McGuinness and the unintended messages of #Aras11

One SF member I spoke to when trying to ascertain whether Martin McGuinness was going to run for the Irish Presidency, dismissed it honestly by suggesting it would ‘send the wrong message’. I’m not sure if the message picked up by Malachi O’Doherty was the one he had in mind, but for once it concerns what it means for Northern Ireland rather than the south:

McGuinness comes back looking either like a failed candidate who would rather be somewhere else, or like a party apparatchik who can still be called away by Gerry Adams to boost party airmiles.

And neither account of his recent adventure makes him look like a sound partner for unionism, or a focused spokesperson for nationalists. All of that might be worth something to republicans if their standing in the south has been improved. But, in spite of all the publicity and the new support, the core debate around Sinn Fein now is about whether they still have too much blood on their hands.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • redhugh78

    For you Mick obviously,
    but not for the hundreds of thousands on this Island who vote for them, and as evidenced by Martin Mc Guinness’ upping of the vote in the South (despite a turnout of 450,000 less voters than voted at the general election ) continue to do so in ever increasing numbers.

    The SF share of the vote trend graph has a trajectory,you know as well as me the way it looks.

  • Jimmy Sands

    I would have thought the main unintended message is that if he can skive off for a month without being missed, his job may be less vital than he would wish us to believe.

  • Decimus

    Indeed Lurch stepped into fill his shoes almost effortlessly. It was nice of Coco to release him from his duties for Halloween.

  • Mr Angry

    Jimmy, with all due respect, Peter wasn’t exactly “missed” when he let Arlene step up to the plate on his behalf either.

  • Decimus

    I think you are reinforcing Jimmy’s point.

  • Mr Angry

    Quite possibly, yes.

  • RyanAdams

    Roll on Euro 2014 to we find out – Probably worth watching from a SF critique point of view if the poll dates are simultaneous North and South.

  • Mick Fealty

    Therein lies the limited effect of poor messaging Northern Ireland.

  • Mick Fealty


    There could be quite a bit of non Euro action then too.

  • USA

    I don’t think MMcG will look like a failed candidate when in the North. Indeed, as we know, SF never really expected to win the office of President. They were just looking to grab market share from FF, a task that could have gone better for them given the political and economic conditions over the last 24 months. The 26 counties are proving a tough nut for SF to crack, but they just keep chipping away and it must be said they are making progress.

    I do think the MMcG excursion into the Presidential election is fully consistant with the SF approach to politics on the island. As such he is not merely a party “apparatchik” but conversely showed solid leadership by engaging with people all over the country and widening the SF narrative beyond issues soley related to the North.

    I was rather surprised when MMcG was announced as the SF (independent) candidate. But it certainly livened up what was previously a mediocre field of candidates with even Gay Byrne’s name being bandied around as a possible FF candidate.

    MMcG took a lot of flack from Southern political pundits and commentators, but in the long run I think he will have served well those that come behind him. I think he went a long way to moving the southern electorate beyond continued reference to the SF past. I think he has gone some way toward mitigating the damage such attacks can do in the future.

  • Decimus


    All of those arguments have been put forward by others on this site and all of them have been challenged. Did Coco draw attention away from Provo atrocities, or introduce them to a whole new generation of voters? Did the Sinners make genuine progress, or did they flop? The answers to these questions seem to depend on whether or not you are blindly loyal to SF.

  • USA

    Firstly, consistantly referring to O’Dowd and McGuinness as “Lurch” and “Coco” strikes me as man playing and does nothing to add credibility to your comments.

    In response to your questions:
    1. I think the new generation of voters in the South would have seen nothing to scare them from SF. Their focus is purley political and they compete well.

    2. For SF this election was a 0-0 away draw. Not as much progress as they hoped for but they got something out of the game so they didn’t flop either.

    Finally, i’m not blindly loyal to SF, I think Higgins is a safe pair of hands, i’m just offering my view on events from afar.

  • J Kelly

    martin will not be seen by anyone as a failed candidate and as for the leader of northern nationalism he hardly has any competition, you just have to look at the sdlp leadership race.

  • Decimus


    1. You assume that the new generation of voters in the south do not care that SF stands for thirty five years of terrorist murder. Had that been confined to the north you could well be right, but it wasn’t. Try to imagine yourself voting for a political party that supported the murder of NYPD officers, or US soldiers and you will see the problem that SF faces.

    2. They set themselves a high bar to jump and they failed to clear it. They didn’t get the presidency and they didn’t achieve their 18-20%.

    Higgins is indeed a safe pair of hands. Coco would have been a diplomatic nightmare.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Malachi O’Doherty naively associates a rejection of Martin McGuinness as a rejection of the unity of the country,

    He makes this mistake because he analyses the vote with his narrow six county lense in which only a vote for Sinn Fein equals desiring unity.

  • keano10

    Jesus Mick,

    This is becoming embarrassing. You admitted in an earlier thread that your own prejudices in relation to Sinn Fein do form part of your opinions, but this is getting ridiculous. It really is.

    Hammering out several threads a day, most of which are unbelievably weak in both content and impartial analysis. I’m not quite sure what Sinn Fein did to personally in the past Mick, but it would nearly be better if you just told us. At least it would explain how a normally reasoned and intelligent person loses all sense of proportion and any hint of fairness.

    Just tell us. I would respect you more for that.

    Now that you have got down as far as Malachi, what next? Willie Fraser’s analysis of Sinn Fein’s Presidential campaign…?

  • Cynic2

    “Peter wasn’t exactly “missed” when he let Arlene step up to the plate on his behalf either.”

    ….. and the real messages of this campaign and Robbos (enforced) lay off were :

    1 SF’s total lack of commitment to the Assembly or making NI Politics work

    2 the fact that few people on either side noticed and even fewer cared

    This does not bode well for the future

  • Jimmy Sands

    It’s not so much a rejection of the north, but rather a rejection of some of the nastier things we associate with the north. Like Martin.

  • mcg25


    How can you equate the killing of US Soldiers and NYPD to the problems the North of Ireland has had? The RUC and the British army has as much blood on its hands as does SFapparently has…..

    Personally I think SF running in the election has been nothing but inspirational for Nationalists in the North and in fact right around the world. I am currently living away from home on the other side of the world and ive nothing but respect for their performance and the way MMcG came across in interviews on TV and Radio. Without SF nationalist in the north would not have a voice……

    On the flip side of the coin I am nothing but ashamed of the media and some public comments from the south for the way they singled out MMcG. I also get hugely entertained by speaking to southerners especially at the Melbourne Cup yesterday whos comments were pretty reflective of the way the media treated MMcG….basically it seems as if they have grown up in a different planet and that post independence history books had been band from southern schools. As with the media….have they went to the BBC school of journalism?

    MMcG epitomises everything it is to be Irish and would of set a great example of what it is to be Irish right around the world just as he is doing for the those people in the North that the South tend to forget about!!!

  • Lionel Hutz

    There’s one other aspect of Sinn Fein’s strategy that I was interested in. There is a different approach needed to carve out increased representation whenyou are the dominant party to the approach when you are a more peripheral player. I read on one of these threads or a paper a quote that “integrity and competence is a powerful mix and in politics its essential”.

    I dont think both are essential at the same time. Integrity is more important when you are on the outside trying to offer an alternative but when you are in government, the public tend to forgive a lot of bullshit if you come across as competent overall.

    So Sinn Fein in government can get away with alot of “cute hoorism” in the north when they are just about keeping the confidence of the people that they are competent (atleast at the zero sum game that has characterized NI politics in recent years). In the south, in order to gain ground, they cannot show competence. They wont have the opportunity and to date, people believe they are pretty clueless in certain areas. The importance of integrity becomes magnified. If Sinn Fein become known as a bit too sly, as dishonest, why will people vote for them as an alternative?

    Too issues will be remembered from Sinn Fein’s campaign. McGuinness implausible denials of his IRA past and the sly hatchet job on Gallagher. Both are likely tobe played back on TV over the years.

    In the north, with their dominance, that will go done well enough, but in the South, is it not counter-productive???

  • USA


    “the new generation of voters in the south” care about jobs, crippling debt, paying the mortgage, etc.
    Historical events in the North are not high on their list of issues, much the same as the British electorate care little for events in Belfast. SF need to build a profile on the issues that engage southern voters.

    The Guards and Defence Force victims you refer to are, unfortunately, part of a long list of victims during the protracted conflict. I don’t think their deaths, and the tragic human story that accompanies them, will prove to be a deciding factors in future elections. You only need to look North to see that.

    They didn’t get the presidency and they didn’t achieve their 18-20%.

  • socaire

    Lionel, a couple of points. Were (are) the IRB members of the IRA and Marty’s hatchet job was anything but sly. Something to ponder?

  • stewart1


    This time last night i was being accused by Mick of being the person behind the bogus McGuinness twitter account, simply because i proved that his belief of a ‘shinner conspiracy’ regarding the presidential debate/twitter incident was not just weak but utterly comical.

    Good fun though..It’s’s back again lol

  • USA

    Everyone was out to get Gallagher in the final debate simply because he was the front runner. But MMcG did deliver the right hook to the jaw which put Sean on the canvas. Credit to MMcG, he was fighting to the end.

    But I don’t think the electorate will over analyse events, ultimatley they will just be increasingly comfortable with seeing SF candidates competing in the electoral field.

    I think people will remember those exchanges on Frontline and Gallagher losing the election. They may even respect MMcG for being the man who called Gallagher to the carpet. It was good TV after all but that was it, I don’t think it will have any long term detrimental effect on MMcG or the SF project in the South.

    All through the election I thought the RTE moderators were terrrible, especialy O’Callaghan.

    I did get a sense though that there were a few SF supporters placed in the audience during the last debate.

  • Lionel Hutz


    I would say the IRB in a way became the IRA. Whats your point though? If we are going to go down the road I think youre going down, I’d ask yiu to think about the fact that the British Army fought off the armies of Hitler but also murdered 13 people in Derry 30 yearslater.

    I think McGuinness’ move will be seen as a little cute

  • Lionel Hutz


    You say the people will not over analyse it and then you offer an analysis. I agree that it willnot be over analyzed. I think the public will have two images – the implausible denials and hatchet job. Possibly a third image of angry Martin with Miriam. No analysis – just the images. And well it just isnt clean…… is it?

  • iluvni

    All McGuinness’ 6 week paid holiday has proved (and Robinson before him) is that Stormont is outrageously overstaffed with expensive suits, legions of ex-terrorists, family members and party lickspittles delivering bugger all but costing the rest of us an absolute fortune.

  • Mr Angry

    What iluvni said.

  • I think that MCGuinness failed to get the expected boost precisely because the penny has not dropped yet in the South: despite all the austerity and exposure of institutional failure, most people are still clinging to old certainties. The kind of radicalism we saw in past crises in Irish history has failed to take hold:

  • USA


    As you don’t seem keen on analysis let me simply say…
    I disagree with your “two (possibly 3) images” theory.

    Feel free to get back to me once you have it a little more refined.

  • aquifer

    “too much blood on their hands”

    And a few hundred thousand now have new smudges.

    This was grand for SF, so long as the other parties keep their state security guard down.

  • dwatch

    Face it, Martin the border is going nowhere.

    ‘Martin McGuinness’ third place in the Irish presidential election only proves that partition is here to stay, says Malachi O’Doherty. It might be a relief to Martin McGuinness to find himself back at Stormont this week among enemies he knows and understands.’

    Read more:

  • Mick Fealty


    As USA said, drop the Coco and Lurch stuff!! Jimmy Sands brought that back in and I’ve been meaning to deal with it myself. Next person to use it will get pinged.

    Keano, likewise. Try to deal with the content by knocking it magnificently to the boundary. It’s a big fecking news story with lots of good insightful copy. We don’t get many of those.

  • Mick Fealty


    That is the key point I think. The poor state of the SDLP acts as a insurance policy for SF. The DUP can mumble, but only the SDLp ( or whatever comes after can impose a penalty.

  • keano10


    A big news story?

    What is? SF increasing their vote by 38% or your vaccuous and unbalanced attempts to manipulate the facts in a totally unrepresentative. Neither journalistic nor credible, I’m afraid. The one thing I hate is unfairness and I’m afraid that I can no longer contribute to Slugger anymore. I used to enjoy this site even though the vast majority of contributors are not from my political background.
    But its just not fun anymore. Lunatics using multiple aliases without even being sanctioned.

    But I suspect that ultimately Mick you do also use this site to further your own personal prejudices against Sinn Fein, which I find a little bit sad to be honest. we should all be above that sort of thing.

    So farewell to those Sluggerites who I have found insightful and amusing from whatever background. Enjoy the festive season and peace and respect to all of you.


  • Mick Fealty

    Adh mor.

  • lamhdearg

    i wonder will we see him again, under a differant name.

  • Mick Fealty

    Behave LH!

  • Lionel Hutz


    Thats quite a bitchy response. Its a very simple refined analysis. This has been an election decided by inference. Alot of smoke. The electorate are not as clever as some journalists and politicians patronisingly make out. Look how Norris vote collapsed for example when there was notbing of substance against him.

    Its all about “I dont like the look of that”.

    In that respect Sinn Fein wanted to leave images of Mandela like peacemaking qnd job bringing competence. Both messages bombed. The mandela references dropped.

    In the end what thepublic learned about Sinn Fien is:
    a) they lie (not a great post bertie attribute)
    b) they use dirtytricks
    c) they get angry

  • Abu Mikhail74

    Hi Mick, I’ve been reading Slugger for a while and I’m sorry my first post has to be a complaint.
    Lots of threads, particularly the Sinn Fein threads, are poorly thought-out and quickly degenerate into sneering and name-calling.
    The sneering first:
    It seems to be the same half-dozen people throwing mudballs. There’s no attempt at analysis. They come across like political hacks sniping at each other from their respective trenches, complete with the insulting nicknames. I see you’ve just told someone that it’s not on to call MMG ‘coco’ but that’s been going on for weeks and it does nothing but lower the tone to somewhere below It’s boring and dispiriting. I’m not going to name names but everyone knows who I’m talking about. You’re allowing trolls, Mick and it’s turning people off.
    The threads themselves:
    I can see you’re no SF supporter and fair enough, but some of the nonsense on here since the election makes me want to pound the floor in frustration. Case in point, the spinning, and that’s all it is, that the election has been some sort of disaster for SF. This silliness about their vote only going up by a handful in each constituency. It’s more than stupid it’s dishonest. You know, because you’re not stupid, that the only way to accurately measure a party’s progress is to look at its percentage vote share. I mean come on, Mick, you know this. They didn’t announce ‘Michael D. beats Gallagher by 700k to 500k’ did they? They used percentage points. I’m resisting the temptation to type this in capitals by the way.
    So using percentage points 13.7 is a lot better than 9.9, isn’t it? And the reason the 13.7 in the Presidential Election doesnt seem like so many more votes than 9.9 in the Dail election is that there were less voters this time. 70% turnout is a lot bigger than 56% turnout. This isn’t opinion lads, it’s not even fact, it’s maths.
    So I’ll say that the election was a reasonably good one for SF. The vote went up, the transfers went up, it won’t cost the earth, MMG made a generally good impression on the hustings, the Southern media have used up some of their brickbats, some new members were signed up and all the party workers got a run-out and good laugh at Gallagher’s expense.

    It was no political Cannae for SF but it was closer to that than to Zama. It was a C, maybe C plus election. Now you may think that’s a good thing or a bad thing and you’re entitled to say why you think that, but you push people away from this site when you try to change facts to suit your opinion.

  • Jimmy Sands

    So those of us insufficiently impressed by the SF performance are “political hacks”, “trolls”, “stupid” and “dishonest”. And you’d like an end to all the name calling.

    Is that the gist?

  • lamhdearg

    so soon?, only joking.
    Abu, welcome aboard, i would not discribe the election as a disaster for s.f., i also would not, as some claim discribe it as a great or even a medium step forward.
    I would think given what i think i know about s.f. (having watched them for 20+ years) that they expected more that 13.5%, some of them even said so, so when s.f. supporters spout nonsence about how well they done, having, pre election claimed they would do better than they did, i and others will point out their error.
    If then someone lose’s the run of themselves and starts acussing, based on nothing but, that the others have a similar but differing view, and when asked to prove their claims, throw’s their toys out claiming persecution, then i would say they Pushed themselve’s away.

  • lamhdearg

    ps, please do not attempt to correct my spelling/grammar(waste of time), rather try to get used to it.

  • Lionel Hutz


    Your problem is that 13.7% is not a great figure for comparison of what really happened either.

    Because Sinn Fein only ran in 38 constituencies last time round. The spread over those constituencies is around 2.5% increase. And this is without a socialist competitor or a republican competitor.

    You also have to look at why 25% of McGuinness vote did not vote for Donnelly in Dublin West.

    The point is that revent opinion polls had Sinn Fein as the second largest party. This result would sugget they are still stuck in fourth place

  • HeinzGuderian

    Personally speaking,I have absolutely no interest in Mick’s political allegiance.
    If he writes something I agree with,I say so.
    If he writes something I do not agree with,I say so.
    The only relevant ‘fact’ is that Marty came a poor Third,in an Election in which he clearly stated,(on numerous occasions),he was in it to win.

    keano,was positively salivating when sf announced Marty’s participation.
    Looking forward to ‘decades of shinners in power’.
    Having faced the cold,bitter reality of the outcome,he chooses to take the ball and run away.

    I,for One,will miss him terribly !!! 😉

  • Cynic2

    Is it me or why can SF supporters not cope with criticism? It’s always handbags at dawn

  • Mick Fealty

    Lcome Abu. Good to have you on board at last. Ii hear what you say about figures and per cent ages. That’s the caveat I lodged in the offending item, on another thread. I take this as an introduction. But it really helps if you can match comment to appropriate thread.

  • Alias

    “And the reason the 13.7 in the Presidential Election doesnt seem like so many more votes than 9.9 in the Dail election is that there were less voters this time. 70% turnout is a lot bigger than 56% turnout. This isn’t opinion lads, it’s not even fact, it’s maths.” – Abu Mikhail74

    You have it the wrong way around. If the turnout was higher, PSF’s percentage would have been lower rather than higher.

    A Red C poll showed that PSF supporters had the highest level of consistency of an party at a whopping great 70%. The comparative figure was 26% for Labour and 15% for FG.

    Consistency means the percentage of supporters who intend to vote for the candidate of the party for which they have declared themselves to be supporters.

    Look at it in very simple terms: if you have 100 people register to vote, and you have 10 of them who will vote PSF, if 100 actually do vote then PSF get 10% of the overall vote but if only 50 vote then PSF get 20% and it 30 vote then PSF get 33% of the vote.

    That doesn’t mean that PSF has increased its vote: it simply means that their supporters turned out to vote due to the extraordinary consistency and dedication of its supporters, whereas other party’s supporters with less consistency and dedication couldn’t be bothered.

    Unfortunately for PSF, that isn’t how general elections work.

  • Jimmy Sands

    I would point out to SF supporters that obviously the more visibly upset they are at criticism of their party, the less likely it is that their opponents will indulge in it.

  • Decimus

    I would point out to SF supporters that obviously the more visibly upset they are at criticism of their party, the less likely it is that their opponents will indulge in it.

    I’m surprised that they are so sensitive about it given that their party has just had such a brilliant result.

  • Decimus

    The Guards and Defence Force victims you refer to are, unfortunately, part of a long list of victims during the protracted conflict. I don’t think their deaths, and the tragic human story that accompanies them, will prove to be a deciding factors in future elections. You only need to look North to see that.


    SF made that calculation before the Presidential election and they were proven wrong.

  • Abu Mikhail74

    Thanks for the welcome Mick (and you too lamhdearg) and you’re right about keeping to the appropriate thread. I’ll do that if I post again. But the responses to my post epitomise what I was complaining about.
    Jimmy wants a row, LD is joking I’m this guy keono you all had a feud with and worst of all, Cynic has opened up his filing cabinet and popped me in under S for Shinner. No I’m not. I’m an emigrant so I’ve no vote (you might do a thread about that sometime Mick?) but if I had it would’ve been Higgins, Norris, MMG. So I’m left, liberal, small r republican and can’t stand FG or FF. There’s another thing I should make very clear: I don’t really care who killed who’s da. “Old unhappy, far off things, and battles long ago…” And that’s plainly unforgivable to some people here.

    But I care about politics and I’m interested in learning things I can’t read in the Indo. I’m not sure if this is the place to do that. I disagree with some (to my mind) very flawed analysis and some blatent rudeness and suddenly I’m one of the Capulets. Seriously lads, if Slugger was a pub and you were all propped at the bar, would there be a lot of other people wanting to come in?

    Thanks Lionel and Alias for interesting and non-personal responses. That’s a good point, L, on the number of constituencies and I’d have to revise my C plus to a C minus but I really can’t agree that there was no socialist competitor. What about Michael D.?

    It’s an interesting idea that MMG’s demolition of Gallagher actually cost him votes because a lot of his own voters switched to Higgins as the best chance to beat what everyone suddenly saw as FF’s man. That would explain the difference in vote share from the opinion polls taken before the Frontline debate. I think a lot of people were happy enough to give Martin the No. 1 and to have SG in the Aras before MMG frightened them off.

    Alias I really don’t buy that about SF’s extraordinary dedication and consistency. Have you met many? Maybe in the North but my experience in the South was that there were the same hard-to-soft layers as any other party support. It seems to be a continual problem for them that they do better in opinion polls than elections, that doesn’t suggest a massive core vote. Compare that to the 20% plus that Gallagher got after he was exposed, in the public mind at least, as FF. Now THAT’S a core vote to be proud of. I still think that SF’s support is clearly increasing, albeit gradually.

    The danger for Labour (not for FF, who really thinks SF is targeting FF’s vote? Rubbish, it’s Labour who are in the crosshairs, especially when in Govt.) is that gradual increase hits the tipping point around three austerity budgets from now. Every success, even a mixed success, makes SF that bit more acceptable. I was home in August and was amazed at the people telling me that if Mary Lou stood (that was the rumour then) she’d get their 1st or 2nd. It didn’t bother me but Labour better not pull those laurel wreaths down over their eyes. One other thing, why do you call SF PSF? I presume the P is for provisional, but why? It seems pretty redundant since OSF, ahem, disapeared some time ago.

  • Lionel Hutz


    I said that wrong. I meant no Socialist party or ULA. Im talking about the street protestor style socialist that is much more a threat to SF than Michael D’s more well educated version (I would hesitate to call him a champagne socialist)

    I agree that labour must now be the target. But it very clearly wasn’t in this election. SF gambled that taking down Gallagher would benefit them. That hasn’t happened. The real surprise of the lection is that the FF vote has come back and they could start to play an important role sooner than I could ever have imagined. So yes, Sinn Fein should target the labour vote, junior partners always get hurt in tough times. But doesn’tthat compound the strategic error thatSF has made here……

    1. They gifted the presidency to Labour
    2. They will have alienated the Labour vote nearly as much as the FG vote with dredging up the past.

  • lamhdearg

    Abu, see, R.S.F.

  • Mick Fealty

    Abu, if you want to do one on that subject, you can clearly write so I’d be happy to let you guest at least as a blogger on the team.

    I take the point about Jimmy. (Jimmy, this is not PINI or Debate Central! And let it go LD!)

  • Jimmy Sands


    I don’t get “the point about Jimmy” so perhaps you can explain it as I do make an effort to behave myself here. I made a point of not rising to the last bait I was offered by returning the abuse being hurled my way. If criticism of SF is of limits now just let me know, but I missed that memo.

  • lamhdearg

    let what go?, IF you mean our mutual friend (k) its gone, you will allow me to defend myself against charge’s of bullying, wont you?.

  • Decimus

    There is a pattern developing here.

  • Mick Fealty


    You can criticise to your hearts content! Just drop the coco references.

    LD, He’s gone. Time to move on!

  • Jimmy Sands

    Force of habit, sorry.