Four independents back McGuinness's presidential race


The presidential election campaign has taken another dramatic turn with the announcement that the Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, Martin McGuinness, will be the Sinn Féin candidate.

Mr McGuinness, who returns to Ireland today from a working visit to the United States, will be formally unveiled as his party’s nominee for the presidency at a press conference in Dublin tomorrow.

Michael Healy Rae said this morning he was one of the four Independent TDs who have agreed to support Martin McGuinness in his presidential bid

Sinn Féin has 17 Oireachtas members so the party needs the backing of three additional TDs or senators if it is to ensure Mr McGuinness sees his name on the ballot paper.

Speaking to Radio Kerry, Kerry Independent TD Michael Healy Rae revealed he would be giving Martin McGuinness his support.

"The past is the past. Now we can look to the future…All I did was play a small role in assisting one candidate in getting to the stage of being a candidate," he said.

And just after 4pm Luke Ming Flanagan announced via his Twitter account that he was also going to nominate Mr McGuinness. "As a member of Dail Eireann I have agreed to facilitate Martin McGuinness in putting his name on the presidential ballot paper," he tweeted.

Finian McGrath and Tom Flemming are also understood to have agreed to nominate Mr McGuinness.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams announced yesterday that the party’s ardcomhairle would meet in Dublin tomorrow to discuss a recommendation from the officer board that Mr McGuinness should be the candidate.

It is understood Mr McGuinness told the North’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, who is on the same trip to the US, that he intended to stand for the presidency.

Mr McGuinness (61) who represents Mid-Ulster in the Northern Assembly, and is also an abstentionist MP for the constituency in the House of Commons, will take leave of absence from his post as Deputy First Minister to contest the election. He is expected to be replaced in the post for the duration of the campaign by the party’s Minister for Education, John O’Dowd.

Mr McGuinness was a leading member of the Provisional IRA for nearly four decades and was accused in 2005 by then minister for justice Michael McDowell of being a member of that group’s army council.

With Gerry Adams he took a leading role in the peace process and has strongly condemned the violence of dissident republicans in recent time.

Mr Adams said yesterday that the presidential election would give Mr McGuinness the platform to continue his work and put it on a national footing.

“I believe he can be the people’s president. If elected he will draw the average industrial wage. He will dedicate himself to a genuine national reconciliation and the unity of our people. He will personify hope in the great genius and integrity of all the people of this island, Catholics, Protestants and Dissenters,” said Mr Adams.

Mr McGuinness is regarded as by far the most formidable candidate for the presidency in the ranks of Sinn Féin and his nomination is a signal that the party intends making a strong bid to win the office.

If the party can win more than 12.5 per cent of the vote (a quarter of a quota) it will be entitled to have election expenses of up to €200,000 reimbursed by the taxpayer.

Sinn Féin has 14 TDs and three Senators and will need the support of three more members of the Oireachtas to get the required 20 signatures to enable Mr McGuinness to get on the ballot paper.

Dublin Labour TD, Joe Costello, who is director of elections for his party’s candidate Michael D Higgins, said last night that it would be interesting to see who Sinn Féin turned to for the additional three signatures required for the nomination.

"People love a come back," Independent Senator David Norris said on RTE'S Late Late SHow last night as he announced his hope to re-enter the presidential race. He declined to say if he had the backing of enough Oireachtas members to secure a nomination. He pulled out in July following the controversy over letters he wrote seeking clemency from the Israeli authorities for his former partner who had been convicted of statutory rape.

Meanwhile, the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party will meet on Tuesday to decide whether to allow TDs and Senators nominate candidates.

Fianna Fáil Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú is seeking the support of his colleagues to run as an Independent. Mr Ó Murchú said yesterday he decided to run because he felt “the actual campaign was turning into a circus”. Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin suffered a serious blow to his authority on Thursday night when he was forced to back down from a proposal that the party should not nominate any candidate in the election.

Deputy leader Éamon Ó Cuív threatened to resign if the motion was passed by the party and it was not put to the meeting. The issue will be revisited on Tuesday.