Belfast Telegraph

Bertie Ahern defends RTE presenter over her questioning of McGuinness

By Wayne O'Connor

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has told Sinn Fein that recent criticisms of broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan and other media outlets over the questioning of Martin McGuinness during the 2011 Irish presidential election are unfair.

Mr Ahern said Mr McGuinness would have expected tough questions to be asked of him considering his past associations with the IRA.

He said the line of questioning during the campaign was what he would have expected.

It comes after Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald attacked Ms O'Callaghan in a new book about Mr McGuinness.

Ms McDonald said the RTE star's line of questioning about his links to IRA killings was "utterly repulsive".

Speaking at the launch of the book about Mr McGuinness, Mr Ahern said no politician should have been surprised by the questions asked by Ms O'Callaghan during the 2011 election debate.

"I think in the presidential campaign, which is referenced in the book, you were never going to be able to run for president and not have to deal with the issues that had happened back over the years," Mr Ahern said.

"That was probably hard on him, but he was able for that.

"To go through the presidential campaign and either expect or think you were not going to have these issues raised was never going to happen. I think anybody in politics would know that."

Ms McDonald and her predecessor Gerry Adams are among those who are most critical of Ms O'Callaghan's questioning in the book Martin McGuinness: The Man I Knew.

The book's author, Jude Collins, disagreed with Mr Ahern's analysis of the questions put to Mr McGuinness during the campaign. He claimed there were conflicting opinions on the matter on both sides of the border.

"They kept talking all the time about his past," said Mr Collins.

"None of them spoke about the work he did in bringing the republican community out of conflict and into politics. It is what everyone had been telling them to do for decades and he did it with [Gerry] Adams. They really felt there was a concentration on that one bit.

"When I suggested the idea of doing a biography of him before he died, the first thing he said to me was 'I would be open to any idea, the trouble with some people is all they want to talk about is the time in the IRA. Nothing else matters'."

During a debate in the run-up to the 2011 election, Ms O'Callaghan asked candidates about religious beliefs. She then turned to Mr McGuinness and asked him: "How do you square, Martin McGuinness, with your God, the fact that you were involved in the murder of so many people?"

RTÉ has since said the national broadcaster "covered Martin McGuinness's 2011 Presidential candidacy in a fair, objective and impartial manner".

However, Sinn Fein TD Aengus O Snodaigh said he had concerns about RTÉ's coverage of the election campaign and said he agreed with his party's leader.

Belfast Telegraph

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