t shirk from my past. I am proud of my past; proud of my involvement in the struggle here in this city,” he said.
“I was a very young person when the British army came here to this very street and shot two people dead. What were we to do as young people? Lie down and take it or stand up and defend our people?
“I am proud of the fact that I am part of a generation of young people who decided that the second class citizenship that our people lived under was going to end and that we were going to make sure that everybody was treated equally as we moved forward. I suppose I am now the epitome, holding the position that I did as joint first minister of the north, of the fact that things have changed and our people are now first class citizens, equal citizens.”
Speaking in Cork yesterday, Mr McGuinness said he did not kill or shoot anyone while he was a member of the IRA in the early 1970s. He also said he would not discuss what role he played in the IRA in Derry because it would leave him open to accusations of being boastful.
In an opinion poll carried out by a Cork radio station yesterday, Mr McGuinness topped the poll with 61 per cent of respondents backing him with David Norris finishing second with 15 per cent.
Despite the controversy over Mr McGuinness’s past, opinion polls have indicated that he is likely to be popular with southern voters. However, the Sinn Féin leader played down the results of the opinion polls.
“The only poll that counts is on the day of the election but I think it is quite clear that there is support. This election has been electrified by my campaign,” he said.
Mr McGuinness also said the election would be very different if people in the North were allowed to vote.
“I believe the argument will be someday won, that people who live here in the North, by dint of the fact that they have an Irish passport, will be entitled to a vote.
“If that was the case in this election, I am absolutely certain that I would be going into this election with at least a quarter of a million votes up on all the other candidates,” he said.
The republican leader said that if he is elected as President and moves to Dublin, he will not forget Derry. “This is going to be a tremendous experience. There is no guarantee whatsoever that I am going to win this election but if I win I will be happy because it changes everything.
“If I don’t win but I do well I will still be as happy because I have not lost sight of where I come from and will never lose sight of where I come from,” he said.