|Martin McGuinness receives a kiss from supporter|
while campaigning in Dublin on Saturday
AH diddums! Poor Martin McGuinness! We're all being nasty to him, it seems. Last weekend he looked all upset and sad as he appeared on RTE News to accuse government ministers and large sections of the Irish media of using "dirty tricks" and "black propaganda" to destroy him.
Why were they doing this? He answered his own question. It's because he has offered to do the job of president for the average industrial wage.
That was the only reason he gave.
Which, when you think about it, is extraordinary. Because the media are not at all interested in this petty financial matter.
What the media have been hammering away at over the past week are some of the brutal IRA actions that McGuinness was known to be involved in over the years.
Particular attention has been paid to the role he played in luring a so-called IRA informer called Frank Hegarty back to Derry in 1986, visiting the man's house to assure his mother that he would not be harmed. When Hegarty returned he was abducted and executed by the IRA.
Another thing the media here have been concentrating on is McGuinness's claim that he left the IRA in 1974. Security chiefs, not only in the north but in the south as well, have stated on the record that their information is that McGuinness was one of the leaders -- and for much of the time the senior leader -- of the IRA from the mid-1970s to the 1990s. Yet McGuinness is sticking to his assertion that he left the IRA in 1974.
Now most of the time, this kind of unbelievable claim by McGuinness has not mattered too much in the south. It has as much credibility as the claim by Gerry Adams that he was never in the IRA at all!
It's treated as a bit of a joke by most people. The less said the better, ask no questions and you will be told no lies etc.
If it means we have peace, who cares what the truth is? Which is fine and dandy most of the time.
But it's a different matter when we are talking about the record of someone who wants to be president of Ireland. And it's a different matter if they are deliberately telling lies.
The fact is that the record of anyone who wants to be president here is subject to forensic scrutiny, and rightly so. The shifting Sinn Fein/IRA dual personalities that McGuinness and some of his close colleagues inhabited in the past were tolerated at one stage because they served a purpose when efforts to end the years of bloodshed in the North were underway.
But the kind of compromises that had to be made then have no place in a presidential election in the south now.
There is no room here and now for fudging, for half-truths, for the nod and wink nonsense that we have listened to from Sinn Fein leaders for so long.
If you want to run for president here, you better be prepared to be honest and up front. That is the minimum that people here expect.
As for McGuinness's answer that the weekend criticism is a reaction to his offer to accept only the average wage here if he is elected president, he's not fooling anyone. In fact it's an insult to the intelligence of voters here.
That is merely a ham-fisted attempt to appeal to the many people here who are under financial pressure. But it has no real credibility.
One reporter here noted that when McGuinness appeared on the Late Late Show last week for the special debate with all the presidential candidates there was not just one but two limos waiting outside the RTE studios for him. One of these was a BMW X5, which is not the kind of car that anyone I know on the average wage drives.
When the same reporter tried to take pictures of the cars he was immediately surrounded by several McGuinness security men and discouraged from doing so.
This is another aspect of the Sinn Fein modus operandi that bothers people here. They may all be on the average wage, but there's a lot of minders around whenever any of the Sinn Fein leaders are moving around.
And there's an aura of power and threat that accompanies them that is very disturbing in a democracy. Anyone who has encountered the Sinn Fein leaders up close will be aware of this.
How is this Sinn Fein machine funded? Do we even know who pays for McGuinness's expensive suits?
The answer is we don't know. And when one government minister suggested last weekend that the Northern
Bank robbery might have something to do with it, McGuinness was quick to reply that this was "rubbish," and most Irish people here know it's rubbish, he added.
Well, he's wrong about that. In fact most people here are very suspicious about where the £26 million stolen in the bank robbery in Belfast in 2004 has gone, because no explanation has ever been forthcoming and the bulk of the money has never been recovered.
You will remember that after the robbery, bins and bags of Northern Ireland bank notes turned up in the south and Sinn Fein people were linked to the cash.
Now 2004 is only seven years ago. It's not ancient history.
Does McGuinness know where the Northern Bank robbery money is? Will he tell us? Or does he expect us to elect him president even though he refuses to come clean and tell us all he knows on this and many other issues?
That is the big problem that Sinn Fein face in this presidential election here. They seem to think that they will get away with not answering questions, or only partly answering questions, or trotting out the same old evasive double talk like they have been doing in the North for years.
Well, sorry guys, but it won't work. And McGuinness's sad and disappointed reaction to the questions that were raised here last weekend is perhaps a sign that he and his senior Sinn Fein colleagues are only now waking up to this uncomfortable fact. That fact is it's different here in the south.
The other aspect to the dismissive Sinn Fein attitude to the media here is their belief that there is a historical legitimacy to the bloody campaign waged by the IRA over the recent 30 years of murder and mayhem.
The IRA "war" cannot be seen as anti-democratic or criminal because it has legitimate roots in our history.
And for that reason, they believe, many of the questions now being thrown at McGuinness in this election are based on false premises or a lack of understanding or an ignorance of our history.
The reaction to recent columns in this space makes it clear that some Irish Americans share this view. So let's tease it out for a moment.
The argument goes like this -- the men of the 1916 Rising were only supported by a small minority of the Irish people when they rebelled, but their action is now seen as legitimate. In the same way, the recent IRA campaign will in time be seen to be legitimate.
This ignores the fact that after the execution of the 1916 leaders public opinion began to swing behind the movement for independence, and in the 1918 election Sinn Fein won a massive majority of the Irish seats in the British Parliament, leading to the setting up of the first Dail (Irish Parliament) and the Declaration of Independence, followed by the War of Independence.
This means that the IRA's war of independence at the time had a democratic legitimacy. The recent campaign by the IRA had no such legitimacy, either in the south or in the north.
As far as the vast majority (over 98%) of people in the south were concerned, the campaign was continued despite their strong disapproval and opposition. In the North, the campaign continued even though it was opposed by the biggest Nationalist party in the North, the SDLP.
Sinn Fein did not replace the SDLP as the largest Nationalist party in the North until 2001, long after the IRA ceasefire had come into effect in 1994. Which means the IRA campaign in the North did not have a democratic legitimacy either among Nationalists or among the population in the North as a whole.
So the idea that the recent IRA campaign in the North had some kind of historic or democratic legitimacy is false. At some point Sinn Fein are going to have to acknowledge that fact and now, as McGuinness asks the people of the south to make him their president, would be a good time to do it.
Another painful awakening for Sinn Fein that is now happening is the realization that the peace process bonus in the south is long over. Eaten bread is soon forgot.
The electorate in the south now have other concerns, so Sinn Fein and McGuinness are unlikely to get much payback for stopping the slaughter.
As far as most people here are concerned, there is no reason for us to be grateful to McGuinness and his colleagues for finally stopping three decades of a bloody campaign because it had no legitimacy anyway.