McGuinness 'would host the queen' if won Irish presidency

17th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Martin McGuinness said Saturday he would be willing to host Queen Elizabeth II if he succeeds in his bid to become Irish president, despite his Sinn Fein party's antipathy to the British monarch.

McGuinness, the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and a self-confessed former commander of the IRA paramilitary group, was unveiled on Friday as his republican party's surprise candidate for the October 27 presidential election.

It is only the latest stage in his journey from militant to peacemaker, which has seen him take a leading role in both the sectarian violence that plagued Northern Ireland for three decades and the peace process that followed.

Speaking at Belfast airport as he returned from a trade mission in the United States, McGuinness said he was ready to tackle questions about his past in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) but insisted he was "part of the future".

And he said that if elected to the ceremonial role of Irish president, he would be willing to welcome all heads of state -- including the British queen, even though Sinn Fein leaders have always avoided royal engagements in the past.

"My responsibilities and duties would be to meet heads of state from all over the world and to do that without exception," he told reporters.

He added: "The past is a terrible place but I think I am seen very much as a part of the future. This is about new beginnings and I have been at the heart of new beginnings."

McGuinness' candidacy, which is backed by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, will be rubber-stamped at the party's executive council at a meeting on Sunday.

McGuinness is a good campaigner but he has an uphill challenge to win. Despite being the second biggest party in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein won only 9.9 percent of the vote in the Irish general election in February.

Bookmakers Paddy Power have made him third favourite after Michael D. Higgins of the Labour party and Gay Mitchell of Fine Gael, the party of Irish premier Enda Kenny.

Independent candidates Mary Davis and Sean Gallagher are also in the running to succeed President Mary McAleese, who steps down after two terms.

© 2011 AFP

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