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'I am a unifier': McGuinness reacts to campaign criticism

As Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell questions Martin McGuinness’ fitness to hold the office of the presidency, the Sinn Féin candidate says he is confident he can lead the effort “to build a new republic”.

Image: Julien Behal/PA Wire

SINN FÉIN’S presidential election candidate Martin McGuinness has reacted angrily to criticism which questions the suitability of McGuinness being elected president.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Fine Gael candidate Gay Mitchell said it would be a “very big step” to introduce McGuinness as the head of state and of the defence forces “in a state that he tentatively recognises”.

In a statement this afternoon, McGuinness said he had no interest in engaging in “petty attacks” on another candidate.

“I have fought many election campaigns and I have never engaged in negative campaigning or in petty attacks on fellow candidates,” he said.

“I have a record as a unifier. I was central in uniting nationalist and republican opinion in the North around the development of a peace process,” McGuinness added. “And now I am confident that I can unite the Irish people in a great effort to build a new republic.”

His party colleague Gerry Adams earlier defended McGuinness running for the presidency, saying that his IRA past should not have any impact on how people vote for him in this election.

The latest opinion poll puts Senator David Norris in the lead of the race for the Áras – despite his not having secured a nomination to appear on the ballot. Norris has the support of 17 members of the Oireachtas and one local authority. He needs another three of either to ensure his name is on the ballot.

According to the Millward Brown Lansdowne poll, Norris is in front with 27 per cent support, while Labour’s Michael D Higgins is second with 18 per cent. McGuinness placed third with 15 per cent. The online poll used a smaller than usual sample size of 500.

Read: Norris and Dana’s presidential hopes boosted as councils to meet next week>

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