Belfast Telegraph

Martin will have to scrap his principles if he wins

By Liam Clarke

For the past couple of weeks, the Irish presidential election has been the Martin McGuinness show. The Sinn Fein leader's entry galvanised a contest that was looking distinctly grey and dull.

Before McGuinness threw his hat in the ring, the main news was who was declining the opportunity to contest it.

But, after he announced his candidature, the tally went up to seven candidates. David Norris even re-entered the race and is now second favourite to win, with bookies' odds of 2-1.

Michael D Higgins, of Labour, is on even money, while Mr McGuinness trails a little on odds of between 3-1 or 4-1, depending on the bookie.

Both Norris and McGuinness could come a cropper.

Norris, a gay rights activist, has confirmed the content of a letter he wrote to an Israeli court appealing for clemency for his former partner who was charged with the statutory rape of a young Palestinian man. There are said to be more letters and Norris is under pressure to release them.

He is also in favour of Ireland joining the Commonwealth and denounced the last Pope as an "instrument of evil", because of his condemnations of homosexuality. The IRA could yet be McGuinness' Achilles' heel, but, in spite of several stories, nothing new has emerged to damn him thus far.

Up to now, most newspaper columnists have focused on what a culture shock it would be for the Irish Republic if McGuinness won.

But the effect of seeing a former IRA leader sucked that far into the establishment would also change Sinn Fein irrevocably.

He would be president of a state which he used to describe as the "Free State", or the "26 counties", because of partition. Now he must call it Ireland, or the Irish Republic, and recognise the border. The Irish army and police arrested and jailed him. Now he would have to inspect them.

In the north, he could point to the Patten policing reforms and the dropping of the RUC name to spare his blushes, but the Garda Siochana is still the same force which jailed him on its sole testimony back when he refused to recognise the Irish courts.

As president for the next seven years, McGuinness could hardly avoid reciprocating the Queen's visit to Dublin.

Rejection of Britain's continued jurisdiction over Northern Ireland prevented him taking his seat in the House of Commons, but as Irish president he would have to meet the British head of state and not mention the issue. He would also be expected to inspect the British Army honour guard which is mounted on such occasions with good grace, a show of respect and a polite nod for the commanding officer. He would need to stand to attention for God Save the Queen.

McGuinness would, in short, have to embrace much of what he joined the IRA to fight against and look as if he enjoyed it. He would be constitutionally barred from expressing any reservations, or explanations, for what was happening.

Considering these duties, perhaps he would be more comfortable coming in a creditable second after Higgins or Norris?

'Considering these duties as president, perhaps he would be more comfortable coming second to Michael D Higgins or David Norris?'


From Belfast Telegraph