I counted no fewer than eight separate attacks on Martin McGuinness in
the pages of the Sunday Independent this week.
The attacks were also quick in coming in The Irish Times and most
other media publications in Ireland.
It seems the decision by the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland
to run for the role of Irish president has set the clock back about 20
Back then daily attacks on Republicans were a feature of the Irish
media, intent above all in keeping the Northern troubles off their
radar and fenced off.
The successful peace process softened their cough for a while, but
there are many writers who can never forgive the IRA for going the way
of peaceful resolution, thereby screwing up their weekly target and
making them, in many cases, irrelevant.
Suddenly they feel relevant again, at least for the few weeks of the
Irish presidential campaign.
But they worry that McGuinness might even win the race for president,
thereby presenting them with a barbarian at the gate of Aras an
They have much to be worried about. In terms of political ability
McGuinness is head and shoulders above the other candidates in the
Michael D. Higgins is an effective politician, but he never managed to
pull off the near impossible and create a political and working bond
with Ian Paisley as McGuinness did, which cemented the peace process.
The peace process is the outstanding achievement of the past thirty years in ireland, an inspiration to the world. It would not have happened without McGuinness it is as simple as that.
The Fine Gael candidate Gay Mitchell is from the second tier of his
party and has spent his political life in recent years quite
anonymously in Europe.
David Norris is colorful and brash, but the scandal over his gay lover in Israel and letters he wrote on his behalf after he was convicted of child rape will haunt him.
During that time McGuinness has forged peace in Northern Ireland,
become an international figure and a man called on to aid in peace
processes all over the world.
In the debates that will accompany the race, McGuinness will shine. He
is articulate and very comfortable in front of the cameras.
Polls already show that McGuinness is off to a quick start, only a few
percentage points behind the front-runners.
He will find it hard to win because the Irish system of preferences
means that voters vote, not just for a single candidate but all of the
field in order of their preferences.
McGuinness will find it hard to get the second and third preference
votes because his party, Sinn Fein, polarizes opinion.
The questions about his IRA past are legitimate but could have been
asked of many major political figures in Ireland such as former
presidents Eamon De Valera and Sean T O’Ceallaigh, Foreign Minister,
Sean MacBride and Prime Minister Sean Lemass, not to mention Michael
The Irish Free State was founded by the gunmen who fought a vicious
War of Independence and later a nasty Civil War to make it happen.
Like the United States it was forged in battle but in Ireland the
attempt to elide that inconvenient truth continues afoot.
Under that scenario McGuinness, having taken the path of so many
others from all Irish political traditions, is somehow illegitimate
for doing so.
If his deeds and accomplishments happened fifty years ago nw doubt
there would be a statue to him as there is to many of his predecessors
in the IRA who made peace.
But because his achievements are in the immediate past and still weigh
heavily on the self-image of many of the Irish powers-that-be they
oppose him tooth and nail.
I think the ordinary people in Ireland will acknowledge his
extraordinary journey, his massive role in bringing peace and his
image on the world stage where he is seen as a peacemaker.
Whether that is enough to win the office remains to be seen –
bookmakers have him at 3/1 so it would be no great surprise.
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