In the ten days since he entered the Race for the Áras, Martin McGuinness has been the target of an often vitriolic and vindictive campaign waged by Ireland’s mainstream media. Essentially, his suitability for the role of Commander in Chief has been questioned, with specific reference to his history as a senior IRA figure during The Troubles. Even Fintan O’Toole, a journalist with whom I often see eye-to-eye, was moved to pen a column for the Irish Times entitled ‘McGuinness push for the park is a step too far‘, in which he somewhat hysterically opined that the current Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland could be “liable to arrest for war crimes under international law”. Across the water, The Observer published an article by Nick Cohen, a former leftist intellectual who jumped the fence around the time of the Iraq invasion and has been pretty right-wing ever since, in which the Sinn Féin politician was described as “the candidate from the psychopathic edge of the lunatic fringe“. Those are just two examples, and rather mild ones of that, of the veritable storm of denunciation that has greeted McGuinness’ entry into the presidential race. Everywhere you look, his part in the violent history of the Northern Ireland conflict is dug up, with the familiar statistic of the IRA being responsible for more deaths during The Troubles than all the other participants combined, and the impression given is that McGuinness must have personally ordered loads of them, given that he was a Provo leader.
That is what passes for public discourse, apparently. Most shameful about this media hurricane is the fact that none of those jostling to criticise McGuinness seemed to have a problem when he was campaigning for office in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Apparently, they believe a terrorist is fine up in Nordieland, but heaven forbid he tries to run for public office south of the border. The sheer insult to the Northern Irish electorate is absolutely staggering, as is the disregard of their feelings as to the past; while the media seemed respectful of the collective Northern desire to bury the hatchet and attempt community reconciliation – in effect by leaving the past in the past – as soon as a figure from that past wished to enter the presidential campaign they couldn’t dig it up quick enough. You would swear, given the immediate and shocked nature of the commentators’ outrage, that McGuinness has not been a part of the peace process for decades, nor indeed that he has, at this stage, a long career as a politician behind him. In fact, he is a part of the public political scenery on this island, to the extent that it would not be ridiculous to state that he is as much of a part of the establishment as anyone else currently occupying high office.
What is worst about this handwringing is that it demonstrably self-destructive; the polls appear to show that all the hysteria has done has been to elevate McGuinness’ position among the general populace. In a sense, the fact that mainstream is displaying such consensus in their disdain for his candidacy gives him the appearance of an anti-establishment candidate – when, of course, he is in reality anything but. No electorate likes being told what to do, and the constant haranguing of McGuinness and his supporters merely elicits sympathy and support rather than the intended reaction of anger. The effect has been very similar to the public response to the smear campaign directed at fellow presidential candidate David Norris – the man has emerged stronger from the ordeal and seemingly with no damage to his popular support. If the intention of the media was to blow McGuinness out of the water via a concerted effort of attacking his paramilitary record, it has to be said to have failed. Dismally.
The funny thing is, is that there is a far better way to criticise Martin McGuinness. So much of his support seems to be based around his being a strong, anti-cuts, defender of local communities. This is patently ludicrous; as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland he has overseen the implementation of savage Tory cuts to the public sector, and his record on austerity measures does not differ in any significant way from the record of the establishment parties in the Republic of Ireland. As with a major portion of Sinn Féin, McGuinness gives the impression of being an ‘opposition’, an alternative to the career politicians and corrupt charlatans that make up the traditional Irish political establishment, when in fact he is anything but. It is a veneer of radicalism, a mere smokescreen to hide the fact that he is exactly the same as them. Sinn Féin’s political trajectory isn’t towards the left – it’s to the right, towards austerity, towards cuts, towards growing bigger for the sake of becoming a part of the establishment, not an alternative to it. McGuinness represents this dynamic perfectly.
So please, if you must hurl mud at the presidential candidacy of Martin McGuinness, make sure it’s on the basis of his fraudulent ‘socialism’, and not on the basis of a decades-old conflict that we are trying to emerge from in a culture of forgiveness and reconciliation. The guy rang the Wall Street bell alongside Ian Paisley, for jaysus sake, you don’t get much more capitalist than that. Highlight the hypocrisy.
Solidarity brothers & sisters…☭