So Martin McGuinness is the latest candidate to get a nomination for the Presidential Election. Martin is not the first republican to run in such an election. I haven’t met anyone yet who thinks he will win. Most people think that his candidacy is about Sinn Fein replacing Fianna Fail as the main opposition party. The hype behind McGuinness is about creating the impression that only Sinn Fein has an alternative to the government. At one fell swoop the ULA have been marginalised by SF as they set about the task of peddling the myth of Martin the man from Damascus, while his namesake Micéal watches from the sidelines. McGuinness will add Fianna Fail and some independent support to his own and will probably get about 25% of the vote.
Martin is not one for deep thoughts. Derry is not the hotbed of left wing radicalism that West Belfast likes to portray itself as. McGuinness’ Ard Fheis speech was a folksy, Uncle Martin ramble, the last remaining Chuckle Brother still managing to smile back. Derry is fundamentally a place of established socially conservative nationalists, McAteer, Hume (who genuinely did the state some service and has been deliberately marginalised by SF & FF) and now the teetotaller McGuinness. The journalist Suzanne Breen tells a story of how McGuinness attacked her publicly for writing about the sexuality of Pearse and Roger Casement. When the past is mentioned Sinn Fein now are only looking forward and want to talk about the future deal. Expect the SF campaign to adopt the Basil Fawlty defence of don’t mention the war.
Ironically the campaign will attack all other candidates as establishment ignoring the realities of Catholic Derry politics where nationalism has been the established force and driver for the last 40 years. In Derry Eamon McCann was the anti-establishment candidate at the 2011 Assembly elections. However SF won’t let facts get in the way of presidential spin! The disastrous underpinning of clapped out banks through the bank guarantee scheme which SF so enthusiastically supported in 2008 didn’t happen. When the party could have done Ireland some service by staring at the political spot on the wall in Leinster House, they jumped in with 2 feet first to wave the green flag defending the banks.
In northern politics election time means 2 elections, a green one and an orange one. This election will be a double election also. There will be one for heading the poll between Michael D and Gay Mitchell and the other one for dominating the opposition. SF are in a one horse race in that. I expect the 3 party candidates to pull away from the independents. Second preferences will mean that Sinn Fein will have to appeal to the business types who back Sean Gallagher if he wants to remain in the race. This reality has yet to strike home with Sinn Fein. It is a sobering reality as it will mean that Sinn Fein will have to appeal to voters who are well beyond their core. That’s why there’ll be no mention of the war. The more that Martin’s past is raised the less likely it is that his candidacy will be successful.