DUBLIN (AP) — The son of an Irish Republican Army victim confronted former IRA commander Martin McGuinness on the campaign trail Monday, accusing the presidential candidate of being a liar and shielding the killers.
McGuinness is the most prominent of seven contenders seeking to win the Oct. 27 election to become Ireland's president, its symbolic head of state. He also is the most controversial because of his past as a leader of an underground group responsible for killing nearly 1,800 people.
As McGuinness campaigned in the Irish midlands town of Athlone, he found his way blocked by David Kelly, who held a framed portrait of his father Patrick. The IRA killed Patrick Kelly, a 35-year-old private in the Irish Army private, as well as a policeman in December 1983 as Irish security forces tried to arrest an IRA gang.
"I believe that you know the names of the killers of my father. And I want you to tell me who they are," Kelly told McGuinness.
When McGuinness denied knowing the IRA members involved in the 1983 shootout, Kelly said he must know since he was a senior IRA figure.
"That's not true," said McGuinness, who during the campaign has insisted he quit the IRA in 1974, the year of his last prison conviction for IRA membership. Several authoritative histories of the IRA, Irish police and the Irish government all say McGuinness remained an IRA commander until the outlawed group renounced violence and disarmed in 2005.
Kelly said his father "was loyal to this Irish Republic, I'm loyal to him as a son, and I'm going to get justice for him."
McGuinness said he understood Kelly's pain and sympathized with him.
"I don't believe you. You're a liar," Kelly said, adding: "I want you to get your comrades who committed this crime to hand themselves in."
When McGuinness said he couldn't help him, Kelly said Ireland couldn't experience true reconciliation until people involved in past politically motivated killing told the truth.
McGuinness said he wanted Ireland to form "an international, independent commission on truth," but Kelly called that a way of dodging the candidate's own responsibility to come clean.
"I want truth now, today. Murder is murder," Kelly said to a smattering of applause from onlookers in an Athlone shopping center.
Recent opinion polls rate the Labour Party's Michael D. Higgins as the favorite, with McGuinness measured as likely to finish second or third.
But Ireland's complex voting system permits votes to be transferred from candidate to candidate in order of preference. With an unprecedented seven candidates in the field, political analysts say the opinion polls cannot accurately predict a winner.