Irish presidency - Sinn Fein to put Martin McGuinness forward

Sinn Fein has announced that Martin McGuinness will be the party's candidate for the Irish presidency.

Northern Ireland's deputy first minister has been approved by the party's officer board. It will now go before the party executive for formal approval this weekend.

If he was elected, he would have to give up his deputy first minister job.

During the campaign he is expected to stand aside temporarily. Another Sinn Fein minister will stand in.

Mr McGuinness is currently in New York along with First Minister Peter Robinson on a five day investment mission.

Speaking from New York he said he was "honoured" to have been given the opportunity "to build on my work within the peace process".

"I hope that my campaign will give citizens the opportunity to make a stand for the new Ireland," he said.

'Reunification of Ireland'

He added that he believed that those who had voted for his election in Northern Ireland would be pleased with his decision.

"They will be very happy that I, as an Irish republican from the north, will be prepared to stand for the Irish presidency," he said.

"The whole all-Ireland nature of the agreements that we have made, make it incumbent upon all of us to continue to bring about - I hope - the reunification of Ireland by purely peaceful and democratic means."

Mr McGuinness emphasised that although he would be stepping aside as deputy first minister during the campaign process, he would not be out of the decision making process in Northern Ireland.

Education Minister John O'Dowd is thought to be a more likely stand-in than either Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill or Culture Minister Caral NiChuilin.

Besides Sinn Fein's 14 TDs, Mr McGuinness will have to get the backing of three others to secure a place on the ballot paper for the election in late October.

He is certain to face questions about his IRA past - but his party colleagues believe his high profile as a result of the peace process should help build Sinn Fein's vote.

In a statement, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said: "This is a time of great challenge for all the people of Ireland. We need positive but authentic leadership.

"It will be a great honour for me to propose Martin McGuinness to contest this election on a broad, republican, citizen-centred platform.

"I believe that this election will give Martin the platform to continue the work which he has led in the north and in the peace process and to put it on a national footing."

Speaking to the BBC at Sinn Fein's party conference last week, Mr McGuinness said he "hadn't even considered the prospect" of running for the presidency but added "we'll see what happens over the next short while".

Late, late nomination

Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell, Special Olympics boss Mary Davis, buisnessman Sean Gallagher and poll topper Michael D Higgins of Labour, have already put their names forward for the October election.

Senator David Norris appeared on RTE's Late Late Show on Friday night to discuss his renewed attempts to secure a nomination.

Mr Norris reactivated his hopes to run by meeting Independent TDs (members of parliament) on Thursday.

He pulled out of the race in August after it emerged he wrote to an Israeli court pleading for clemency for his former partner Ezra Yizhak.

Yizhak had been accused of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy in 1992.

He admitted the charge, pleading guilty and was convicted in 1997.

Speaking on the show he said he hoped to re-enter the campaign but it would be dependent upon receiving the necessary support.

"I think people love a comeback and this would be the biggest comeback in Irish political history," he said.

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