SF will use presidency to legitimise IRA campaign

 

OPINION:THE QUESTION for Martin McGuinness is not so much his relationship with the IRA in the past but his relationship with the truth in the present. The bottom line is McGuinness would make for a disingenuous president, writes NOEL WHELAN

McGuinness is correct when he says this campaign should be about the future of the presidency. If, as now appears increasingly possible, McGuinness wins, the first thing he will be asked to do as president is swear an oath of office at his inauguration. His respect for the truth under oath is therefore an appropriate matter for discussion in this campaign.

In November 2003,he swore on oath at the Saville tribunal that he left the Provisional IRA in “the early part of the 1970s”. No credible commentator on or historian of the Troubles or the peace process believes that assertion.

Even Eamonn McCann, who certainly cannot be dismissed as a “west Brit”, told RTÉ’s Drivetimeprogramme within minutes of the announcement of his presidential bid that he could see no reason why McGuinness would have left the IRA at that time.

On occasion during the peace process, when McGuinness would break off discussions, claiming he needed time to consult the IRA leadership, Irish negotiators used to joke among themselves that they should tell him to visit the gents and have a chat with himself in the mirror.

McGuinness’s claim to have left the IRA in 1974 has no more credence than Gerry Adams’s claim that he never joined. The official government view, stated publicly in September 2005, was that until the summer of that year both men were leading members of the IRA army council.

Although they claim to appreciate that the presidency must be above politics, for Sinn Féin this election is all about political objectives. If they win, they will use the Áras week in week out to advance their project, their prestige and their electoral position. If and when McGuinness becomes president, Sinn Féin will portray his win as retrospectively giving a mandate for the IRA’s violent methods.

Having their man as president for the 2016 commemorations will be presented as justifying their claim to be the legitimate successors to the men of 1916.

Holding the presidency of Ireland will provide decorative cover for Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA’s failure to achieve the 32-county socialist republic for which so many of their colleagues killed and died. They have in reality had to settle for a minority position in a Democratic Unionist-led provincial government at Stormont that enjoys limited powers.

However, involvement in that government came with some compensation. McGuinness and the Rev Ian Paisley had much to chuckle about as they and their parties divided the spoils.

McGuinness is one of the most sophisticated and able politicians on these islands. All his adult life these abilities have been focused on one key objective: the advancement of the Sinn Féin project. It was only when his efforts to advance the republican cause through violence stalemated that he switched to the pursuit of a peace-and-elections strategy.

On a personal and political level, McGuinness is warm and charming but, at his core, he is cold and calculating.

Temperamentally, he will struggle within the constraints of the Irish presidency.

He will resent being constrained by a Fine Gael-Labour Government which – unlike the DUP – will have the power to veto much of what he says and where he goes.

Questions and revelations about his past will dog McGuinness for this campaign and for all of his seven-year term.

As a man used to being a commander, he gets testy in public, and at times nasty in private, when challenged. His outbursts on Good Morning Ulster, BBC Newslineand Newstalkthis week are merely illustrative of this.

Quite apart from his questionable account of his IRA involvement, McGuinness has been central to Sinn Féin and IRA economy with the truth on numerous other occasions.

In 1996, on the night Garda Jerry McCabe was shot dead, McGuinness on BBC Newsnightstood over the IRA statement which categorically denied involvement in the Adare shootings.

The IRA resiled from that position in the following years – and when the McCabe killers were sentenced, Sinn Féin representatives became cheerleaders-in-chief for their early release.

In August 2001, when James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly were arrested while travelling on false passports in Colombia, Sinn Féin trenchantly denied that any of them were party members. On October 21st, 2001, just hours before they announced their second ceasefire, Sinn Féin issued a statement clarifying that “after an investigation” it had “emerged” Connolly had after all been a Sinn Féin representative in Cuba.

The day McGuinness was named as the Sinn Féin candidate, without sight of any poll data I speculated that he might attract 20-25 per cent of the vote in initial polls.

Having since looked in detail at last February’s election results in the 42 constituencies, I have revised my view in McGuinness’s favour.

If one gives McGuinness all the votes Sinn Féin got in that election and also give him a conservative two-thirds of the votes cast for Independents and half of the votes cast for Fianna Fáil in that election, a realistic scenario emerges in which McGuinness is elected president.

He may prove stronger in this weekend’s polls than expected.

The true horror of the violent campaign conducted by the Provisional IRA has been submerged over the last decade and a half in the interest of peace.

But the truth hasn’t gone away, you know.

It needs to be spoken during this campaign. McGuinness deserves the same vetting and scrutiny as the other candidates.

In fact he deserves more intense scrutiny because he is currently the one who looks most likely to win.