PRESIDENTIAL candidate Martin McGuinness today distanced himself from developer Tom McFeely, but was forced to admit he knew the IRA hunger striker "a lifetime ago".
Mr McGuinness insisted he had not seen the developer for over three decades.
McFeely is presently before the courts for fire safety breaches in his Priory Hall development, which has led to hundreds of homeowners and occupiers, including young children and infants, facing homelessness.
Mr McGuinness and McFeely are both from Derry and were both involved with Sinn Fein and the IRA.
When asked if he knew McFeely personally, McGuinness replied: "I suppose a lifetime ago. But I haven't seen him in what must be over 30 years. Maybe even longer than that."
He insisted Mr McFeely was not a friend of his, stating: "No, I haven't even seen him in 30 years. I don't think I'd even recognise him ."
McFeely spent 53 days on hunger strike in the Maze prison in the early 1980s before later becoming a property developer. It is not known whether McFeely has made donations to Sinn Fein in the subsequent years.
When asked as to whether the developer made donations to his presidential campaign, Mr McGuinness insisted that McFeely has not made any contributions.
"Most definitely not. Not as far as I'm aware anyway," he said.
More than 240 people living in Priory Hall, Donaghmede, have been ordered to leave their homes and move into emergency accommodation by tomorrow as a result of fire safety concerns in the development.
Since Monday, 100 of these people have moved into the the Regency Hotel in Whitehall where Dublin City Council will foot the €4,000-a-day bill for accommodation.
McFeely was forced to hand his passport over to the courts this week after admitting that he does not have the funds available to cover the €200,000 hotel bill for more than 100 residents. Last April he was briefly jailed for the breaches of fire regulations at the Priory Hall complex.
He was placed in custody pending sentencing for the offences and later received a six-month suspended prison sentence and a €3,000 fine.
It has also emerged that in 2009, 28 tenants in an apartment building in Dundalk had to move out after the council served a closure notice on McFeely's company Coalport over fire safety standards.
Today Mr McGuinness went on to offer his sympathies to all the families left homeless as a result of the Priory Hall problems.
"My full sympathy is with the people, absolutely," he added.
Speaking in Galway, Mr McGuinness also dismissed claims that his presidential campaign was simply a stunt by Sinn Fein to get the party more coverage in the Republic.
"That's absolute nonsense. I'm in this to win it. I'm getting a fantastic reception on the ground a phenomenal reception everywhere I go. I didn't step away from a very important job in the North just to be an also ran," he added.
Read Gerry O'Carroll, page 27