Former IRA Member Martin McGuinness Makes Irish Presidential Bid

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: As with ETA in Spain, the Irish Republican Army or IRA used violence to try to further its political goals. IRA members agreed to lay down their weapons in 2005. Since then they've sought influence through their political whim, Sinn Fein. In Northern Ireland Sinn Fein has won some power. It's part of the power sharing government there. Well, now, one of Sinn Fein's top leaders is running for president in Ireland. Martin McGuinness is a former IRA commander and that has brought him a lot of controversy with voters, especially those whose relatives were killed by the IRA. The BBC's Dan Damon is covering McGuinness' campaign in Ireland.

Dan Damon: He's made no secret of the fact that he took up arms against the British government. He felt he was defending his people who were living he says, in appalling conditions, and he fought, there's no doubt about that. But then he decided along with Jerry Adams that the political route was the one that was gonna succeed. And he began that process through the political wing of the Provisional IRA, Sinn Fein. And he's been one of the architects, one of the main features and figures in the peace process, but he's still has the IRA past to live down.

Mullins: And as you have been reporting, Dan, the families of those killed by the IRA don't appreciate Martin McGuinness' interest in putting the past behind him. Here's one person who was questioning McGuinness at Ireland's final presidential election debate.

Irish Man 1: Do you regard those killings as murder or would you say that they are war victims? For McGuinness, are they war victims or are they...

Martin McGuinness: As commonly accepted, what happened in the north was a conflict. Different words have been used to describe it, the troubles, war. As a result of that war an awful lot of terrible things happened. And as far as the families of those people are concerned...

Irish Man 1: Terrible thing, was it murder? Was Tom Oliver murdered?

McGuinness: They would describe it as murder and I wouldn't disagree with any grieving family who had to deal with the scenario.

Irish Man 1: Do you describe it as murder?

McGuinness: I, I deal with the reality that there was a conflict.

Mullins: Well, Martin McGuinness is hearing a lot in fact from grieving families. Here's another clip. This one is someone who is pretty much dogging McGuinness on the campaign trail, at least at one particular stop. It's the son of an Irish soldier. His father was shot in the 1970s during an IRA kidnapping. The son turned up at a shopping mall with a photograph of his father and called McGuinness a liar.

Irish Man 2: I want justice for my father.

McGuinness: Absolutely.

Irish Man 2: I believe that you know the names of the killers of my father.

McGuinness: No, I don't.

Irish Man 2: And I want you to tell me who they are.

McGuinness: I don't know their names.

Irish Man 2: You were on the army council of the IRA.

McGuinness: That's not true.

Irish Man 2: Yes, you were.

McGuinness: No, well how do you know that?

Irish Man 2: You're a liar.

McGuinness: Well, I'm not a liar.

Irish Man 2: You are a liar.

McGuinness: I'm not a liar.

Irish Man 2: I want justice for my father. I want you to get your comrades who committed this crime to hand themselves into the GardaĆ­.

McGuinness: This is in the past. You're heartbroken, you're heartbroken on the point of it. My sympathy 100% is with you and with your family.

Mullins: Dan Damon, it must be hard for victims' families to believe those words of contrition from Martin McGuinness. Is there any sense of forgiveness at all or at least wanting to put the past behind them among some of the voters there?

Damon: The problem is that Martin McGuinness keeps saying that this is all in the past, but for the families of those who died, I went to meet one woman who was 17 when her father, a judge, was shot on his doorstep as his 9-year-old daughter stood behind him. She says this is the present, it's still real for us unless those that were guilty are brought to justice, and Martin McGuinness they believe knows that, then knows there is no forgiveness. And he is remember, trying to be the president of Ireland. That's a job that they believe require integrity and accountability and he's not making himself accountable.

Mullins: So pull back a little bit, Dan. In the big picture what is happening in this vote and what is it ultimately going to decide?

Damon: From Sinn Fein's point of view, remember that they are the inheritors of the IRA tradition and its history of violence. What they want to do is not necessarily get Martin McGuinness to be president. That would be a bonus. It's probably not going to happen this time. But they've raised their profile. They've got their campaigning machine really well-oiled now. In 2016, then there's a parliamentary election. The real power lies with parliament, and so if Sinn Fein can be in a position to campaign effectively in that iconic year of 2016 then they may achieve power or get very close to it on both sides of the border. And then what does the border really mean?

Mullins: All right, the BBC's Dan Damon covering the Irish election for us. Thank you very much.

Damon: You're welcome, thanks very much indeed.