Showbiz politics in presidential race
Deaglán de Bréadún
The news that RTE’s presidential debate will be broadcast on the Late Late Show says it all – this is a showbiz election. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and it is even, in a way, heartening to think that a political race could have the same crowd-pulling power as The X Factor.
The furore over Martin McGuinness and his IRA past was to be expected – although it seems to have caught the republicans themselves by surprise.
His “West Brits” comment was of course a faux pas. It was the same kind of ad hominem approach (we do all languages on this blog, living and dead) that his critics take towards himself. Or to put it in sporting terms, he was playing the man when he should have been playing the ball.
It is hard to find anyone who is convinced by his assertion that he left the IRA in 1974. If he had, how would he have brought that organisation on board for the peace process at various critical stages, people are asking?
The possibility that he could be charged with war crimes is an interesting new angle. Others in the same boat of course could be Tony Blair, George Bush jr and even Barack Obama – the manner in which Osama bin Laden was “taken out” surely breached the Geneva Convention (not that too many people are lamenting the latter’s demise of course.)
Even if he loses the election and goes back to being Deputy First Minister, presumably the war crimes issue will remain, unless, of course, the view is taken that such a person is fit to be deputy head of the Northern Ireland government but not head of state here: hardly a sustainable position?
It is possible that the brouhaha will die down after about two weeks. Just as many in the unionist population got used to the idea of someone with an IRA past being at the head of government, perhaps also we “down here” will accustom ourselves to the notion of the same individual running for Áras an Uachtaráin.
Mind you, if he wins, he won’t be the first person who resorted to arms in the name of the Republic, and ended up sipping tea with the Prince of Monaco up in the Phoenix Park. Seán T. O’Kelly and Eamon de Valera come to mind: the death-toll at Mount Street Bridge when Dev’s boys opened up on the Tommies was quite horrific.
Indeed, we live in a State that was actually set up by a faction of the IRA with the majority approval of Dail Eireann at the time. The other main faction, having failed to overthrow that State, eventually took it over by parliamentary means.
We are told that future taoiseach Sean Lemass (as well as others) was carrying a gun the first day Fianna Fail entered the Dail. It was Lemass also who famously, or infamously, described FF as “a slightly-constitutional party”. Much-criticised at the time and indeed for most of his political career, Lemass is now a kind of secular saint at the mention of whose name historians and academics lapse into reverential silence.
The real problem with the McGuinness candidacy for many people is that it breaches the cordon sanitaire (more foreign words) between North and South. He still has the whiff of cordite about him and some people are saying we don’t want that in the Áras, thank you very much.
There’s also the issue of his being head of the Defence Forces, although that is a titular role without real decision-making powers except perhaps in a major emergency where the normal democratic system had completely collapsed.
One wonders does McGuinness himself fully realise that, even if the President is in Buncrana or Letterkenny and wishes to cross the Border to visit family-members in Derry, he or she cannot do so without the permission of the Government? If the President fails to obtain that permission but insists on going ahead anyway, to make a political point as it were, then he or she is liable to impeachment. The current President cannot visit her place of origin in the North without specific advance approval for every trip.
If you closed your eyes in the reporters’ section at the recent Sinn Fein ardfheis as McGuinness was speaking you would swear you were listening to John Hume. The challenge for him is to assert that new persona and obliterate the Shadow of a Gunman. It’s a big ask.
The polls are going to be interesting from now on. It looks as if David Norris is going to secure a nomination, either from the required 20 Oireachtas members or four county/city councils.
It’s very hard to predict the outcome at this early stage. The Fine Gael machine seems to be lumbering into action on behalf of Gay Mitchell. Labour nominee Michael D. Higgins is a household name. Independent Mary Davis has been cleaning up on the council front and Sean Gallagher is also a formidable campaigner. Norris has an unmistakable popular appeal and McGuinness may attract Fianna Fail voters who feel they have nowhere else to go. Oh, and Dana Rosemary Scallon could still pull a rabbit out of the hat in terms of a nomination, although it looks very much as if she left it too late.
At least it will take our minds off the forthcoming Budget for a few weeks.