There was genuine surprise at last night’s announcement that Martin McGuinness is being considered as a Presidential candidate by Sinn Féin. He still has to cross two obstacles, though: ratification by the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle; and, acquiring three additional nominations to add to the seventeen Sinn Féin Oireachtas members for the necessary twenty proposers to guarantee entry to the race. While the first is surely a formality, one would have to assume that the latter is also in the bag since a failure to reach the actual ballot paper would be an acute embarassment to the Sinn Féin leadership.
I had never really considered that Sinn Féin would run either one of it’s two most senior figures and last weekend Gerry Adams had seemed to flag that an external candidate was more likely to be supported. Likewise I didn’t think that this was a contest for a northerner since (I”d imagined that) the Presidential election would be more about positioning and challenging perceptions of Sinn Féin among the electorate than being in it to win it.
As a northern who has spent about a dozen of the last fifteen years living in different parts of the south (including a couple of years, at least, in each of Tipperary, Dublin city, Wicklow and Wexford) I have been exposed to enough ‘informed’ commentary on the north to know how far Sinn Féin’s image is still coloured by the cartoonish imagery of Section 31 days. For those aged between about 35 and 65, their formative political education occurred during an era of strict political censorship of reporting, a fact that has never retrospectively impinged on their understandings of the political landscape. While many will no doubt laud Section 31 for that very reason, in the realpolitick of 2011 it is still a formidable barrier for Sinn Féin to break through. In that light, I had figured (*wrongly*) that the 2011 Presidential election was an opportunity for an outreach campaign that would stretch Sinn Féin in expanding from it’s current base and building for the next local and Dáil elections. Tactically, I’d figured on that any nominee would be from the south, at least (actually I had thought it would be Bairbre de Brún).
However, Martin McGuinness as a candidate is a different proposition that I hadn’t considered: Sinn Féin are entering this race to win it!