Editor's Viewpoint: Sinn Fein playing with political fire
The Sinn Fein nomination of Martin McGuinness as a candidate in the Irish Presidential election is an audacious move which will gain the party an even higher all-Ireland profile.
McGuinness has a strong presence and considerable debating and media skills, but his entry into the Presidential contest marks a huge gamble for him personally, and also for his party.
South of the border, various other candidates have put their names forward. However none of these can match the strong impact of the current and previous presidents, Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson.
In such a scenario Martin McGuinness might do better than some people expect. If he wins on a split vote, it would be a political sensation, and this would remove him from politics north of the |border where he has been playing a significant role as Deputy First Minister.
Undoubtedly his shift of focus across the border, allied to that of Gerry Adams, may already be losing Sinn Fein some authority at Stormont, even though John O'Dowd could prove to be an able |successor if McGuinness departed permanently to Dublin.
However, if McGuinness fails to win the Presidential election in the Republic, which seems much more likely, his safari into southern politics may still weaken his personal authority in the north, where his political opponents will accuse him of putting his all-Ireland ambitions ahead of his stated mission of building upon the peace process in Northern Ireland.
The campaign for the Irish Presidency is still playing itself out, and it is difficult to call the |outcome. It is clear, however, that Sinn Fein's |confidence has been boosted by significant |successes in the last Irish election, and that Adams and McGuinness are keen to heighten further the party's credibility in the run-up to the 2016 |centenary celebrations of the Easter Rising.
A good showing in the election could further those ambitions, but it could also prove a step too far, with possibly detrimental consequences for the peace process north of the border.