For Sinn Fein it’s the show that matters rather than the politics…

Fionnuala O’Connor is well worth reading in the Irish News today yesterday (she was last week too, but we got run off our feet keeping up with the celebrity story of the week, and all that tiocfaidh-ar-lamh-amatazz).

She’s one of three women who haved nailed a few home truths about the abiding problem with Sinn Fein’s penchant for self narration… Apparently Martin was back at his old ‘Nelson Mandela’ routine on Miriam O’Callaghan’s new Saturday night sofa gig on RTE…

Fionnuala says of that night’s events:

When O’Callaghan asked didn’t violence brutalise everyone he said that could also be asked of Nelson Mandela. But the second line the prepared line came out wrong, when the RTE presenter wonder, laying on the purple prose, if he ever felt remorse in the early hours.

“Would you ask that of Nelson Mandela?” said the man from the Bogside. What he deserved in return and didn’t get, was “You’re no Nelson Mandela, Mr McGuinness”.

She might also have observed that we know precisely what Mr Mandela did not do from the time of his arrest in 1960 until his release in the early nineties since he was in solitary confinement for most of that time.

So we know he was not directing terrorism or blowing the heart of his own home town to smithereens, or devising new and devious ways to kill as many of the enemy as he could.

Mandela’s de facto clean hands rendered such awkward questions inert. Martin’s dirty hands make it hard for any honest journalist not to ask them of anyone seeking democratic power in the state.

So let’s move on to acute woman observer number two, Anne Marie Hourihane:

What can you say about Martin McGuinness though? One minute he’s meeting the queen – as we in The Irish Times like to refer to her; so call us crazy! – and the next thing he’s on the couch with Miriam on Saturday night, giving it more chat show than you can shake a stick at. What’s next, Graham Norton?

As we in the media fall like ninepins before Martin, it is probably safe to call this a Sinn Féin charm offensive. Martin is certainly charming – gotta be. And playing that little bit hard to get, which is so cute.

Talk about being a backstage diva: Martin had more demands on his rider than Cher. All that toing and froing about handshakes being photographed, and not photographed . . . Kim Kardashian is more logical; she’s certainly more straightforward.

Martin addressed the poor queen in Irish, which she presumably doesn’t speak unless she’s been given hours of tedious coaching; and he addressed Miriam in English, even though she’s able to say Óiche Mhaith quite well at the end of her own show. That’s Irish nationalism for you.

To paraphrase Jeanette Winterson’s challenging mother: why be happy when you can be complicated?

Over in London Jenny McCartney’s been turning over the same events and asking what it all added up to:

“It was about justice, wasn’t it?” I had to say that it was not. It was about two relatively small groups, the IRA and the Loyalist paramilitaries, infused with a combination of psychopathic fervour and self-righteousness, who started killing and slowly dragged everyone else into their bloody mess.

It was a nauseating paramilitary war fought without any Geneva Convention. The IRA blew up children and elderly people, civilians and police alike, and systematically hollowed Belfast into a grey shell of a city. The Loyalists pursued a grotesque campaign based mainly on sectarian murder, usually of ordinary Catholics who wanted nothing to do with violence.

No one was left untouched by what these rival gangsters did. But last week, when the Deputy First Minister – ensconced in a power-sharing government of the kind broadly on offer to both nationalists and unionists nearly 40 years ago – warmly shook the hand of the woman formerly known to Sinn Fein as Elizabeth Windsor, one could not help but wonder if the spirits of all those blameless dead ever visit him in quiet moments, and gently whisper: “Martin, what was it all about?”

Well, that was then. But now we’re in the business of real politics, it still seems to be the journey rather than the arrival that matters to Sinn Fein. As Fionnuala notes now in Government they’ve proven a great deal less radical than their rapid ascent to power seemed to promise:

It was a shocker to hear Martin McGuinness end the week with a romping tribute to Conor Murphy, “part of our leadership”, the ex Sinn Fein minister found to have discriminated by a fair employment tribunal.

As if that wasn’t bad enough he went on to attack the anti discrimination machinery, so painfully provided with teeth. Though he reminded RTE’s audience how British governments permitted discrimination by unionists.

Yet there he was on BBC on Sunday (taped on Friday before going south), asking if ministerial appointments were “going to be dictated by a body which effectively is not part of the government?’

Not dictated, Martin, monitored, challenged, in a process – that word Sinn Fein so loves – that has outlawed discrimination. The chief game changer that eventually left him top of Stormont’s hill.

As Marx (Groucho) once said: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

For now, bums on parliamentary benches is all that matters, and the vital viewing figures for the travelling show. On which subject, last word to Anne Marie Hourihane:

Martin McGuinness looks great, he sounds great. So it doesn’t matter that he has no ideas about the future, that his party is more conservative than the Tories and as impressively diligent as any of our own lovely political parties in claiming all its expenses.

There is no need for us to worry about how far Martin and Sinn Féin are prepared to go with their march into popular culture. If victory means covering Martin in fake tan and getting him to cry until his mascara puddles, then so be it.

Surely it is only a matter of time before he meets Simon Cowell, in a celebrity clash that will set ratings trembling. The only real question is whether Martin would be prepared to appear on Britain’s Got Talent? I feel that he would, as long as they changed the name of the show, didn’t make him sing live and apologised to him at the end.

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