Historic campaign underway
Historic campaign underway

A large crowd turned out in Derry on Thursday as Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness launched his Presidential election campaign.

Mr McGuinness told a send-off rally of hundreds in Derry’s Bogside that his heart went out to the families of all those who were killed in the conflict.

The event was organised as Mr McGuinness formally launched his campaign to enter Aras an Uachtarain, the Presidential seat in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.

A march which started at his home in the Bogside culminated in his speech at Free Derry Corner.

Mr McGuinness praised the people of his home town and spoke of the pride he has in his family, his community and his country.

He said that he would bring the same strong leadership he has provided since his political journey began on the streets of the Bogside in the late 1960s, to the office of the President.

“In this crowd, there are many, many people who have lost loved ones as a result of the conflict,” he said.

“My heart still, even after all these years, goes out to all of them,” he said.

“I’m also very conscious that many British soldiers lost their lives in this city. Members of the RUC, members of the UDR, innocent civilians lost their lives.

“My heart goes out to all of their relatives.”

Protestant cleric David Latimer, who spoke at Sinn Fein’s annual conference, also spoke at the rally, as did local Catholic priest Michael Canny.

Before departing on the newly unveiled campaign bus, the manager of the Derry county Gaelic football team John Brennan presented Martin with a county jacket to take with him to the Phoenix Park.

Mr McGuinness said that he would visit every one of Ireland’s 32 counties in the coming weeks and that he was determined to become “a beacon of hope for the Irish people at this time”.

He criticised the greed of bankers, speculators and some politicians who had “plunged ordinary Irish people into debt and despair”.

But amid continuing attacks over Mr McGuinness’s IRA past from Fine Gael’s candidate Gay Mitchell, Mr McGuinness said “he had no intention of engaging in petty attacks” on fellow candidates for the Presidency.

“I have fought many election campaigns and I have never engaged in negative campaigning or in petty attacks on fellow candidates. I do not intend to change that approach now as we face into the Presidential campaign.

“I have a positive progressive message to deliver and I intend to engage directly with ordinary people right across Ireland in the weeks ahead.

“I have a record as a unifier. I was central in uniting nationalist and republican opinion in the north around the development of a peace process.

“Likewise I was central to uniting nationalist, republican, unionist and loyalist opinion around power sharing institutions. And now I am confident that I can unite the Irish people in a great effort to build a new republic.”


Mr McGuinness’s presidential campaign is being run independently and is open to those who are not Sinn Fein supporters, the party has said.

The North’s Deputy First Minister was nominated with the support of independent members of the Dublin parliament. He is conducted his campaign under the banner of “the People’s President”.

Mr McGuinness this week canvassed in Dublin city centre and in an interview said he stood for ordinary people and would reject the bulk of his salary to help take six young people off unemployment.

He also said he would use his international standing for the benefit of the people, as well as continuing the work of President Mary McAleese and her husband in “reaching out” to unionist and loyalist people and to victims of the conflict.

Mr McGuinness said he would also be a president who is independent of government.

“There have been some suggestions made by Government Ministers that the role of the President is to act as a spokesperson for the government, particularly in oversees engagements. This is not the role of the President. Those comments illustrate why we need a president who is independent of Government. Indeed they demonstrate a misunderstanding of the role of president.

“If elected as Uachtaran na hEireann my foremost concern will be to uphold the constitution - to be a people’s president by putting the people’s interest first. I will uphold the constitution, stand up for Ireland and stand up for Irish sovereignty.

“What the people of Ireland need is a president who will not respond to pressure from government to ignore his or her constitutional obligations -- for example the dissolution of the Dail or the reference of constitutionally questionable bills to the Supreme Court. I will be in the people’s corner - not the government’s.”


Meanwhile, Senator David Norris has refused to release clemency letters he sent on behalf of his former Israeli partner, who was convicted of child rape. The Independent candidate claimed he was acting in accordance with legal advice.

Norris said the unpublished letters, written to senior politicians in Ireland and Israel, were being withheld in over to protect the victim and “not reopen old wounds”.

Interviewed by Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio’s News at One , Senator Norris also spoke of his determination to succeed despite the controversy. “I am tempered steel; I have been through the fire,” he said.

In the same debate, another Independent candidate Mary Davis, dubbed the ‘Quango Queen’ in the media, said she joined the boards of various organisations because they helped with the 2003 Special Olympics.

“We need hope. We need a leader. We need somebody that can help build self-confidence”, she said.

Labour candidate Michael D Higgins insisted he was physically capable of carrying out the duties of president, despite his advanced years.

Dana Rosemary Scallon, the Eurovision star turned conservative politician, blamed family reasons for her late entry into the presidential race.

“Members of the public told me they wanted a wider choice in the election”, she explained.

Independent Sean Gallagher said he would reach out to various groups such as the farming community. “Ireland’s future will not happen to us. We’ve got to go out and create it,” he said.

* All seven candidates will appear on the Late Late Show tonight for a series of interviews and a debate on the Presidency.

The running order is as follows: Gay Mitchell; Martin McGuinness; Mary Davis; Dana Rosemary Scallon; Sean Gallagher and Michael D Higgins.

On grounds of “fairness and balance”, Senator David Norris will not be interviewed, because he appeared on the programme two weeks ago, but he will take part in the debate which forms the final segment.

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© 2011 Irish Republican News