Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein declared his candidacy for the presidency of Ireland yesterday, opening a campaign in which his IRA past will face scrutiny.
He is to quit his post as Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister to run in the election. Polling takes place at the end of October. Unless he wins the contest, he will resume his Northern Ireland post.
His entry into the campaign has attracted major attention, centring on the idea of a former IRA member seeking the highest office in the land. At the weekend, he fielded questions on whether he condemned the IRA's 1996 murder of an Irish police officer by describing it as a terrible tragedy. If elected, Irish police would have his 100 per cent support, he insisted.
He said he had already received support from a number of victims of the IRA, declaring: "A number of people in the north who lost loved ones as a result of the actions of the IRA have actually come to me and pledged their support."
But the former Conservative minister Lord Tebbit urged Mr McGuinness publicly to "confess his crimes" before the election. He was injured and his wife paralysed in the IRA's Brighton bombing during the 1984 Tory party conference.
He said: "Those who were responsible for atrocities should own up to what they have done in order to seek the forgiveness of those whom they had damaged."
A chief reason for Sinn Fein's decision to run in the election has been a virtual collapse of Fianna Fail, traditionally Ireland's largest party, after the economic crisis.
A poll yesterday showed that Fianna Fail continues to weaken, giving Mr McGuinness the chance to win thousands of its supporters.
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