The entry of Martin McGuinness into the presidential race throws the cat among the pigeons very forcefully in Ireland.

I happened to be on a current affairs program, the George Hook Show here in Dublin when the news hit

. The reaction of the pundits was immediate.

A presidential race that was becoming a circus of minor contenders suddenly had been galvanized by the entrance of the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister.

The immediate reaction was that McGuinness could not win the race but could get as high as 25 per cent of the vote and possibly finish second.

Paddy Power bookmakers seemed to concur with that. They listed him as a 6/1 shot, well behind the two front-runners Michael D. Higgins of the Labor Party and Gay Mitchell of Fine Gael.

But this presidential race has been such a surprise cocktail form the beginning.

McGuinness was not the only contender announcing yesterday.

Last night on the Late Late Show, Ireland’s top rated program, David Norris announced he was getting back in the race after a gay scandal forced him out .

Like moths to the flame contenders cannot resist the lure of Ireland’s top constitutional job.

I’m not that sure that McGuinness can’t win. There is a strange mood abroad in Ireland with the economic collapse there and I know several Irish people who told me McGuinness is the one Sinn Fein candidate they would cast a protest vote for.

He has an excellent image in the south in recent years, his ability to work with Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson and construct a solid government in Northern Ireland has won him deserved praise everywhere.

There are many who will wish he can get back to that that the peace process is not fully bedded down and who see his steady hand is still needed in the North.

But the lure of running for president in the south was too big to turn down.

It positions Sinn Fein as the largest opposition party in the south and leaves Fianna Fail, who have refused to run a candidate for Ireland’s highest office, looking very diminished indeed.

Sinn Fein as usual are playing a long term game If McGuinness wins it is an incredible achievement.

If he loses, but finishes second it moves Sinn Fein to the position of being Ireland’s leading opposition party.

Either way they win, it is a plus sum game and a net gain for them.

Clever, very clever.