Ex-IRA commander: I never killed anyone

2011-09-22 20:48

Dublin -  Former Irish Republican Army (IRA) commander and Irish presidential hopeful Martin McGuinness said on Thursday he did not kill anyone while he was a member of one of the world's deadliest fighter groups.

McGuinness, whose entry into the race for the largely ceremonial position of Irish president has electrified the campaign, replied "No" when asked by a local radio reporter whether he had ever killed anyone or had been indirectly responsible for any deaths.

"I didn't say I never fired a gun. I was in the IRA and there were battles on the streets of Derry, I have never run away from that but I am not going to sensationalise in interviews something that could be used to the detriment of the peace process," McGuinness told Newstalk Radio.

The now defunct IRA is blamed for about half of the 3 600 people, many of them civilians, killed during three decades of sectarian conflict in British-controlled Northern Ireland.

McGuinness, who said previously that he left the IRA in 1974, played a central role in talks with the British government to end the conflict.

A landmark 1998 peace deal largely ended the violence and paved the way for a power-sharing government led by Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, and its former enemies in the pro-British unionist community.

McGuinness stood down as deputy first minister of the Belfast government to campaign for the presidential poll, which will be held on October 27.

Although a controversial figure in many quarters of the Republic of Ireland because of his past, McGuinness is also admired for his commitment to peace. Bookmakers Paddy Power has put him as the second-favourite to win behind the Labour party's candidate, Michael D Higgins.

McGuinness topped a poll on Wednesday of listeners to Ireland's top radio phone-in show, with over 6 000 people opting for him over 5 800 for Higgins.

While the role is chiefly ceremonial, Ireland's president has the right to refer legislation to the Supreme Court, presenting potential difficulties for Prime Minister Enda Kenny should McGuinness get elected.

Sinn Fein has criticised Kenny's coalition government and its adherence to the tough fiscal targets under an EU-IMF bailout.

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