Media focus intensifies as candidates hit the trail

The Irish Presidential candidates (from left to right) Gay Mitchell, Mary Davis, David Norris, Sean Gallagher, Martin McGuinness, Dana Rosemary Scallon, Michael D Higgins. (3009MM20)

The Irish Presidential candidates (from left to right) Gay Mitchell, Mary Davis, David Norris, Sean Gallagher, Martin McGuinness, Dana Rosemary Scallon, Michael D Higgins. (3009MM20)

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The large crowds at Free Derry Corner last night at a public rally organised as a “send off” to Martin McGuinness were another sign that this presidential campaign is now getting into full swing.

All seven candidates can expect a gruelling few weeks ahead in an election energised by Mr McGuinness’s arrival on the scene, and then the re-entry of David Norris and the arrival of Dana Rosemary Scallan.

On Wednesday evening, Mr McGuinness said he felt “ashamed” the Enniskillen bombing was carried out in the name of republicanism.

The Sinn Féin leader made the comment during the first televised debate of the election involving all seven candidates since the campaign formally began on Wednesday.

Despite intense media focus on his IRA past, Mr McGuinness said that he wanted to be seen as a peacemaker.

When asked about the Enniskillen bomb, which killed 12 people at a Remembrance Day ceremony in the Fermanagh town in 1987, Mr McGuinness denied accusations that he was a senior member of the IRA at the time.

“I feel ashamed when incidents like that happened in the name of Irish republicanism.

“It was absolutely terrible and atrocious,” he said.

Mr McGuinness also criticised elements of the press for focusing on his past involvement with the IRA. “I know that the journalists, if they had the opportunity, would blame me for the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence,” he said.

He also said he would like the electorate to view him as someone “who stood by the ordinary people of Ireland and led by example.”

“That’s why I took the decision that the vast bulk of my salary would go back to the Irish people.

“I also want to be seen as a peace-maker and someone who continued to keep the doors of Aras an Uachtarain open for unionists and loyalists and for victims of the conflict,” he said.

Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Shaun Woodward, dismissed claims that Mr McGuinness is an unsuitable candidate for Áras and Uachtárain, insisting his candidacy is “fit and proper.”

Mr Woodward said his entry into the race “demonstrates the success of the peace process.”

“If any individual is up for being First minister or Deputy First Minister, from whatever political party he or she may be drawn, if they are good enough for the North, frankly, they ought to be good enough for the South,” he said.