Belfast Telegraph

Polls open... but McGuinness isn’t being groomed for victory

By Lise Hand

Barring another overnight bombshell which detonates beyond any doubt the presidential aspirations of Michael D Higgins and Sean Gallagher, Martin McGuinness won't be taking up residence in Aras an Uachtarain next month.

But yesterday, as the contestants crawled wearily towards the finishing line, the Sinn Fein candidate had an air of contentment about him as he arrived for his final public engagement in Tallaght.

It was the happy satisfaction of a job well done.

And the Scuppering of Super Sean was indeed a job which had been executed with precision and even a touch of panache. Mighty Marty the Dragon Slayer is delighted with his handiwork — as far as he's concerned, he's done the state some service.

He's mightily pleased with his dramatic ambush of the high-flying frontrunner on RTE's Frontline debate on Monday night.

Independent candidate Gallagher — who was a political fundraiser for the Fianna Fail party in 2008 — was attacked over claims he personally requested and collected a €5,000 (£4,350) cheque from a businessman for a meet-and-greet with then taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Martin knows that whatever differing views people had of the attack and its possible consequences to the result, everyone who saw it was in agreement that it was a riveting piece of television.

Nor was Martin quibbling with this view.

“It probably turned out to be the most important debate of all the debates that were held,” he agreed.

“But I had a very clear view, and I expressed the view that we need to see an end to cronyism and the brown envelope culture, we need to confront the selfishness and greed that effectively destroyed the Irish economy,” he explained.

This was indeed a motivation cloaked in nobility. But could it have been even a teensy-weensy bit possible that the Sinn Fein candidate was also inspired by the unpleasant prospect of Fianna Fail having what was ‘One of their Own' installed in the Aras to preside over the hugely important centenary dates looming in the years ahead?

Martin looked affronted that any such base motive could be attributed to his altruistic act.

“I think we've seen over the last 48 hours the real Sean Gallagher and I would like to think I've done a service to the people of Ireland in terms of dealing with an issue which clearly showed Sean to be at the heart of the culture of cronyism,” he proclaimed with pride.

He was slightly less jolly when it came to an assessment of his own campaign which really has ended with a bit of a whimper.

“I'm very happy at how it's gone,” he insisted.

But just before he headed into the centre, Martin said one thing which was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.

“It's probably been an election like no other,” he concluded.

No arguing with that.

What now?

About 3.1m Irish people are eligible to vote in the single transferable vote system for the Republic’s ninth president, where the successful candidate needs 50% of the vote plus one.

Counting of ballots begins on Friday at 9am in 43 constituencies. Early figures from the first counts from individual constituencies can be expected in the evening.

However, if the pattern of opinion polls is to be believed no candidate is likely to be within 10% of the 50% plus one majority. And with seven candidates the result may only be decided after several recounts.

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