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Sinn Fein's McGuinness to run for Irish president

By Peter Taggart, For CNN
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness (L) speaks to the media beside party president Gerry Adams on September 18.
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness (L) speaks to the media beside party president Gerry Adams on September 18.
  • The former IRA leader says republicans have a responsibility to heal wounds
  • He says he can "work with anyone"
  • McGuinness is deputy first minister of Northern Ireland
  • Elections for the largely ceremonial post are scheduled for October 27

Belfast, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- Northern Ireland's Martin McGuinness will be the Sinn Fein candidate for president of the Republic of Ireland when elections are held next month, the party's executive committee voted unanimously Sunday.

McGuinness, a former leader of the IRA, is now deputy first minister of Northern Ireland.

Accepting his party's nomination Sunday, he said republicans have an obligation to "heal the wounds of their actions."

McGuinness has admitted that he was a leader of the Provisional IRA 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.

He referred to a recent upsurge in violence in the province in his speech Sunday.

"I know there will be a very strong temptation for people to drag us back to the past. God knows there are enough of them trying to do so, in a violent sense, at the moment," he said.

He described himself as a man of peace who can work across sectarian lines.

"People see me very much as a peacemaker, but, more importantly, they see me as a peacemaker who can be trusted," he said. "I have every confidence that the peace process will be strengthened by my participation in the presidential election."

"I am proud to have served in government alongside unionists," he said, referring to those who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom rather than uniting with the republic to the south. "I can work with anyone. Times have changed in the North."

Sinn Fein won 14 seats in the Irish parliament, the Dail Eireann, in elections this year.

The party's leader, Gerry Adams, moved from his west Belfast constituency in Northern Ireland to win a parliamentary seat in the republic, topping the poll in the Louth constituency.

McGuinness will step down temporarily as deputy first minister in Northern Ireland's power-sharing government during the election campaign, to be replaced by Education Minister John O'Dowd, Sinn Fein said.

If elected, he would resign from his position in Northern Ireland.

Ireland's president is a largely ceremonial role, with national elections held every seven years.

The president is the guardian of the constitution and has the power to refer contentious laws to Ireland's 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 II in May, days before U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in the country.

Elections are due to be held October 27.

On Friday, Irish Senator David Norris said he intends to re-enter the race.

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.

An opinion poll published Sunday showed Labour's Michael D. Higgins leading Norris, who might be backed by the Fianna Fail party.

But the Sunday Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne poll was completed before Norris said he was rejoining the race and before Sinn Fein put McGuinness' name forward.