THE presidential race has been blown wide open with Sinn Féin confirming Martin McGuinness as its candidate and David Norris announcing he will re-enter the fray.
Sinn Féin confirmed that 61-year-old Mr McGuinness, a former IRA leader in Derry, would be its nominee. He said he hoped his campaign “will give citizens the opportunity to make a stand for the new Ireland”.
His candidacy will be rubber-stamped by Sinn Féin’s ard comhairle tomorrow.
Mr Norris, meanwhile, confirmed on the Late Late Show that he also intended re-entering the race.
But whereas Mr McGuinness will secure enough support to get a nomination, Mr Norris faces an uphill battle. To get a nomination, a candidate needs the backing of 20 Oireachtas members (TDs and senators) or four city/county councils. Mr Norris is aiming for the Oireachtas route, but will struggle to get 20 names after the controversy over the clemency letter he wrote for a former lover convicted of having underage sex.
But Mr McGuinness will face no problems securing a nomination, as Sinn Fein has 17 TDs and senators and will secure the extra three it needs with little difficulty.
He is expected to step aside as Northern Deputy First Minister for the duration of the campaign.
In an eye-catching move, the party said he would take only the average industrial wage of circa €35,000 if he were elected. The official salary will be €250,000.
His candidacy is likely to shake up the presidential race, with political observers suggesting his personal appeal to voters is greater than that of his party’s.
Mr McGuinness will not be able to vote as Irish citizens in the North are not entitled to do so.
Speaking from the US, he said he believed that those who had voted for his election in the North would be pleased with his decision.
“They will be very happy that I, as an Irish republican from the North, will be prepared to stand for the Irish presidency.
“The whole all-Ireland nature of the agreements that we have made make it incumbent upon all of us to continue to bring about — I hope — the reunification of Ireland by purely peaceful and democratic means.”
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said his long-term colleague would be a “people’s President” capable of giving people hope.
“He will dedicate himself to a genuine national reconciliation and the unity of our people. He will personify hope in the great genius and integrity of all the people of this island, Catholics, Protestants and Dissenters.”
The other candidates are Labour’s Michael D Higgins, Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell, and Independents Mary Davis and Sean Gallagher. Fianna Fáil’s Labhrás Ó Murchú is also seeking a nomination.
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