Despite coming under intense criticism from the 26-County establishment in Dublin, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has received support from the former British Direct Ruler in Ireland, Shaun Woodward.
Mr McGuinness, who has stepped aside from the Six-County Executive at Stormont for the campaign, said he found it “bemusing” that he is repeatedly asked questions about his IRA past when he is in the 26 Counties. He suggested that those who were asking the questions could help in peacemaking.
“What I do find I suppose bemusing [is] that when I come to Dublin you will find a number of people who themselves don’t understand that there is an art to peacemaking and that they too need to have a role in that instead of taking up confrontational positions,” he said.
Mr McGuinness said the relationship he had developed with the DUP’s Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson had “shocked the world”, and that he could “count on the fingers of one hand” the number of people in the North who had asked him when he left the IRA.
This week, he faced criticism from the family of alleged IRA informer Frank Hegarty, who accused him of playing a role in his death in 1986. There were also accusations that Mr McGuinness was behind a ‘proxy’ bomb attack, which led to the death of five British soldiers and a British army employee in 1990.
Pressed for his views in an interview on that particular incident, he said: “All death is terrible. I condemn the fact that far too many people lost their lives . . . that the community I came from was treated as second class citizens. We had conflict . . . I am heart-glad that it has come to an end; that I was involved in bringing it to an end.”
When also asked about the tragic IRA 1987 attack on a military commemoration in Enniskillen, in which a number of civilians died, Mr McGuinness described it as “absolutely terrible and atrocious”.
He denied being a senior IRA member at the time, but added that he felt “ashamed when incidents like that happened in the name of Irish republicanism”.
Later in the debate Mr McGuinness added: “I also know journalists if they had their opportunity, they would try to blame me for the 1916 rising and the War of Independence.”
Speaking generally about his past, Mr McGuinness said people in the North were not “obsessed by any of this”. He added: “The reality is that the past is a very, very dark place for everybody.”
UNIONISTS OPEN FIRE
However, this week has seen increasing attacks on the Mid-Ulster MP by the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP.
UUP leader Tom Elliott said Mr McGuinness’s comments make it “perfectly clear to people in Northern Ireland that Sinn Fein will say or do anything as circumstances dictate”.
“Martin McGuinness is asking the voters of the Republic of Ireland to believe that he felt ‘ashamed’ when incidents like the Enniskillen bomb took place,” said Mr Elliott.
“Maybe so, but is he ashamed enough to hand over the people responsible? Or is he trying to use the Enniskillen dead in a disgusting and shameful bid to further his electoral prospects in the Republic?”
DUP representative for the area, Arlene Foster, also challenged Mr McGuinness to inform on those responsible.
“If Martin McGuinness really believes the murders that day were shameful, then he should have no problem speaking to the HET and answering any questions they have,” she said.
“The speculation for decades has been that the Enniskillen bomb was the work of Provos from Londonderry where Martin McGuinness was the second in command of the PIRA.
“Rather than proposing an international truth commission to deal with these matters, it would be much more helpful to the healing process if McGuinness was to tell the truth about this incident to the HET.”
Sinn Fein Victims Spokesperson, Mitchel McLaughlin said the timing of Foster’s comments were “a little hypocritical” considering that Ms Foster had served in government with Martin McGuinness for the last five years “and never once broached the subject with him”.
“I would also ask Arlene to explain exactly what objection she has to the concept of an Independent International Truth Commission to which every individual, party, organisation and government who contributed to the causes and prosecution of the conflict would detail their involvement.”
WOODWARD BACKS MCGUINNESS
Speaking out at the British Labour Party’s annual conference this week, Shaun Woodward declared Mr McGuinness to be “a fit and proper” candidate for the presidency, since he was already accepted in the role of Deputy First Minister in the North.
The entry of Mr McGuinness into the election “demonstrates the success of the peace process”, the former Direct Ruler said. He could not understand how people in the 26 Counties made a distinction with the Six Counties: “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 then, frankly, they ought to be good enough for the South.
“If you are a fit and proper person for the North, it seems to me to be a very strange set of rules that have been put on the table to say, ‘You’re fine to be a fit and proper person to be first minister or deputy first minister, but you couldn’t be a fit and proper person in the South.’
“I would simply say to people before they reach those judgments, as always in politics, ‘think first before you speak’,” he said.