McGuinness 'prepared to host Queen'
Martin McGuinness would be willing to host Britain's Queen Elizabeth if he were to become Irish President, Sinn Fein's surprise candidate for the state's top office has signalled.
Republicans have always avoided attending royal engagements despite holding senior government roles in Northern Ireland, but Mr McGuinness said if he became President of Ireland he would be willing to meet all international guests, without exception.
Sinn Fein stunned Irish political circles on Friday by announcing that the former IRA leader, who has become a champion of the peace process, is to be its candidate.
In his first comments since returning to Ireland from a US trade mission, the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister said he is also ready to tackle questions about the IRA during the campaign.
But he said he believes he has played a key role in ending the decades of violence and wants to look to a new future.
On the prospect of meeting British royalty if he was to become Ireland's figurehead, he said: "If the people of Ireland decided that I should be their president, my responsibilities and duties would be to meet heads of state from all over the world and to do that without exception, and that would be my position."
Opponents have already said his former IRA role could become a roadblock and could spark campaign debates that risked upsetting victims of republican violence. "I hope it does not," he said. "No doubt there will be people within the media, particularly the hostile media, who will attempt to do just that."
Mr McGuinness said the same prospect had faced his party leader, Gerry Adams, when he moved into politics in the Republic, but it had not prevented him winning a seat in the general election.
The Derry republican also said former UK prime minister Tony Blair was among the figures who had conceded the role of British governments in the Troubles. "It was very big of him to say during the course of many negotiations that he believed that successive British governments were as responsible for what happened in the North as anybody else."
The Sinn Fein figure added: "The past is a terrible place but I think I am seen very much as a part of the future. This is about new beginnings and I have been at the heart of new beginnings."