Current Affairs Politics

Martin McGuinness – Uachtarán na hÉireann?

The politics of Ireland has been turned on its head with Sinn Féin’s announcement yesterday that Martin McGuinness MLA, the deputy First Minister in the North of Ireland, will run as a “Republican candidate” for the office of Uachtarán na hÉireann. The news confounded the expectations of many commentators that a lesser SF figure would enter the race for Áras an Uachtaráin and has stunned political circles in Dublin. As Reuters reports the story:

“Martin McGuinness’ journey from guerrilla commander to mainstream politician took a new turn on Friday when his Sinn Fein party said he would be put forward to run for president of the Republic of Ireland.

A hero among Catholics in Northern Ireland for helping to end three decades of sectarian bloodshed and give them an equal voice in a power-sharing government, McGuinness is a more controversial figure south of the border.

Left-wing Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the now defunct Irish Republican Army (IRA), has capitalised on anger in the Republic over its financial crisis.

In parliamentary elections in February, Sinn Fein more than tripled its number of seats to 14 in the 166 seat lower chamber to emerge as the Republic’s second largest opposition party.

Once an organisation whose members were officially banned from speaking on Irish media until 1993, a victory for McGuiness in the October 27 poll would crown Sinn Fein’s position in the Irish mainstream both north and south of the border.

While the role is chiefly ceremonial, Ireland’s president has the right to refer legislation to the Supreme Court, presenting potential difficulties for Prime Minister Enda Kenny should McGuinness get elected.

Sinn Fein has been a staunch critic of Kenny’s coalition government and its adherence to the tough fiscal targets under an EU-IMF bailout.

McGuinness’ main rivals will be Gay Mitchell, candidate for Kenny’s Fine Gael party and front-runner Michael D. Higgins who is representing the junior government Labour Party.

McGuinness’s selection as a Sinn Fein candidate will go for party approval on Sunday.

“I feel very honoured that I have been asked to stand for the Irish presidency,” McGuinness told BBC television on Friday, during a visit to the United States.

Once McGuinness has sealed the nomination, he would temporarily stand down as deputy first minister, Sinn Fein said.

A former trainee butcher, McGuinness abandoned his apprenticeship in 1970 to join the IRA when the guerrilla group began its 30-year campaign against British rule, swiftly rising to become a senior commander.

He was briefly jailed in the Irish Republic in the 1970s for membership of the IRA. Fellow nationalist inmates recall him as a fierce football player in the exercise yard.

Along with party leader Gerry Adams, he was instrumental in transforming Sinn Fein into Northern Ireland’s most powerful nationalist group and played a central role in talks leading to a 1998 peace deal that mostly ended the bloody period.

McGuinness spent years on the run. A devout Catholic, he is a keen fisherman and has written poetry.

If McGuinness wins the presidential race he would preside over the centenary celebrations of Dublin’s 1916 Rising, a failed attempt at revolution against British rule that proved the spark for a successful independence campaign.’”

It is clear that this is a win-win situation for Sinn Féin. Even if they don’t succeed in getting Martin McGuinness elected to the presidency a respectable vote will garner enough of a return for the party in terms of publicity and prestige that it’s hard to see any downside to the tactic. Indeed it is part of SF’s broader strategy to undermine both the Border and partition itself, portraying it as an anachronism in modern Ireland, a disastrous 20th century solution to a 20th century problem lingering on into the 21st century.

Additionally, with the outside chance of a Sinn Féin nominated President of Ireland presiding over the 2016 Commemorations of the Easter Rising of 1916 how could Republicans possibly turn down the chance of fielding their strongest player? And symbolising (and legitimising?) to the world their most recent struggle?

It has been argued that the general election of 1918, in which Sinn Féin won a landslide victory across the island of Ireland, retrospectively legitimised the insurrection of 1916 (something recognised by the British head of state at the Garden of Commemoration in Dublin, several decades later). Which begs the question: what would a Sinn Féin victory in the coming presidential election mean for the thirty years of armed struggle – the Long War? A retrospective mandate from the Irish people, not just from the northern nationalist community but from its southern counterpart too?

Perhaps what we are now witnessing is the emergence of a new All-Ireland body politic, where northerners can come south and southerners can go north, without remark or hindrance? If so it is a remarkable tribute to the overall strategy of Sinn Féin and the success of their policies over the last decade.

2 comments on “Martin McGuinness – Uachtarán na hÉireann?

  1. WorldbyStorm

    Interesting point about an all Ireland polity, though still nascent rather than actual, but I think younhave a real point there as regards how SF is shifting into a significantly different context…and to some degree the island too. It’s not jus remarkable overall but even in the context of how things looked five years ago in terms of their political standing in the south.


    • I quiet agree. It’s very early days but it is interesting to see a few people talking about Conall McDevitt as a future leader of the SDLP (if not this time around) and though perhaps not a typical “southerner” it does show perhaps an embryonic All-Ireland political class.

      It has happened before, politicians going north and south, but not to any great extent over recent decades. Or for many decades. I remember Austin Curry coming south and the hostility and ridicule he faced from the media and FF (ironically, the “Republican Party”…).

      I think McAleese broke the shibboleth of cross-border politics – or politicians.

      Maybe Adams, McGuinness et al are a flash in the pan but I hope not.


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