IRA victims divided by McGuinness campaign for Ireland's presidency

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The Independent Online

The Irishwoman whose husband was murdered by the IRA was gracious and polite when asked if she wished to comment on Martin McGuinness's bid to become President of Ireland.

"I've nothing to say about McGuinness," she responded courteously. "I don't want to speak about it. I can't even stand saying his name, to tell you the truth. So I've nothing really to say about him, thank you."

She is one of a number of IRA victims affronted that a figure so closely associated with IRA violence could become Ireland's head of state.

Another is Ann Travers, also a Catholic, whose sister was killed and whose magistrate father was badly injured in an IRA shooting in Belfast 25 years ago. Mrs Travers now lives south of the border, and so could vote in the election if she wishes.

"When I first heard it I was horrified, then I felt really angry," she said yesterday. Mr McGuinness's mentions of Nelson Mandela "made me want to scream – I wanted to roar at the radio when I heard that," she added.

Many relatives and friends of the almost 1,800 people killed by the IRA during the Troubles share such feelings. But others, such as Alan McBride, a Protestant from Belfast, offer a different perspective.

He lost his wife Sharon, and his father-in-law, when the IRA bombed a fish shop in 1993 in what became known as the Shankill bombing. Since then he has worked for reconciliation and has met republicans, including Mr McGuinness.

He told The Independent: "I can understand how people who have been hurt, have had people murdered by the IRA, would be feeling. A lot of people are going to be hurt by it.

"You can't divorce the person he is today from the things that happened in the past. People here have long memories and some of them will never forgive him for the role he played. But personally speaking I don't have a major problem with it."

"So many amazing things have happened, like Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley sharing power. Maybe it's just a sign of the times and how far he has come, and how far we have come."

Mr McBride said he did not believe republicans would be "fessing up and apologising" for what they were involved in, but be believes that "privately they probably regret a lot of the hurt that was caused."

He said of meeting Mr McGuinness: "Actually, he's a difficult guy not to like. He's quite affable, he has a good personality, he's quite witty."

He said the Sinn Fein figure had been "quite the statesman" in condemning dissident republicans as "traitors." He added: "I do absolutely think it's a genuine journey he's on."

Another IRA victim who has been impressed with Mr McGuinness is Mark Eakin, a Protestant whose eight- year-old sister was one of nine people killed in IRA car-bomb attacks near Londonderry in 1972. Mr Eakin has spoken several times with Mr McGuinness and said yesterday he thought the Sinn Fein leader would make a good head of state.

He added: "You have to look at the broader picture – is it a bad thing for him to be the Irish President? I don't think so. He now wants to have a good Ireland. I think everybody has got to step back and bite the bullet."

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