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Republic's minister of justice lambasts McGuinness as unfit to be president

By Noel McAdam

The Irish presidential election has hotted up with a Dail minister launching a personal attack on Martin McGuinness as an “inappropriate” head of state.

Justice chief Alan Shatter said he questioned if it would be apt for Mr McGuinness to become nominal head of the Irish Defence Forces and whether he could credibly present himself as an agent for full reconciliation.

The Fine Gael minister, who supports his party’s candidate Gay Mitchell, argued the way Sinn Fein has acted in the Republic in recent times also underlined the question of the suitability of Mr McGuinness.

Sinn Fein strongly hit back at the attack and pointed out that Mr McGuinness is gaining support from some senior figures in the country, including broadcaster Eamon Dunphy.

Mr Shatter said: “I think there are perhaps many people at home who would regard his exotic background as somewhat inappropriate for someone who would be the titular head of our Defence Forces, but that’s a decision to be made by the electorate.”

In terms of Sinn Fein’s actions, Mr Shatter made it clear he was talking about the party’s boycott of the State visit earlier this year by the Queen, including the dinner hosted by outgoing President Mary McAleese in Dublin Castle.

“They lacked the generosity to be there. Martin McGuinness was notable by his absence. I was personally particularly taken aback that Sinn Fein boycotted that dinner and deemed it inappropriate to be there,” he said.

“I think the current presidency at home has clearly illustrated the extent to which that office can be used to the benefit of everyone on this island. Unfortunately, I don’t think Martin McGuinness could play that role, nor does he have credibility to do so because of the manner in which they dealt with the Queen’s visit. I don’t find it credible that someone who boycotted the Queen’s visit can now present themselves as a force for full reconciliation across Ireland.”

However, a Sinn Fein spokesman said: “It will be up to the people to decide who is their next president, not Alan Shatter.

“Fine Gael are just trying to keep Gay Mitchell relevant because he is the one being squeezed at the moment. They will keep coming from stage left.”

Mr Dunphy, meanwhile, hailed Mr McGuinness “another Nelson Mandela”.

“This panic attack that elements in the Southern media and politics have had is quite extraordinary. They are afraid of this man because he has proved himself to be a great leader,” he said.

“History is unfolding again. We can look at Martin McGuinness and see what he has achieved and the stature he deserves, as someone who has led his people away from the gun towards democracy.”

Mr Dunphy said Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had accomplished “the greatest political achievement” that the country had seen in years.

But author Roddy Doyle has said Mr McGuinness' candidacy was “too early”.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, he said: “I think what Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams and others in Sinn Fein have done is extraordinary.

“But it is way too early for self congratulations.”

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