Belfast Telegraph

Now Martin is the one who's in the firing line

By Lindy McDowell

Say what you like about the Republic's Race for the Aras, but at least their elections still have a bit of suspense about them.

Unlike our foregone-conclusion forays to the polls, at least the bookies down there get to give odds on who might win - rather than confine themselves to offering bets on whether we will (again) get to pick up the record for Slowest Ever Count. Or Most Election Counters Dropping Out Before the Job is Done.

Nominations for the Aras job close today.

But the run up to the Presidential election battle proper has thrown up a eclectic mix of potential candidates that the makers of Big Brother would have difficulty trumping.

Among those whose names have been mentioned -

David Norris who is gay and Gay Mitchell who is not.

Traditionalist Labhras O Murchu who is opposed to a Civil Partnership Bill that would solemnise gay union.

And former IRA commander Martin McGuinness who is, of course, very much for another type of union.

There is also entrepreneur Sean Gallagher, a panellist on the Irish Dragons' Den.

And among other names linked to the race, a former Eurovision winner - Dana.

All kinds of everything, then.

Two of the above come from a city (Derry/Londonderry) where nobody is eligible to vote (although most people do not regard this as the tragedy Sinn Fein appears to think it is).

The run-up to the campaign has lasted so long that one candidate - David Norris - had time to drop out and then to re-enter.

Mr Norris retired after it was disclosed he'd written, to a court, a letter of support for a former partner convicted of the statutory rape of a child. Needless to say this shocked many would-be voters. Mr Norris, however, returned to the fray shortly after Martin McGuinness threw his hat in the ring.

In terms of "exotic past", to use one commentator's description, it's always hard to eclipse a former director of terrorism.

In fact, no sooner had Martin entered the contest than the subject of his terror CV was being perused by southern interviewers.

In what must rank as one of the most startling questions ever put to a wannabe President in Western Europe in recent years he was asked: "Tell us Martin, have you ever killed anybody?"

Almost comically, his answer was that while he may have fired a gun, no, he hadn't actually murdered anybody.

And that he'd left the IRA in about ... oh ... around the time Gerry Adams still wasn't in it.

If you were an IRA foot soldier would you not now be wondering how come so many big names formerly seen as main players in the organisation now seem to want to distance themselves from it? Aren't they proud of what the Provos did?

But back to the border between north and south and that border, as this campaign again underlines, isn't just about different politics.

But about very different attitudes to politicians.

Down there the media ask difficult questions. Up here asking questions referring to paramilitary pasts gets an interviewer labelled anti-peace, anti-process and a nay-sayer.

Down there Gay Byrne calls Martin McGuinness a liar and nobody blinks.

Up here we call former terrorists (on both sides) peacemakers. Perish the thought that we might call them to account.

But is this what the punters really want?

Isn't the scorchingly robust southern dissection of the back catalogue of those who might lead them something we should envy?

And even try to emulate?

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