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Victims' families will back my bid: Martin McGuinness

By Noel McAdam

Martin McGuinness has claimed that people who have lost loved ones to IRA violence are backing his campaign to become President of Ireland.

The former IRA commander said two such victims were prepared to support his bid - but insisted it was not was his place to identify them.

As he prepared to stand down as Deputy First Minister to focus on the election race, he told UTV that "indeed, two of them have said they're prepared to work for me during the course of the campaign".

He added: "We shouldn't make the mistake of believing that everybody within the unionist community, or indeed every victim within the unionist community, is hostile to what I'm trying to do."

Returning from his US investment mission with Peter Robinson, Mr McGuinness argued the media are much more "fixated" with questions about his past than voters in the Republic.

"In election after election people are well aware (of my past) and have come out in their droves to vote for me knowing that I am absolutely dedicated and committed to a new way forward - and I live in the here and now," he told a Stormont Press conference.

He acknowledged, however, that people who suffered at the hands of the Provisional IRA are entitled to "take that out" on former IRA apologists and supporters. "The IRA were involved in actions that I couldn't stand over and would not stand over, and have admitted that themselves," he added.

"Many of us have been on public record and made it absolutely clear that an awful lot of hurt was inflicted by republicans.

"But an awful lot of hurt was also inflicted on republicans - by the State, by Government, by their military forces. What we have to do is try and unite everybody."

Mr McGuinness reiterated that he was willing to face questions about his past - but warned he could end up doing so "until kingdom come".

"I think it was the early 1970s, an ITN reporter reported that I had boasted about killing eight soldiers in the Free Derry area. That was a total and outright lie.

"If I get into answering question for question the questions of the media in that regard, I will be answering those from now until kingdom come," he said.

Facing the first barrage of questions from journalists, Mr McGuinness also said he would not allow the issue of the past to derail him from his plan to succeed Mary McAleese. I've never hidden the fact that I was in the IRA and I told the Saville Tribunal that I left the IRA in late 1974, so that's my position.

"I know that the media, and indeed elements within British military intelligence, have planted all sorts of stories in the media down the years, have tried to connect me with things that I was never even remotely involved in," he said.

"I let them be fixated by the issue. I'm not going to be fixated by the issue and I'm not going to be derailed by the issue."

But the DUP's Gregory Campbell challenged Mr McGuinness's attempts to portray himself as a peace-maker.

"He said he had made peace wherever he had gone. I don't know what sort of place he thinks people are living in.

"Northern Ireland, and Londonderry in particular, are picking up the pieces from the 30 years that we endured because of his organisation," the East Londonderry MP argued.

And Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott said Mr McGuinness should spell out precisely his IRA role, including what decisions he had been involved in taking and how they were taken.

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