Belfast Telegraph

Frontline debate in history books

The electrifying clash on live television between Martin McGuinness and presidential hopeful Sean Gallagher will go down in the annals of Irish TV history, the republican leader has said.

Mr McGuinness arrived at the Dublin Castle count centre declaring that his election performance proved Sinn Fein was now at the heart of mainstream politics on both sides of the Irish border.

He also praised Michael D Higgins and said he would be a great president, and "will be my president also".

Observers already believe that Mr Higgins's victory was sealed after Mr McGuinness challenged bookies' favourite Mr Gallagher over his supposed role in collecting hefty donations for the Fianna Fail party.

The independent candidate later denied the claim, but not before viewers saw him stumble through his answer on the last televised debate of the campaign.

Asked about the significance of the moment in shaping the outcome of the presidential contest, Mr McGuinness said: "Well the significance of it is obviously that Michael D was elected as president of Ireland.

"And I am very happy about that. I rang him earlier on today to congratulate him. And I am very, very pleased about it. He will be my president also.

"The analysts will have their day, analysing it [the TV debate]. And, no doubt, the Frontline debate will plunge into the annals of television history and political history."

The Sinn Fein MP, who will now take up his role again as Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, described the election campaign as the experience of a lifetime and denied any suggestions that he was in the race for purely party political reasons.

"I was in the contest to win," he said. "At the same time I knew I was up against the big battalions, and you all know who I'm speaking about. But I think it's been a tremendous experience and it is something I will remember for the rest of my life."

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