Presidential election candidate Martin McGuinness has revealed that he left the IRA in 1974 – and confirmed he had said this under oath and without fear of prosecution to the Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre.
The Sinn Fein candidate to replace Mary McAleese in next month’s poll has been hounded about his IRA past since he was confirmed as a candidate on Sunday.
McGuinness hit the campaign trail running at the National Ploughing Championships in Athy on Tuesday morning but before he temporarily vacated his office as the North’s Deputy First Minister, he answered a number of questions relating to his past.
Derry born McGuinness even admitted to the Irish Times that he is annoyed by the ‘media fixation’ on his IRA history and the belief that he belonged to the organization after 1974.
Asked by the Irish Times if he would be open to prosecution if he admitted to being in the IRA beyond 1974 – after telling the Saville Inquiry that he left then – McGuinness re-iterated his earlier statements.
“If that was true it would leave me open to prosecution but it isn’t true,” he told the Irish Times.
Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, McGuinness denied any involvement in the 1990 death in Derry of Pasty Gillespie and five British soldiers in a so-called ‘human bomb’ attack.
“I had absolutely no involvement whatsoever in that. I wasn’t a member of the IRA when that happened. In fact I have never, ever been arrested or questioned about that incident by the RUC,” insisted McGuiness.
The Presidential hopeful also claimed to the Irish Times that it was wrong to assume he could persuade the IRA to lay down its arms during the peace process because he was a member of the IRA.
“People make a false assumption when they assume that,” added McGuinness. “Over the course of the last 30 years my work has been political; it has been very political in terms of trying to build this political party.
“People who voted me in have done so because they accept my bona fides about being absolutely true and earnest in the search for peace, and that my efforts have fundamentally changed their lives and the lives of our entire community for the better.”
Admitting his IRA past will come to the fore again when he goes head to head with Michael D Higgins, Gay Mitchell and other candidates on Irish television later this month, McGuinness was adamant that he will answer all questions.
“I will deal with that when it comes to that, don’t worry about that,” said the Sinn Fein deputy leader.
“The circumstances that led me to join the IRA were no different than those that led Éamon de Valera, or Michael Collins or Seán Lemass to join the IRA in their time, and also led thousands of young men and women throughout the North to do the same in the 1970s and after.
“I did defend the IRA during the conflict; I never defended every IRA action. The fact is the IRA carried out some indefensible actions resulting in the deaths of innocent people and republicans have apologized, and rightly so, for that.”
Clearly irked by the line of questioning before he had even started his campaign, McGuinness added: “Most Irish journalists, if Nelson Mandela was sitting in front of them, would not go down this line of questioning.
“No I am not comparing myself to Mandela, but it is the principle of the journalistic approach I am talking about.”