Past is another country for Áras hopeful


DÁIL SKETCH:I SAY! We nearly choked on our pink gins in the Dáil bar yesterday (or GHQ as we like to call it) when we heard that Martin McGuinness was blaming “West Brit elements” in the Dublin media for daring to ask questions about his past. Honestly. It’s simply not cricket.

That David Norris guy is different. He has been known to wear a bowler hat on Bloomsday and sounds like a West Brit. He deserves to be fully interrogated about his past – which he was recently, with disastrous consequences for his presidential ambitions.

But not Mr McGuinness, who is on a career break from his day job as Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister and seeking to be the Republic’s next president.

His past is another country and it appears he wants journalists from the adjoining jurisdiction to respect this.

Like hell they will. The DFM’s wish to be designated a Special Area of Protection is unlikely to be granted in the coming election. Otherwise, those who would not ordinarily pull their punches might be accused of having an agenda.

Recent presidential campaigns have been characterised by a viciousness that contrasts with the affection and respect immediately afforded the new incumbent.

Candidates must face an equal opportunity onslaught and no-holds barred background check, with the eventual survivor deemed equal to the requirements of the highest office in the land.

They know this around Leinster House, where the saga of who will eventually be on the ticket continued to be one the main talking points. Martin McGuinness’s preciousness about his background raised many eyebrows, both on the political and the media front.

Although it has to be said that some of the “West Brits” brigade arrived back after the weekend in such a state of drink-related All-Ireland final exhaustion that they could barely string two words together, never mind get worked up about the DFM’s remark.

All this only serves to make Enda Kenny very happy. As far as the Taoiseach is concerned, the more distractions the better.

Having finally put the lid on Fianna Fáil’s presidential election fiasco, Micheál Martin began the recovery, pressing Enda on what he saw as a possible U-turn on his Government’s stated policy on income tax and social welfare.

The Taoiseach – with more than a touch of the DFM – said what he wanted to say and completely avoided the question.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou, standing in for Gerry Adams, was impressive, asking what he intended to do about the massive payoffs and pensions being paid to retiring senior public servants.

“And please don’t tell us that it’s Fianna Fáil’s fault – you’re in charge now.” The Taoiseach responded by outlining what had been done for low earners, before taking a swipe at Sinn Féin’s past.

The fact that won’t go away, he told her, was that his party had introduced changes to the minimum wage, VAT and employers’ PRSI. “That fact won’t go way, no more than the facts relating to your own party won’t go away in a lot of areas.”

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter piled in: “How many banks were robbed on your watch?” Sinn Féin’s Pádraig McLoughlin retorted: “What about Michael Collins’s record?”

Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party wanted to know why the Minister for Finance reversed his pledge to burn the bondholders.

“It would be like the heroic Stephen Cluxton on Sunday who, after a brave run forward, instead of kicking his county into history, had suddenly turned and booted the ball in the faces of his team-mates and into his own goal. Except this time it’s €3.5 billion of the funds of our people that should . . . be going into investment and services.”

Joe, whose late brother Liam won two senior All-Ireland medals for Kerry, scored the winning point of the day.

But the real action was taking place elsewhere. At the ploughing championships, the five presidential candidate massed like hungry calves after a bucket of nuts. Around Kildare Street, David Norris (still in with a slim chance of a nomination) and Dana Rosemary Scallon (with little hope of making the ticket now that Fianna Fáil will not be involved) made last-ditch attempts to enter the game.

As for Martin McGuinness, he took the opportunity later in the day to clarify his “West Brit” media conspiracy faux pas.

“No, no, I think there is a very tiny number of people who fit into that category, but there are undoubtedly a number of people out there who are very determined to try and undermine my campaign, but I’m not going to get fixated about any of that.”

It was an “off-the-cuff” remark and if he offended people in the media, “it wasn’t generally meant for the media”. Top-ho, so. Pink gins all round!