Liberty: Presidential election. OCTOBER 2011 9
THE entry of Martin McGuinness into the Presidential race has ignited what was up
until now a pretty dull affair.
One obvious reason for this is that he is a very serious political player, a heavyweight at the top of his game and, as to be expected, such a significant intervention has caused many to reassess their attitudes to this particular election.
One depressing consequence, however, has been the resurrection, in certain quarters, of hysterical atavistic hatreds that I had hoped would have remained buried once the peace process had been successfully bedded down.
In my opinion, such biased interventions go way beyond fair comment and are of no benefit whatsoever to the public. The main argument put forward by such people in both political and media circles has been to suggest that Martin McGuinness is unfit to contest the presidential election because of his past role in physical force politics.
Well, as far as I’m concerned, such a proposition displays woeful ignorance of the historical realities of this state. Certainly, if taking up arms were a disqualifying factor in seeking high office, the pages of Irish history would be filled with a totally different list of players.
For example, the cabinet of the first Cumann na nGael government would have been unacceptable since most of them took part in several armed campaigns and some were responsible for atrocious crimes committed during a bitter civil war.
Fine Gael would not have been able to nominate General Seán McKeon as their candidate for President because of his IRA past and, in 1947, Fine Gael’s John A. Costelloe, Taoiseach of a coalition government, could not have appointed Seán McBride as Minister for External Affairs on account of his previous role as Chief of Staff of the IRA.
This is the reality of Irish political history, so you see, the journey undertaken by Martin McGuinness is not so uncommon after all. Personally speaking, I wish Irish history had been different.
Without question, if the authorities had reacted with a sense of responsibility and fairness to the reasonable demand for Home Rule at the beginning of the 20th century many young Irish people would not have resorted to arms in order to pursue their political objectives, and just 50 years later, if the authorities had responded to the modest aspirations of the Civil Rights movement with justice and equity, once again many young people would not have taken up arms to press their case for equal treatment and to defend their communities.
Tragically, such a peaceful outcome was not to be and consequently, in the course of the last century, many young Irish people found themselves involved in violence and, sadly, once violence takes root in a society, the task of those trying to broker peace is almost impossible and requires enormous tenacity and courage.
Fortunately, there have been such people and even his greatest detractors are prepared to acknowledge the significant role played by Martin McGuinness in the creation of the peace process.
Essentially, this happened because he was trusted by physical force republicans who were prepared to accept the arguments in favour of a move to politics.
Without question, the hysterical smears currently filling the papers and the airwaves are inhibiting the development of a healthy public debate about the presidential election.
Fundamentally, the electorate wants to find out where the different candidates stand on the important issues of today and has little desire to be side-tracked by the constant re-hashing of old arguments about the role played by one of the candidates in the northern conflict decades ago.
I believe that this presidential election provides the Irish people with a unique opportunity to have their say on a series of issues that have been decided upon without their involvement or consent.
Here I speak of the bank guarantee, NAMA, the socialisation of private debt, the loss of economic sovereignty to the EU and IMF and the austerity programme which has brought untold hardship to the poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged.
I am convinced that any candidate who takes a critical stand on these issues and who is willing to become a voice of opposition to the swingeing measures that are being unfairly imposed will gain the support of the majority of Irish people who are both angry and hurting as a consequence of the present unjust situation.