McGuinness says that as a republican he wants to represent 32 counties

 

SINN FÉIN’S Martin McGuinness has said he wants to be the president of “all of Ireland’s 32 counties”.

Speaking during a presidential debate hosted by Today FM and The Last Wordpresenter Matt Cooper, he said it was wrong as an Irish citizen that he did not have a vote in the presidential election.

He cited the example of Tyrone captain Peter Canavan, who is supporting his candidacy, who said that none of the players who took part in the 2003 All-Ireland final between Tyrone and Armagh had a vote in the presidential election.

Mr McGuinness said he did not subscribe to the “partitionist-type mentality” when asked by Cooper what he would change about the southern Irish character. As a republican, he would represent all of Ireland.

Referring to a previous debate in which Vincent Browne referenced books which showed him to have been a member of the IRA for much longer than he claimed, Mr McGuinness said if people had the opportunity, they would have blamed him for the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence.

Independent candidate David Norris said as a result of changes to articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, it was not possible for the president to be president of all of Ireland. He said he would be the president of the 26 counties, but he would, like President Mary McAleese, build bridges with the people in the North.

Fine Gael candidate Gay Mitchell said the Constitution was clear that the president was the president of the State which is the Republic of Ireland.

He said he would be positively disposed towards Ireland joining the Commonwealth if it was the price of a united Ireland.

Mr McGuinness said that would mean Queen Elizabeth would take precedence over the president of Ireland.

However, Mr Mitchell pointed out afterwards that many countries in the Commonwealth did not have the queen as head of state.

It was a debate that was largely devoid of heated exchanges although Mary Davis took exception to Mr Mitchell describing the Special Olympics as a “kind of Olympics”. She said it was much more important than that. Mr Mitchell countered by saying he had a sister and niece with special needs.

Labour’s Michael D Higgins said he would be in favour of extending the vote for the presidential election to people living in the North and recent Irish emigrants, but that was a matter for the constitutional convention which will be considering these issues next spring.

Independent Seán Gallagher said he was not trying to hide his previous involvement with Fianna Fáil and he was “hugely proud” of his involvement as a grassroots member.

He said the Irish people’s worst trait was a “sense of negativity and cynicism” and the public needed to dig deep to recover a sense of self-confidence. He reiterated his belief that the president could act as an “economic ambassador” for Ireland abroad.

All the candidates, with the exception of Mr Higgins who had to leave for another engagement, professed to hold religious beliefs.

Mr Norris said people might find it surprising that he was a “believing Christian” and he went to St Patrick’s Cathedral every Sunday which was an “immutable thing”.

Dana Rosemary Scallon said she believed secularism was being “forced” on the Constitution and society. She also believed the president should be given the power to address the nation once a year.

Mr Norris admitted he found it difficult to raise finance because of recent controversies and he had put “every single red cent” of his money into his campaign.

Ms Davis claimed to have acted with integrity at “all times” and had been upfront about her past in releasing her P60. She said other candidates had not followed suit.