Mr. President?

Since I was caught somewhat by surprise by the entry of Sinn Fein into the irish Presidential race, my views on the matter are somewhat ill-formed and less concisely articulate than I would like.  However, there’s one thing that I’m clear on.

Martin McGuinness is absolutely unsuited to be the President of Ireland.

Many arguments have been used to justify his entry into the race.  We can take a few of them individually.

  1. The quality of the candidates is low.
  2. Sinn Fein is a democratic party and entitled to field a candidate
  3. Martin McGuinness is no more a terrorist than Nelson Mandela or the Queen of England, or Dev or Collins

Now, on points one and two there may well be validity.  I don’t yet know enough about Mary Davis or Sean Gallagher, but the others are entirely uninspiring.  I don’t want to say more about these candidates than that.  They just don’t inspire me at all.

On point number two, thank heavens there are no men with guns telling us who we can and can’t vote for. It’s great to live in a democracy.

The third argument is the one that you are likely to hear most of during the campaign.  It’s an attempt to turn Martin McGuinness’ membership and leadership of the IRA and Sinn Fein during twenty-plus years of bombings, murders, kidnappings and tortures from the electoral handicap it deserves to be into an asset.

It isn’t an asset.

Firstly, I no more want the Queen to be President of Ireland than I want Ireland to rejoin the UK.  Friendly relations is fine, thanks very much, so that comparison is entirely meaningless.  Besides, if someone were to prosecute the Queen for murders committed by the British Armed Forces in the North then there’d be a need to show more than her symbolic leadership of the British Army.  As far as I know the Queen has no operational involvement in the Army. McGuinness did have operational leadership in the IRA and Sinn Fein when it was unashamedly the political wing of the IRA.

Then, what about Dev and Collins?  You know, it’s hard to say.  It was a long time ago, and as a follower neither of FG or FF I might well not want either of them to be the President of Ireland.  It’s also so far in the past that all the characters are long dead.  Collins was killed in a civil war after he’d agreed a Treaty he hated but accepted because he knew he couldn’t win a longer war. Was that the same as Adams and McGuinness accepting that the IRA could never win and deciding to go into politics instead? Maybe a little, yeah.  Dev in particular seems to have had a terrifically flexible view of politics, one that would be unlikely to meet with approval these days. Does that mean he was a bad person to have had as Irish Taoiseach and President?  Quite probably, yeah.

Then, finally, the comparison that’s really interesting is with Mandela.  Here’s a man that can be presented as practically the equivalent of Martin McGuinness.  A man who is revered across the world.  It’s a great comparison, but it just doesn’t stick.  The section below was written off the cuff in response to Eamon Dunphy’s interview on Newstalk on Sept 20th.  Since it’s posted online it’ll have to do for now.

You can listen to Dunphy’s interview here

My response is also posted there, and is reproduced here below.


Since we’re not going to see the Queen of England, Prince Charles, or Nelson Mandela on the ballot for Irish President, the comparisons are hardly convincing.

In any case, Gandhi, Jesus Christ and John Hume won’t be on the ballot either, but we could make rather more negative comparisons between them and Martin McGuinness.

The question for Ireland is whether Martin McGuinness is a suitable President, a symbol of Ireland. This isn’t a man who – like Mandela – took up arms as a last resort after years of peaceful politics and after peaceful politics had been entirely suppressed and prohibited. For McGuinness violence was his first move, with non violence only pursued once there had been years of bloodshed and once the violent path had manifestly failed. That’s one heck of a difference.

Read Mandela’s speech from the dock and you can understand a little of how different the origins of the ANCs armed wing was and the origins of the Provisional IRA. The armed wing of the ANC was formed after Sharpeville. The Provisional IRA had been in action years before Bloody Sunday. Political activity by Nationalists in NI had not been banned, and for better or worse NI was a part of the democratic UK. The SDLP had just been founded, not suppressed. Read the statement of one of the first members of that ANC armed wing, who said “we were to do it in such a way that nobody would be hurt, nobody would get killed.”

Then, there is no South African equivalent of Eniskillen or Warrington and the nastier acts of the ANC in the 1980s have been correctly described as “gross violations of human rights”. Mandela was long in jail when later nastier things happened, not out on the street visiting the Fermanagh IRA during the 1980s. There are big differences between Mandela and McGuinness.

Dunphy’s arguments are selective, partial, and creative, but they don’t represent accurately any relationship between Mandela and McGuinness, nor does misbehaviour and murder committed by the British Parachute regiment mean that McGuinness should be President of Ireland, any more than the very belated conversion of Martin McGuinness to democratic politics means that we should ask members of that (disgraced) regiment to become senior officers in the Gardai.

We should move on as a country and not look to people with the blood of Irishmen on their hands to be the symbol of our republic.


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