Belfast Telegraph

McGuinness ran a tactical race

Press Association Ireland Political Editor Steven McCaffery followed Martin McGuinness's campaign throughout the battle for the Irish presidency. He assesses what the emerging results mean for the republican leader and for his party, Sinn Fein.

Martin McGuinness had a key advantage over his rivals in the presidential race - this was an election he did not have to win.

It is for that reason that at the end of the contest, while he has failed in his declared hope of becoming Ireland's head of state, he is now claiming some success in hitting the real political target set for him by his party.

Sinn Fein is the unchallenged voice of nationalism north of the Irish border, and its prime objective is now to focus on building its presence in the south of Ireland.

Sinn Fein members, reacting to McGuinness's likely share of first preference votes, which seems set to fall well below 20%, have therefore sought to portray the contest as being of tactical benefit.

"For Sinn Fein this is a milestone election," said the party's deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald. "We're nowhere near even starting to reach our potential in southern politics, and I think the significance of today is that it's another step in that process."

The McGuinness campaign was carefully planned and it was powered by considerable energy and investment. But while observers were taken aback by the audacious move to throw McGuinness into the contest, the focus quickly shifted to his former role in the IRA.

The TV footage of McGuinness being confronted by the bereaved son of an Irish soldier murdered by the IRA could have been the abiding image of the election, had it not been for "Gallagher-gate".

The McGuinness candidacy has rattled cages and raised uncomfortable, and even painful, debates in Ireland. In the short term, it has raised his party's profile in the south, and boosted its all-Ireland credentials in the north.

Sinn Fein's critics, however, have predicted the campaign will do the party more harm than good in the long run. But one Sinn Fein source sought to play down such predictions, and said: "Planning for the long run is what we do best."


From Belfast Telegraph