Former IRA commander to run for president of Ireland

Story highlights

  • Martin McGuinness will run for president of Ireland next month, Sinn Fein says
  • McGuinness admitted to being a provisional IRA leader years ago
  • He has since supported the peace process
  • The office of president is largely ceremonial, with certain limited powers
Former IRA leader Martin McGuinness is set to stand as a candidate in the Republic of Ireland's presidential election next month, Sinn Fein announced Friday.
McGuinness is currently the deputy first minister in Northern Ireland and a senior member of the political party Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein said Friday that the party's officer board had nominated McGuinness for the office of president. The recommendation has to be ratified by Sinn Fein's ruling council Sunday, but party members say that vote is likely to be a formality.
McGuinness admitted several years ago he had been a provisional IRA leader during the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland between pro-British and pro-Irish forces. In recent years, he has received death threats from hardline dissident IRA splinter groups because of his support for the peace process.
McGuinness is expected to temporarily step down as deputy first minister in Northern Ireland's power-sharing government during the election campaign. If elected, he would resign from his position in Northern Ireland.
The Sinn Fein leader has spent this week in the United States with First Minister Peter Robinson on a five-day investment mission.
The post of president of Ireland is the country's head of state and is elected by the people every seven years. It is a largely ceremonial office, with certain limited powers. The president is the guardian of the constitution and has the power to refer contentious laws to the supreme court.
Mary McAleese has been the president since 1997 and is nearing the end of her second term of office. McAleese hosted a historic visit to Ireland by Britain's Queen Elizabeth the second in May days before U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in the country.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said Friday that he believes the office of president had been made "more relevant" by McAleese and her predecessor, Mary Robinson.
"This is a time of great challenge for all the people of Ireland. We need positive but authentic leadership," Adams added. "It will be a great honor for me to propose Martin McGuinness to contest this election on a broad, republican, citizen-centered platform.
"I believe that this election will give Martin the platform to continue the work which he has led in the North (Northern Ireland) and in the peace process and to put it on a national footing. I believe he can be the people's president."
Adams continued: "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."
Adams appealed for people in Northern Ireland and "across the diaspora" to be allowed to vote in the election, to be held October 27.
Also Friday, Irish Senator David Norris said he intends to re-enter the race to become head of state.
Norris -- previously tipped to be the first openly gay president of Ireland -- withdrew from the contest August 2.
He abandoned his bid after it emerged he had made a plea for clemency for a former lover convicted of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy in Israel in the 1990s.
However, Norris told Irish television Friday night he had changed his mind and is seeking support to relaunch his campaign following a "consistent outpouring" of public support.
He now has to secure political nominations to get his name on the presidential ballot paper.