Irish presidential candidate Martin McGuinness claimed this week the Irish public do not care about his IRA past. McGuinness also contends he has not been a member of republican group since 1974, although his assertion is being challenged daily by politicians and the Dublin media.

'I think people see me as someone very much associated with political agreement and, probably more than anything else, being able to build a relationship with loyalist leaders Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson,' he said. 'That's what they see as enormous.'

'I know this is a debate that has been raging, but the media are more interested than the ordinary man and woman in the street. When I went to the all-Ireland football final - involving Kerry against Dublin - I couldn't get away for an hour and a half with people coming up and wishing me all the best. Not one of them said, 'Martin, when did you leave the IRA?' But every one of them knew I was in the IRA at one stage.'



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Asked if they believed he left the IRA 30 years ago he shrugged.

'I don't think the majority of people - to be quite honest - care,' he said. 'I think they see me as someone who was at one stage of my life in the IRA, but they see me in the round, as someone who was able to make peace.'

In the North McGuinness' claims are bolstered by images of loyalists governing amicably alongside Sinn Fein in the Assembly. But political parties in the republic are increasingly concerned that Sinn Fein are inserting themselves into the political mainstream there, building on recent electoral advances.

While McGuinness is the biggest celebrity among those standing, his selling points are not his republican credentials but rather his personality and the fact Sinn Fein's anti-establishment credentials will resonate with voters sill angry with the political system they feel ruined the country's economy.