Journalists ill-disposed towards Sinn Féin have labelled the decision of Sinn Fein to run Martin McGuinness in the Irish Presidential Election as…….”audacious”. It is a neutral-sounding word but actually says more about their journalistic jaws dropping in surprise than it does about the decision itself.
Rather embarrassingly for some,the Republic of Ireland was born thru Violence. So was Norn Iron of course. And Violence contributed to the Peace Settlement that we now have in the North. I have argued before that the Ceasefire of 1994 and the subsequent Good Friday Agreement of 1998……and Sinn Féins entry into (semi?) constitutional politics puts it on the same level as Fianna Fáil, the southern Party in the 1930s. Fianna Fáil has never been totally socially acceptable in the Republic even though it is the “natural” Party of governance.
Fianna Fáil is often dismissed as populists “stroke politicians” and “cute hoors” whose sole objective is getting elected. This is supposed to differentiate them from the other two main Parties…….Fine Gael, who had a brief flirtation with Irelands rather comical and thankfully short-lived Fascist movement in the 1930s. They are still known……unfairly …as the Blueshirts. And of course we have the great and good in the Labour Party ……many of whose members had (whisper it) connexions to the “Official IRA” in the 1960s and 1970s. The greatest achievement of the “Official IRA” (the IRA from whom the Provisionals broke away)……..has been…….. like Satan……to convince people that they never existed.
So Irelands three main political parties have ……baggage.
It is undoubtedly true that Martin McGuinness has baggage. As does Sinn Féin. As does the Provisional IRA, to whom Sinn Féin was/is connected. While Dublin Journalists bemoan the entry of Sinn Féin into mainstream politics in the Republic and of Martin McGuinness into the Presidential Election, the only real issue is that it might be “too soon”. But Fianna Fáil still labours under its own History……..of being the rebels who opposed the new Irish Free State when (partial) independence was achieved.
For those who have ever seen the movie “Michael Collins”………even after four complete generations, Fine Gael is devoted to Michael Collins who signed the Partitionist Treaty……and Fianna Fáil devoted to De Valera who opposed the Treaty.
The role of President can be dismissed as “ceremonial”. To some extent that is true but it is also Totemic, a statement of the Irish people as to how we see ourselves. Getting the nomination to run as President is………easy…….and……difficult.
Basically the nominees will be Irish citizens (Northerners like Martin McGuinness and myself) are Irish citizens who dont actually have a vote. And nominees must be 35 or over. Getting on the ballot paper requires the signatures of twenty members of the Oireachtas (the two Houses of the Legislature.
The current arithmatic is that Fine Gael has 93 seats (74 TDs and 19 Senators from the largely ceremonial Seanad) Labour has 49 (37 and 12) Fianna Fáil has 33 (19 and 14 ) and Sinn Féin 17 (14 and 3). There are 20 (very diverse) Independent TD and 12 Senators.
The second route to nomination is thru the endorsement of four or more County Councils.
Michael D Higgins (Labour Party)……..from Galway. now 70 years old, he will be 77 when his term in Office ends. A poet, Gaelic speaker and with a slightly artsy air about him. He is simply known as “Michael D”. Much respected.
Gay Mitchell (Fine Gael)…….Dublin based Member of the European Parliament. Has held Ministerial Office in the Republic and recognised as to the “right” of the Party.
Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein)……currently Joint First Minister in the Norn Iron Government. Has served a prison sentence in the Republic “as a member of the Irish Republican Army”. He has stated that he was second in command of the IRA in Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1972. Also believed to be a long standing member of the “Army Council”, the governing body of the IRA. Nominated by Sinn Féin and four Independents he wont be running on the SF label.
Mary Davies (Independent)………not a politician she is the Chairperson of Special Olympics Ireland. Nominated via the “County Council” route.
Seán Gallagher (Independent)……..former Fianna Fáil member and a “Donald Trump” type figure in the sense of being a prominent TV millionaire. Nominated via the ” County Council” route.
Two other people are actively seeking nominations. Dana Rosemary Scallon and David Norris. I will write about them in a seperate Blog.
The Elephant NOT in this room ………is Fianna Fáil. They are NOT running a candidate. They couldnt possibly win…….and are still in after shock having been decimated in the General Election earlier this year. There is something about Fianna Fáil at the moment…….that seems almost like early Christians in the upstirs room in Jerusalem, in the fearful period betreen the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Its almost as if the are afriad to go out into the streets. Fianna Fáil presided over the Celtic Tiger economy and subsequent banking crisis which has not only devastated Irish household income and jobs. They sold out Irish sovreignty to Europe……..European bankers and the International Monetary Fund.
And this is the opportunity for Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin scored 10% of the votes in the General Election in February 2011. McGuinness has obviously extended this base already by getting the support of some Independents and could tap into general disenchantment with the “Political Class” and the absence of the “rhetorically Republican” Fianna Fáil opens up the possibility of gaining some votes from that “gene pool”.
Having performed better than expected in February, I see this Presidential Election as a chance for Sinn Féin to consolidate and expand its base. They would wish to manage expectations so that a percentage share of (say) 17% could be “spun” as a triumph. But the reality is they are hopeful of more than 20%.
Can Martin McGuinness Win? …..I just dont know. The “audacious” move has already won some votes but significantly some southerners……..probably enough will never vote Sinn Féin in their lifetimes. For many its just too soon. For many Sinn Féin was part of the problem……and are unwilling to accept its role in the solution.
Would Sinn Féin Winning Be a Good Thing?……Thats a very different question. Necessarily the President of Ireland cannot be a divisive figure and frankly McGuinness would be divisive. I think it would be a nice bonus if he actually won. But I think the best result is a good performance, short of actual Victory.