Meet Sinn Féin's latest and deadliest weapon: celebrity

 

McGuinness has rushed from terrorism to full-on celebrity without an intervening period of normality or democracy, writes ANN MARIE HOURIHANE

LAST WEEK was an historic one for this country, as one of the leading members of a feared and despised organisation, responsible for decades of misery on this island, and for dragging our collective name in the mire abroad, turned over what many people hope is a new leaf and met a ruling monarch. But enough about Miriam O’Callaghan . . . Sorry, sorry, this isn’t going to work.

What can you say about Martin McGuinness though? One minute he’s meeting the queen – as we in The Irish Times like to refer to her; so call us crazy! – and the next thing he’s on the couch with Miriam on Saturday night, giving it more chat show than you can shake a stick at. What’s next, Graham Norton?

As we in the media fall like ninepins before Martin, it is probably safe to call this a Sinn Féin charm offensive. Martin is certainly charming – gotta be. And playing that little bit hard to get, which is so cute.

Talk about being a backstage diva: Martin had more demands on his rider than Cher. All that toing and froing about handshakes being photographed, and not photographed . . . Kim Kardashian is more logical; she’s certainly more straightforward.

Martin addressed the poor queen in Irish, which she presumably doesn’t speak unless she’s been given hours of tedious coaching; and he addressed Miriam in English, even though she’s able to say Óiche Mhaith quite well at the end of her own show. That’s Irish nationalism for you.

To paraphrase Jeanette Winterson’s challenging mother: why be happy when you can be complicated?

Meanwhile, although present at the same historic encounter in Belfast last Wednesday, our President, Michael D Higgins, wasn’t even identified in foreign television reports, and so appeared as a mere bystander, instead of as our representative and head of State. Now that’s a national problem, if you like. Did our officials not brief anybody, just as Sinn Féin was briefing everybody it could get its hands on?

The thing is, Martin seems to have rushed from paramilitary terrorism to full-on celebrity without an intervening period of normality, or even of democracy. Pray God he doesn’t enter Celebrity Bainisteoir, or we’ll have him made Taoiseach For Life before the final.

What we’ve got to remember is what Sinn Féin has already grasped: celebrity is the most effective weapon in modern life. It looks democratic, but it ain’t. It is chilling to think that this country could have been spared 40 years of bloodshed and avoidable tragedy if only there’d been a couple of hysterical talent shows on television in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and the noughties. Just as sport blossomed into a religious cult during those four decades, the talent show is now believed to flow straight to the sea of fame. Of course most of the time the resulting celebrity is squandered by people who aren’t savvy to its wicked ways.

So, as Martin McGuinness greeted Miriam O’Callaghan with two air kisses – “Mwah! Mwah!”– and took his seat on the beige sofa that is now our collective culture, his handlers were right to be proud, and the viewer was left wondering which of them, Miriam or Martin, is going to end up in Áras an Uachtaráin first. We didn’t reckon on the inbuilt disappointment that comes with celebrity appearance: after all the hype this interview was not that interesting.

Never mind. Publicity has always been Sinn Féin’s great talent, and now the party has the celebrity machine to work with: it will make it its own. Seen through the prism of celebrity, an awful lot of things suddenly make sense. Martin McGuinness has killer charm, if one can put it like that, a good work ethic and nerves of steel.

It’s very nice to hear that meeting the queen was, as he told Miriam, his way of showing his respect to the unionist people. This new method is certainly preferable to the way he used to show his respect to the unionist people.

Martin McGuinness looks great, he sounds great. So it doesn’t matter that he has no ideas about the future, that his party is more conservative than the Tories and as impressively diligent as any of our own lovely political parties in claiming all its expenses.

There is no need for us to worry about how far Martin and Sinn Féin are prepared to go with their march into popular culture. If victory means covering Martin in fake tan and getting him to cry until his mascara puddles, then so be it.

Surely it is only a matter of time before he meets Simon Cowell, in a celebrity clash that will set ratings trembling. The only real question is whether Martin would be prepared to appear on Britain’s Got Talent? I feel that he would, as long as they changed the name of the show, didn’t make him sing live and apologised to him at the end.

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