#Aras11: “McGuinness may prove a very compliant ninth President of the Irish Republic”

Sinn Fein’s audacious move to the south in putting Martin McGuinness’s name into the Presidential ring has several aspects. One, the simplest, it has livened up an election which was looking like the dullest political event on the island since, erm, perhaps the last Assembly election.

On the face of it that’s a distinct advantage. It gets Mr McGuinness more face time than any Sinn Fein TD could ever wish for. Defacto, it also means that for now, the story is about him, and he can reasonably expect to freeze his opponents out of the action: not least Fianna Fail who in their Leinster House redoubt, seem to have be cut loose and adrift from their moorings.

Anthony McIntyre with a nicely judged ‘depth charge’:

The opportunity to make further gains has been gifted to the party because Fianna Fail, having botched the Gay Byrne option, then pulled up short in the warm up to the race for the presidency. Fianna Fail left dangerously exposed by its own ineptitude can hardly claim to be taken aback by the appearance of a menacing Sinn Fein U Boat alongside its own rudderless vessel.

It opens up a second front in which for the first time the party will be fighting a range of opponents on a prominent national platform.

But it also is clear from his hasty departure from an interview with the BBC’s generally mild mannered Mark Curruthers that the preparation of the candidate for the campaign has not been everything it might. It suggests that this was a genuinely opportunistic move, with a very short lead in to prepare the candidate for what is likely to be a very bumpy campaign.

This is nothing compared to the kind of scrutiny that he’s likely to get from the southern media, as Tommie Gorman has noted, ‘not hostile, but more competitive than the media in the north where they have their own pre-occupations’. Indeed.

And this is where the down side begins to assert itself. In Northern Ireland McGuinness (for what its worth, winner of several Slugger Awards) has carved himself a niche as a respected player on the local stage. In comparison with Gerry Adams, his is relatively speaking a much safer bet for running the gauntlet of a press who have already dispatched one candidate from the race.

Almost whatever emerges that is unlikely outcome for this candidate. If SF know how to do anything it is to ship political pain on an industrial scale. And in the, as yet, unlikely scenario that he wins the race, forget all those jokes about United Ireland by 1916: a Sinn Fein President sitting in the Aras and Fianna Fail, who once saw themselves as the Rottweilers of Dev’s Republic (if they still exist in current form) will be the ones with their faces pressed to the gates of the former Vice Regal Lodge.

That’s the political prize Sinn Fein’s superbly Machiavellian move seeks, if not deserves… In that scenario they might expect even a fairly toxic campaign to have a cleansing effect on their ‘war record’. But some awkward complications are likely to arise between now and then, which are perhaps more obvious to a southern rather than the northern eye.

Pointing to the compromise made by Unionists in powersharing in Northern Ireland one southern commentator told Slugger, “that’s okay for Unionists. Having agreed to share the spoils, the Unionists are guaranteed the greater part. And, frankly, they don’t care what Sinn Fein does with its share”.

Foremost, is one that some observers have called the Waldheim problem. Fintan O’Toole in today’s Irish Times argues that this could put McGuinness as a future Head of State in a precarious position:

The IRA killed 644 civilians, by far the largest category of its victims (by contrast, and contradicting its self-image as defender of the Catholic community, it killed just 28 loyalist paramilitaries). It incinerated, for example, the members of the Irish Collie Club at the La Mon Hotel. It killed children, including Nicholas Knatchbull, Jonathan Ball, Tim Parry and Paul Maxwell.

It practised kidnapping, torture, and acts of naked sadism, such as forcing Patsy Gillespie to drive a van loaded with explosives at an army checkpoint. (Widespread revulsion did not stop the IRA from trying this tactic again.) It held kangaroo courts and imposed arbitrary sentences that included mutilation through so-called “knee-capping”. All of these are war crimes for which there is no statute of limitations.

I don’t know what personal role McGuinness may have played in any incident. However, what is clear is that he was, for almost the entire period of the conflict, in a position of authority within the IRA. Legally and morally, this makes him responsible. [Emphasis added]

More disturbing from an Irish point of view is the unintended import of some of the residual effects of the conflict, and the potential role the British secret service may have in the conduct of Office of President of what (despite much chatter to the contrary) remains an independent state. This case is eloquently put by Crispin Black in yesterday’s First Post:

Even if he was never on the British pay roll his security file is likely to be extensive. Either way HMG knows, to coin a phrase, where the bodies are buried. In the unlikely event that he is elected he may prove a very compliant ninth President of the Irish Republic.

Mr McGuinness’ Loose talk about West Brits may yet come home to haunt him…

As ever, it is better to wait than rush to judgement. But Mr McGuinness’s famously short fuse may not be his greatest asset in already dirty fight that can only get dirtier. Of course, that’s a two edged sword itself. The party is spending its strongest asset, but in a territory where its northern leadership have little instinct for what could be highly unpredictable terrain.

, , ,

  • Mr McGuinness’s famously short fuse

    On Newstalk at lunchtime, they were having a vox pop session at the ploughing championships, and MMcG was one of the voxes. The subject was “what annoys you about work”, to which Martin replied “I don’t get annoyed easily”.

    Hm.

  • Neil

    He’s a modest fella don’t ya think?

    My record as a peacemaker, I think, is unequalled. Anywhere.

    As the man said, if he was a bar of chocolate he’d eat himself.

  • Neil

    “I don’t get annoyed easily”.

    LOL. Tell that to your chops Marty, the seem to turn a bit beetroot when someone annoys you (i.e. asks you a question).

  • Henry94

    In the unlikely event that he is elected he may prove a very compliant ninth President of the Irish Republic.

    There is no other kind of President of Ireland. The office is entirely under the control of the government of the day. The President can’t even leave the state without the permission of the government. In theory Enda Kenny could make Derry a No-Go area for Martin McGuinness.

    Haughey refused to let Mary Robinson go to London to deliver the Dimbelby Lecture

    And if the President defies a government he can be impeached by a vote of the Dail.

    Seriously, it’s a very limited role.

  • john

    Interesting to read the comments to the FOT article in the Irish Times, the majority of which point to the fact that MMG is not unique to Irish politics in having this kind of baggage but FOT seems to have forgotten his history.

  • John Ó Néill

    The issue with the southern media is that they are openly partisan when it comes to Sinn Féin (last night’s Front Line being an obvious case in point) rather than being somehow more capable than the northern media. If you took Front Line as an example, Michael McDowell made two statements which were untrue, neither of which were challenged by Pat Kenny (there has been extensive coverage of this on politics.ie).

    Sinn Féin may well be hedging on two points here (and a likely event in October which may overtake the campaign):

    – the fact that there is a long way to run yet and that any toxicity in the media coverage may be broken through by the latter stages of the election run-in (and, as Mark McG pointed out last weekend – this will effectively be a re-run of the last election campaign’s focus on Gerry Adams which may mean the message is diluted significantly by mere repetition);

    – the unknown extent to which public opinion has become estranged from the mainstream media. There is an acute sense that the media failed to significantly challenge the economic policies of the various FF/PD and FF/Green governments as the headline commentators simply did not call it correctly as it unfolded (or during the preceding decade). There is also a sense that, during the course of the last election campaign, they let the policy platforms of FG and Labour go largely unchallenged. Since then, significant elements have had to be rolled back after the election which has been crystalising into SF’s stance on how FG/Lab are merely continuing FF policy and little else.

    – it appears that, regardless of whatever arrangements get put in place with Greece, it will actually default in mid-October forcing a crisis in Europe, as per Lorcan’s thread. In the lead-in to the election, this may well displace every other issue for the last week or so (despite the fact that, as with many other *issues*, it is largely irrelevant to the Presidency!).

  • Mick Fealty

    As you know partisanship rarely bothers me so long as the analysis is sound. Can’t see what Fintans got wrong.

    Henry, think Pee Flynn and that call to Paddy Hillary. It may be weak, but it’s still head of state.

  • Henry94

    Mick

    What happened that night? The President obeyed the government of the day. As always.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I know the phrase is not usually applied to Northern Unionist but personally I find the tag “West Brit” to be highly offensive in the context it is usually used, to me it carried much the same disdain and hatred as Fenian and Black B******d carry up here, or even the N word in the UK or America, far divorced from their original meaning the manner in which there are used is the reason they are unacceptable, and so far as I can see west Brit is used in exactly the same spiteful manner, carrying with it a hint of threat back to “collaberators” and their fate in post 1916 Ireland.
    Although the proportion of the Irish population wanting closer ties with the UK may not be the majority, Marty has shown he has only disdain for a still not insignificant proportion of the population that he seeks to IMPARTIALLY represent, the mask slips.

  • John Ó Néill

    DR – Brian Inglis used the name for one of his memoirs. I’ve a copy but I’ve never read it.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    I guess we’re about to find out that the Twnety-Six Counties are full of “dissident journalists“.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    I guess we’re about to find out that the Twnety-Six Counties are full of “dissident journalists“.

  • Los Lobos

    I posted this today in the “have your say” Fintain O Tool section of the Irish times, it is still waiting for approval to be posted!

    A step too far eh? That really amounts to a statement of -its alright for you people in the “black North” to shoot, bomb, kneecap, disappear each other etc, but please don’t contaminate us with your filthy habits! This is not a step too far Fintan, its a test for the Irish people. Their choice is a democratic one, all the candidates are democrates abiet a some more recent than others. But please don’t start with a sanctimonious lecture on the record of Mr McGuinness. The people of Northern Ireland know too well what he and his comrades have done in the name of a United Ireland (sorry, new ireland), we are the ones who had to watch his underlings plus the loyalists killers walk out of jail as part of the Agreement in 1998. We are the people who had to endure his rise as a Statesman strutting the international stage, whilst being promoted by many of your collegues in the Irish media, as we looked at the empty chair where our loved ones used to sit. Perhaps, just perhaps commentators like yourself will look at Northern Ireland in a different light now that the SF ultra nationalist machine has arrived to knock on the door of the highest office in the land! I hope you do, you may well develope a new respect for those of us who had to plough through the pointless slaughter of our community in order tthat we could arrive at a settlement. .

  • consul

    the proportion of the Irish population wanting closer ties

    Just for clarity, in this instance does ‘Irish population’ mean all Ireland or just the Republic?

  • “It gets Mr McGuinness more face time than any Sinn Fein TD could ever wish for. Defacto, it also means that for now, the story is about him, and he can reasonably expect to freeze his opponents out of the action”

    There is no substitute for exposure. This is where McGuinness has a clear advantage. For a different candidate to win, he or she needs to emerge as clear front runner relatively early in the campaign. Who will be that front runner?

    Mr. Mitchell perhaps?

    I hear that Dana has entered the election. Like McGuinness, she is from Derry. I suspect that the media will compare her activities in 1970 with those of McGuiness at the same time. Such a comparison could throw up ‘all kinds of everything’

  • iluvni

    “that’s okay for Unionists. Having agreed to share the spoils, the Unionists are guaranteed the greater part. And, frankly, they don’t care what Sinn Fein does with its share”.

    ..what bollocks from that ‘southern commentator’

  • Mick Fealty

    Is this just another one of your ambushes? Speak now (and say what you mean) or forever hold your pieces!

  • Zig70

    Has everyone forgotten Michael D. the favourite?

  • Into the west

    Am looking forward to the open -road campaign
    MMG may well be able to stretch his legs and go beyond the cliches.
    I don’t want to hear about the new Ireland in empty words.
    I want to be to feel the experience, see, & almost touch the vison,
    Get to the character of the man, the soul .
    That’ll depend upon the interviewers to a degree.

    When Martin’s relaxed he’s really good copy
    , he shines, has a twinkle., entertains even..

    the sweaty man, eyes like lee van clef, is his side under pressure,
    as he selects his chess moves, and which defense to play.

  • Mick Fealty

    Nope. Paddy Power has him on at evens. Martin inat 3/1. That’s why we’re talking about him.

  • Mick Fealty

    Henry,

    I’m coming back to you on that currently ensconced flicking through my Bunreacht app…

  • consul

    Mick

    Who are you addressing at 7.47 btw? It’s not immediately clear.

  • Mick Fealty

    Iluvni. Sorry.

  • Blissett

    ”As you know partisanship rarely bothers me so long as the analysis is sound. Can’t see what Fintans got wrong.”

    There are a number of things he just stretches too far. But the stand out one has to be; ‘The IRA never stepped back from this line. Its parting statement in 2005 reiterated that “the armed struggle was entirely legitimate”. Entirely means the civilians, the children, the tortures, the mutilations – the lot.’

    No it most assuredly does not, and not even the blindest adherent to armed actions would have attempt to claim such a ludicrous statement, and its beneath O’Toole’s usual standards to erect such a straw man argument.
    Whether or not you agree with the recourse to arms, there is no way that affirming that it was legitimate and just to use arms, means that you then have to stand over every act, every mistake, every bit of recklessness, every killing of innocents, no matter how callous or unjustifiable. There are acts that no republicans would stand over, such as warrington, la mon, claudy. That doesnt mean that such acts invalidates the argument that there was no democratic alternative, and that there was a justification for armed actions. You dont have to agree with armed actions to see that.

    This ‘But apparently, it does not, so let’s put it on record again. The IRA killed 644 civilians, by far the largest category of its victims’ is also a bit disingenous.

  • Greenflag

    @ seymour major ,

    ‘Such a comparison (Dana & McGuinness) could throw up ‘all kinds of everything’

    Groan – you should be shot for that one Seymour but I’ll give you 9 out of 10 😉

  • iluvni

    Mick Fealty (profile) 20 September 2011 at 9:44 pm
    Iluvni. Sorry.

    At first I thought that was a warranted apology, it appears not.

    Whats an ‘ambush’ about calling out as bollocks the nonsense posted?
    I’d say the criticism of Ruane and Murphy’s performance was more than enough proof that Unionists do indeed care what Sinn fein do with their ‘share’ . Surprised it made it to the blog peice int eh first place.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thank you. Bluntness is welcome. Incivility isn’t.

  • Mick Fealty

    Henry,

    Having re-read Articles 12-14, there is plenty of scope for mischief if anyone were minded.

    The President is Head of State. He doesn’t have a lot of powers, but given the state of the economy and the likelihood of a catastrophic economic/social event(s), it’s a beautiful platform for the President to address the nation over the heads of the Government to whom s/he is not answerable (other than by impeachment).

    Article 13 is well worth reading in this regard: http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/issues/politics/docs/coi37a.htm#president

    That simply underlines what a coup de grace it would be to actually win the seat. But the article above raises an important point concerning the Irish national interest.

    That is that these many things Mr McGuinness cannot speak about to the Irish public (which in Northern Ireland have been laid to one side for the sake of the new deal) but which are known about by the British state.

    What applies to Northern Ireland – which remember still remains inside the British state – for the sake of a regional peace agreement (ie a general agreement not to talk about the past), does not automatically pass muster inside a separate sovereign state.

    Nor from the point of view of the independence of the state, should it.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    “In the unlikely event that he is elected he may prove a very compliant ninth President of the Irish Republic.”

    I am sure that this is a very clever statement, but could someone please tell me what it is supposed to mean?

  • Mick Fealty

    Sorry, we crossed there Pat… I think that’s the very issue I was chewing over with Henry. Last but one para is the relevant section.

  • michael-mcivor

    It is amazing how a few can oppose a 32 county candidate like Martin McGuinness then say they support a 26 county one-or even none- but that is politics-

    There is a few in the media who seem taken aback at some of the attacks on Martin from other politicans and other media- its almost like Martin should not be allowed to run for president- i detect a west brit snob or two-

  • feismother

    Does nobody else remember the resignation of Cearbhall O’Dalaigh in 1976 when the Defence Minister, Paddy Donegan called him a “thundering disgrace” for referring the proposed anti-terrorist legislation to the Supreme Court?

    I was a student in Dublin then and there were a few very tense weeks.

  • Mick Fealty

    I was at school in Belfast… We learned his name in Irish at the beginning of term September, and there was simply no mention of him or his successor afterwards…

    Good spot though FM : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cearbhall_%C3%93_D%C3%A1laigh#President_of_Ireland

  • Henry94

    Mick

    But impeachment is the ultimate sanction and if any President was making mischief it would be swiftly done.

    Nor is there any reason to believe McGuinness would be minded to cause problems. He would have to develop a working relationship with Enda Kenny. Neither would benefit from being seen to cause trouble and public opinion would be the ultimate judge.

    Winning the office would be the whole point of the exercise for SF. Why would McGuinness give Fine Gael and excuse for taking him out in particular with 2016 coming up.

    Mary Robinson caused a bit of of a stir on one trip to Belfast she met with Gerry Adams. Foreign Minister Dick Spring, who was leader of the Labour Party, advised her not to meet Adams, whose party was linked with the Provisional IRA. However the Government refused to formally advise her not to meet with him. Had they formally advised her then no meeting could have taken place. It’s a relationship that require a bit of cop on and maturity on both sides. If that is absent then it would be very obvious very quickly where the problem was. If McGuinness messed up it would be to the detriment of Sinn Fein. And who would want that?

  • Henry94

    In the Ó Dálaigh case the government prevailed even thought they were wrong. The Minister for Defence should have resigned and when he did not the President had no choice but to go. The government would have been badly beaten in a subsequent election and agreed to a Fianna Fail candidate Paddy Hillary who was elected unopposed.

    But it shows that the government have the power all time and that is the way it should be.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s my point about impeachment. The only power to control the President’s albeit limited power is a nuclear button. Would FG/Labour have used impeachment against a former Cheif Justice if his party had had the political will to back him?

  • OneNI

    History never repeats itself – but it doesnt half follow similair paths.
    The Prseidential election will mark Sinn Feins full transition.
    Sinn Fein is now Fiannia Nua.
    Sucked down the road to constitutional politics are inevitably as its predecessors.
    Given FFs corruption,clientalism and cronyism – not to mention economic incompetence it is past its sell by date.
    Fiannia Nua (SF) have no future in NI locked in to a pwerless, pointless county council but in the South the sky is the limit.
    At the next election they could have as many seats as FF – with both in the low 20s – allowing FG/Lab to stay in power?
    Ultimately Fiannia Fail and Fiannia Nua will merge.
    The only difference? Perhaps this time there will be no lunatic spliiters.

  • Henry94

    Mick

    Impeachment didn’t arise in that case. Ó Dálaigh had two choice, take the insult or resign. There was never a suggestion of impeachment as he had done nothing wrong.

    I wouldn’t see it as a nuclear option but as a fly-swatter. Let’s suppose a President had an out of control drink problem and let us down in public on a few occasions. The demand to get rid of him or her would be overwhelming.

    If it came to it it wouldn’t be a big deal and public opinion would support it. On the other hand no government would dare get rid of a president for partisan political reasons. It wouldn’t be worth the grief.

    In short I don’t see any problems arising because the system gives all the actual power to the government subject only to a fair-minded public opinion.

  • Mick Fealty

    Of course it wouldn’t, and for exactly the reasons you state. It was politics versus the right thing to do (i.e. protecting the constitution by referring a piece of legislation to the Supreme Court).

    Still the man had to back down. Why? Because by the politics of the Dail, the government cut a deal with the Opposition to allow them get their own, much safer pair of hands into the job.

    How’s that the government winning?

    My point about impeachment is precisely that it is the standard for any direct action of Parliamentarians against the President; and it is extremely high. Too high for most things a highly politicised President might choose to do or say.

    You don’t believe the party have deployed a man as senior and as talented as Martin McGuinness just to watch the Aras roses grow do you? 😉

    There’s little doubt that the office of the President could be leveraged intelligently in the interest of what is still an opposition party with significant numbers of bums on seats.

    Politically I applaud the audacity. A successful outcome will make 2016 a very different kind of spectacle from the one many of the ‘liberal dissidents’ in Dublin expected to see. But…

    …from the point of view of the Irish State, Martin’s problem is less that he would be arrested if he were to come clean on his past activities, but rather that the secret service of a foreign state could choose to exploit it’s knowledge of those activities for their own ends.

    Of course, like a future Sinn Fein President, the British could choose not to cause mischief. But the question is a far from insignificant one, at least from the point of view of the Irish national interest.

  • JR

    Article 13

    4. The supreme command of the Defense Forces is hereby vested in the President.

    at least marty has the most experiance in this field.

  • Henry94

    Mick

    You don’t believe the party have deployed a man as senior and as talented as Martin McGuinness just to watch the Aras roses grow do you?

    I think they have nominated him in order to do as well as possible in the election rather than to win it. The campaign could be very successful without actually winning.

    There’s little doubt that the office of the President could be leveraged intelligently in the interest of what is still an opposition party with significant numbers of bums on seats.

    That is a notion that could also blow up spectacularly in their faces if there was a hint that they were politicising the office. If Sinn Fein win the election they lose Martin McGuinness and I have no doubt they understand that because if they don’t they will be making a huge blunder.

    the secret service of a foreign state could choose to exploit it’s knowledge of those activities for their own ends.

    That’s a bit paranoid for my tastes. Even assuming they could or had an interest what use is the powerless office to a foreign power. It would be a bit like having our guy as the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead!
    By the way, will we have a revival of that bit of fun if McGuinness leave the Mid-Ulster seat?

  • Neil

    4. The supreme command of the Defense Forces is hereby vested in the President

    Ah jebus now you’ve done it. The TUVites will be crippled with paranoia now, thinking Marty’ll mobilise the troops and instruct the army council to initiate operation ‘sneak attack’ in the north.

    I think they have nominated him in order to do as well as possible in the election rather than to win it. The campaign could be very successful without actually winning.

    Agreed, though it could be spectacularly unsuccesful too, hingeing on Marty’s ability to shoulder a little bit of criticism without issuing the ultimate insult – West Brit. That kind of thing could go down like a lead balloon. Dipped in shit.

  • Mick Fealty

    Glenshane you mean surely Henry? 😉

    An tUachtaran is nothing like a Crown Steward…

    But look, I’m not saying what the party will do (I’m too long in the tooth to pretend knowledge I don’t have)…

    Should the occasion arise, the limited powers of the office could be leveraged in the ‘national interest’…

    Paranoid or not, the point about the British secret service’s knowledge of his past, is the more concerning…

  • Henry94

    Neil

    Agreed, though it could be spectacularly unsuccessful too

    That’s the chance they take. Well worth it in my view. Either way we all learn something.

  • “Politically I applaud the audacity.”

    Mick, I think it’s a fairly low risk manoeuvre at this stage of the game; I’d already predicted that Gerry would run. Should Martin be successful would he take his minders into the Aras with him or would they be abandoned? How would he and Gerry deal with the Bodenstown legacy? Would this be further baggage [youtube] to be abandoned? Perhaps the really audacious moves have yet to be made.

    I don’t foresee any intervention from the UK intelligence services as the UK government will most probably laud the PRM’s apparent further move towards democratic means alone. The Government will be more concerned about the activities of those who carry on what the PRM used to do before the flip and by those in the PRM who haven’t flipped completely.

  • Mike the First

    “Article 13

    4. The supreme command of the Defense Forces is hereby vested in the President.

    at least marty has the most experiance in this field.”

    Perhaps someone will ask Marty which group he sees as the sole and legitimate Óglaigh na hÉireann…?

  • Neil

    Perhaps someone will ask Marty which group he sees as the sole and legitimate Óglaigh na hÉireann…?

    Would you believe his response? Or would it be just another thing to accuse him of lying about, like every other utterance up to and including his industrial wage.

  • Henry94

    Mike The First

    Perhaps someone will ask Marty which group he sees as the sole and legitimate Óglaigh na hÉireann…?

    Asked and answered. The Irish army and Gardai will have his full and undivided loyalty.

  • AGlassOfHine

    Let’s see now.
    Elected to a powerless position.
    In a powerles/ bankrupt European State let.
    With as much relevance in world affairs as I have….
    Nope.
    I don’t think the Untied Kingdom Government will be losing much sleep.
    Do you ?