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Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness - the choice for Ireland’s presidential election

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Martin McGuinness

Irish voters go to the ballot box in a little over a week to decide who the next president of Ireland will be.

There are seven contenders, but bookmakers and opinion polls show it is close to a two-man race between businessman Sean Gallagher, who was also a reality TV star, and former Labor Party minister Michael D. Higgins.

But the race is so volatile that it is impossible to predict with great accuracy who will ultimately win.

Gallagher is a case in point. A few months ago bookmakers had him on offer at around odds of 30-1. But he has run a clean campaign, devoid of smears or innuendo, focusing on job creation and helping Ireland get out of the economic mess it is in.

Higgins has battled questions about his age – he is 70 -- and his physical fitness for the office, but has a lifelong resume of principled political commitment to issues many others ran away from.

Most notably, Higgins was responsible for removing the odious Section 31 that banned Sinn Fein from the airwaves. This was a huge move towards normalization.

But this Irish presidential campaign will be remembered for its negative and pejorative tone.  It has been a nasty campaign full of smear and despicable press coverage.

That coverage reached its zenith or nadir on Sunday when the Irish Daily Mail reported that a third hand allegation against a contender about a sexual battery case had been reported 25 years after it allegedly occurred. Irish police quite rightly refused to prosecute, but the story still made the front page.

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Read More:

The Irish Presidential Campaign: Last Two Men Standing?

Irish Republic needs Martin McGuinness says Guardian writer

Michael D Higgins launches surprise attack on Martin McGuinness

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We have also had a complete airing of the view of David Norris on pedophilia, and a dramatic family dispute over the same issue involving the singer Dana, who must be regretting her late decision to enter the race.

Then there has been the ultimate smear campaign against Sinn Fein candidate Martin McGuinness, who has received a full frontal attack in the Irish Independent and to some extent The Irish Times, both of which seem to consider his decision to contest the race as no less than an invasion of their privately held Republic.

McGuinness would be a superb president of Ireland, as he has been a superb deputy first minister in the Northern Ireland government and a brilliant peace negotiator.

Simply put, without him there would be no peace process, no delivery of the IRA to a ceasefire, no government or long term peace dividend on the island of Ireland.

All that appears to have been conveniently forgotten in the rush to demonize McGuinness in large sections of the Irish media.

The Vichy version of history being peddled in parts has the IRA, and by extension McGuinness, as the sole instigator and purveyor of violence in Northern Ireland.

If he does not make president, which appears likely, he will continue to play that critical role in Northern Ireland, and for that we can be thankful.

But he is worth voting for to make the point that the role of president of Ireland does not stop at the Irish border or her shores.

It is wider, embracing a worldwide diaspora as Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese have shown so well.

Let us hope whoever wins the prize is able to reflect that.

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