Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Martin McGuinness backtracks after ‘west Brit’ jibe

Martin McGuinness with Gerry Adams

SInn Fein's candidate for the Irish presidency Martin McGuinness last night backtracked on his criticism of those questioning his IRA past.

The Stormont Deputy First Minister, who has temporarily stood down from the position, hit out at "west Brit" elements of the media he claims are out to undermine his bid for the Aras.

Mr McGuinness said he expects some people will attempt to "muddy the waters" on his IRA past, but insisted he will put his faith in the voters.

However, several hours after making the statement and facing questions over his choice of words, Mr McGuinness backtracked saying it was an "off-the-cuff remark".

He also refused to comment on whether the term "west Brit" was unbecoming language for a possible future president and if he was willing to name his detractors. Mr McGuinness made the original comment at the National Ploughing Championships in Co Kildare yesterday morning.

Asked about his involvement with the IRA, he said: "There are west Brit elements in and around Dublin, some of them are attached to some sections of the media, others are attached to political parties or were formerly involved in political parties.

"I say to all of them, I go forward on my record and my record as a peace-maker, (which) I think is unequalled anywhere," he told Newstalk radio.

Mr McGuinness then listed his international trips, including visits to the White House at the behest of three different US Presidents, to South Africa on the invitation of Nelson Mandela, to Iraq, Sri Lanka and the Basque region in Spain.

"I wouldn't be asked or invited to any of those places if there were any question marks whatsoever over my work as a peacemaker," he said.

However, just a few hours later after lodging his nomination papers with the presidential returning officer at the Department of the Environment in Dublin, the Sinn Fein chief negotiator rowed back on his original comment.

"It was an off-the-cuff remark and if I've offended people in the media, it wasn't generally meant for the media," he told reporters.

"I think some people might have some idea of who I'm speaking. I certainly would not apply that description generally.

"I think there's a very tiny number of people who fit into that category, but there are undoubtedly a number of people out there who are determined to try and undermine my campaign for the presidency," he said.

Mr McGuinness said he has been encouraged by the "phenomenal" response from the public.

He said he had been approached in recent days by family members of some of those shot by the IRA who welcomed his candidacy and have offered to work on his campaign.

Mr McGuinness said he had never hidden his past and had joined the IRA as a young man in Derry and that his "struggle" was against the "military forces of the State".

Factfile

Martin McGuinness is now 3/1 second favourite in the race for the Aras. Labour's Michael D Higgins has drifted out from odds-on favourite at 8/11 to even money, with Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell available at 4/1. Next in the betting is David Norris at 9/1, followed by Mary Davis at 14/1 and Sean Gallagher out to 25/1. Dana is ranked at 50/1.

Paddy Power is offering 11/10 against five runners in the eventual line-up, with 6/5 against six, 6/1 seven and 10/1 eight or more.

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