McGuinness acts to deal with controversy on soldier's death

Tue, Oct 11, 2011, 01:00

MARTIN McGUINNESS last night moved to deal with a serious challenge to his presidential campaign caused by a dramatic confrontation in Athlone with a man whose father was killed by the IRA.

“As a republican leader I have never and would never stand over attacks on the Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces,” Mr McGuinness said.

However, he did not condemn the killings of Pte Patrick Kelly and Gary Sheehan, a Garda trainee from Co Monaghan, who were killed by the IRA in Derrada Woods near Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, during a joint Garda and Army operation to rescue businessman Don Tidey in 1983.

Mr McGuinness was speaking after being confronted by David Kelly, the son of the late Pte Kelly, yesterday while the presidential candidate was canvassing in Athlone, Co Westmeath.

Mr Kelly described the Sinn Féin politician as a “liar” for saying he did not know the identity of the IRA members who killed his father in 1983.

He also asserted that Mr McGuinness was a member of the IRA army council at the time. Mr McGuinness denied he was lying about the matter, was in the IRA at the time or was a member of its army council.

Mr McGuinness devoted much of a speech to a rally in Trim, Co Meath, last night to the confrontation. In a carefully worded passage, he said his heart went out to families in the Republic who had lost relatives during the conflict, including gardaí and Army personnel.

In his speech, which will be seen as an effort to deal with a serious public relations and political setback, Mr McGuinness said there was a need for a real process of national reconciliation.

“I understand that the individual pain felt by victims and the relatives of victims on all sides and none in the recent conflict cannot be healed overnight. Some may never heal,” he said.

“I want to deepen and expand the role of the president to lead the process of national reconciliation in Ireland, Mr McGuinness added.

Mr Kelly, from Moate, Co Westmeath, held a picture of his father in front of Mr McGuinness as he told him: “I want justice for my father. I believe you know the names of the killers of my father and I want you to tell me who they are. You were on the army council of the IRA.”

Mr McGuinness denied any knowledge of the individuals involved.