“It was only since the presidential campaign got under way…”

As RTÉ reported on Monday, the Sinn Féin candidate in the Irish Presidential race, Martin McGuinness, MP, MLA, found himself confronted, and called “a liar”, by the son of a member of the Irish Army who was killed in Ballinamore in 1983 by the Provisional IRA gang who were holding the kidnapped businessman Don Tidey.  The full RTÉ video clip is available here.

As Anthony McIntyre observes

Looking at the incident from where I sat the presidential candidate was caught unawares by what he thought was a member of the public seeking an autograph only to be confronted by a son bearing a photo of a father killed in the course of an IRA operation in 1983. McGuinness if he faltered did so only fleetingly. He did not lose his composure, but he would have been better served by losing his arrogance.

His haughty dismissal of the man’s heartfelt assertion that he was a member of the IRA leadership at the time an Irish soldier, Private Patrick Kelly, lost his life showed a glimpse of a man who was once president of the IRA’s army council rather than a man who aspires to be President of Ireland and ‘titular head of the Defence Forces.’ The dismissive response ‘how do you know?’, when everybody else knows, might go down well when thrown at a political rival, even a journalist. It courts contempt when cynically employed against someone seeking to unravel the circumstances surrounding the death of his father.

Yesterday’s Irish Times reported on a later speech by Martin McGuinness

MARTIN McGUINNESS last night moved to deal with a serious challenge to his presidential campaign caused by a dramatic confrontation in Athlone with a man whose father was killed by the IRA.

“As a republican leader I have never and would never stand over attacks on the Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces,” Mr McGuinness said.

However, he did not condemn the killings of Pte Patrick Kelly and Gary Sheehan, a Garda trainee from Co Monaghan, who were killed by the IRA in Derrada Woods near Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, during a joint Garda and Army operation to rescue businessman Don Tidey in 1983.

His party colleagues have not been reluctant in assisting those responsible for such attacks in evading the attention of the media.

And that “opponent of Sinn Féin”, Ed Moloney, has an interesting question for the Irish Presidential candidate.  From Ed Moloney’s blog

Once again it would be beneficial to hear Sinn Fein’s attitude to Peter King’s views, this time on the need for the media to suppress coverage of the OWS [Occupy Wall Street] protests. After all Sinn Fein presents itself to the Irish voter as the friend of all those who were victims of the Irish banks’ casino capitalism and has vowed to defend their interests and punish those responsible for impoverishing so many Irish people. And here is their biggest fan in America calling for people with those exact same views in the US to be gagged. So what does Sinn Fein, and particularly Martin McGuinness think of the OWS protests? Are they, is he on the side of the protesters or on the side of Peter King & the Wall Street executives with whom the SF candidate for the Park was recently closeted? T’would be interesting to know.

The answer might depend on who the audience was…

As Jennifer O’Connell noted in the Sunday Business Post

McGuinness wants to be seen as a freedom fighter turned statesman, in the mould of a Mandela or a Castro. But his public image south of the border is still a long way from that.

He argues that people in the North have moved on, even unionists have moved on – and that it’s time the rest of the people on this island did too. But I think he’s got it the wrong way round. It’s McGuinness who needs to catch up with us.

After all, it was only last Monday, in that interview with the London Independent, that he finally admitted that the accidental killings of innocent civilians by the IRA could legitimately be seen as ‘‘murder’’.

It was also only in the last fortnight that he described the 1987 Enniskillen bombing, when the IRA killed 11 civilians, as ‘‘atrocious’’, and said he was ‘‘ashamed’’ of the republicans who carried it out.

It was only since the presidential campaign got under way that he felt inclined to sympathise with the relatives of all those who lost their lives, including the families of British and Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers and RUC police officers. This shift in his language at this time is not a coincidence – say what you like about McGuinness, but he’s no fool.