McGuinness to represent SF in leaders debates

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams will almost certainly not be representing the party in televised leaders' battles ahead of the North's election.

Instead, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will take on Margaret Ritchie of the SDLP and the unionist parties in the BBC and ITV debates.

Sinn Fein pointed to objections by the TV channels that Mr Adams is not contesting the elections in the North on May 5 as the rationale for the shift.

It denied media suggestions that the plan shows the party leadership has "been partitioned", with Mr Adams the 26-County leader and Mr McGuinness running the party in the North.

The party said that as both debates are taking place on Dail sitting days, Mr Adams has a responsibility to attend the 26-County legislature.


However, Mr Adams today [Monday] launched Sinn Fein's Assembly election manifesto. He said that in the last four years there had been "a step change" in politics in the north.

"Is ceim tabhachtach, stairiul e seo," he said. [This is an important, historic step]

"Republicans and unionists have demonstrated that we can make agreements and deliver for all sections of our society.

"Politics can and does work for all in our society."

He said Sinn Fein was committed to working with others to deliver economic prosperity and to tackling the inequalities confronting the North's most disadvantaged communities.

"We believe that fiscal powers must be transferred from London to Belfast.

"Sinn Fein is a united Ireland Party. We are the only all-Ireland party.

"The recent election success in the south means that the republican project is growing and succeeding. However, there is still much work to do..

"The next term of the Assembly is about delivery. Sinn Fein will deliver for all our people."


Meanwhile, Mr McGuinness came in for criticism on the hustings after he declared that a member of the PSNI who was killed in an apparent attack by a breakaway IRA group recently had voted for Sinn Fein.

The deputy first minister made the comments at a 'town hall' event in south Belfast when he was asked if any members of Sinn Fein had joined the PSNI.

Mr McGuinness answered the question by referring to his visit to the Kerr family in County Tyrone after the 25-year-old Catholic recruit was killed in an attack blamed on breakaway IRA groups.

"It was very obvious from being in that household that many of the family circle were Sinn Fein voters," he said.

"And I would go so far as to say that Ronan Kerr voted for Sinn Fein and joined the police because he wanted to be part of change and wanted to support the peace process.

Mr McGuinness said he had been trying to illustrate that young people who are nationalist or republican-minded would be supported by politicians if they wanted to join the police.

"I don't think I was politicising his death. "It has never been contested that he was an Irishman, that he was nationalist-minded, that he was republican-minded, that he was a supporter of the GAA."


With election day approaching, there has been an increase in the public's interest in the various election campaigns.

Last Thursday night, hundreds of people turned out to be registered for an electoral identification card at the Andersonstown Leisure Centre in west Belfast.

The size of the take-up for ID cards surprised officials -- over 200 instead of a trickle.

The high interest followed a campaign by eirigi urging republicans and socialists "who have allowed themselves to drop off the electoral register in recent years due to the lack of any radical option" to ensure they have a vote in the local elections.

The party also called on voters to ensure they have valid photographic ID or an electoral identity card, available until April 22.

eirigi is running two local election candidates; Padraic MacCoitir will contest a Belfast City Council seat in the Upper Falls constituency, while John McCusker will run for election in the Lower Falls area.


The Irish Republican Socialist Party has also said it is contesting the local government elections in five wards across the North: two in Belfast, two in Derry and one in Strabane, County Tyrone.

"We have deliberately chosen to not contest the Stormont elections as that there does not exist an appetite within our party to enter any British parliament in Ireland," the party said in a statement.

"On this occasion we believe that an intervention by the IRSP is warranted considering the massive economic attacks that the poorest within our society are being subjected to...Our purpose in standing in these elections is to promote our political viewpoint as a serious and real alternative to what passes for politics in the north of Ireland.

"We believe that for too long the working class have been left behind by the political elite and their hopes and aspirations were ignored in favour of party self interest. We in the IRSP are different."

Its candidates are Paul Little in Belfast (Oldpark); Jim Gorman in Belfast (Lower Falls); Lucy Callaghan in Derry (Northlands); Paul Gallagher, in Strabane (Mourne); and Martin McMonagle in Derry (Shantallow).


Elsewhere, prominent Derry republican Gary Donnelly, a long-standing activist with the 32 County Sovereignty Committee and other organisations, is running as an independent in the cityside ward in Derry.

Other former Sinn Fein members and other republicans standing as independents include: Patricia Campbell in Dungannon (Torrent); Barry Monteith in Dungannon (Dungannon Town) Pat Cox in Fermanagh (Enniskillen); Gerry McHugh in Fermanagh (Erne East); Bernice Swift in Fermanagh (Erne West); Paul Grogan in Omagh (Mid Tyrone); Oliver Hughes in Magherafelt (Moyola); Patrick Groogan in Magherafelt (Sperrin); Padraig McShane in Moyle (Ballycastle); Davy Hyland in Newry (Newry Town).

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