By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
Monday’s Irish Times carried a letter from one Manus O’Riordan which put in a nutshell the reason both for the hypocrisy and for the consternation Martin McGuinness’s candidature has caused in the Republic.
O’Riordan referred to minister Alan Shatter’s remark that McGuinness is not an “appropriate” candidate because of his “exotic background” and pointed to a certain General Sean Mac Eoin who ordered the killing of 23-year-old Irish rugby player Phil Kelleher in 1920. Kelleher was an RJC man shot in the back after being captivated in conversation at a bar in Longford by none other than Kitty Kiernan, Michael Collins’s fiancee.
Mac Eoin later ordered the killing of two Protestants who identified the gunman. How do we know? Mac Eoin proudly recounted his exploits in his memoirs ‘With the IRA in the Fight for Freedom’.
As O’Riordan’s letter points out, Alan Shatter’s party, Fine Gael, was so content with Mac Eoin’s “exotic background” that it nominated him for president in 1945 and again in 1959. That was the ‘good’ IRA you see,so Sean Mac Eoin’s background was an electoral advantage.
The reason for the consternation that the arrival of Martin McGuinness on the scene has produced is that the Republic’s political class has carefully constructed a narrative about the origins of the state which denies any connection with the northern Troubles.
Indeed southern politicians and meeja are anxious to deny any links historical or otherwise with the north that could be construed as legitimising the IRA campaign since 1970.
They have been aided and abetted by a clique of historians who, according to Professor Terry Eagleton, formerly professor of English literature at Oxford, view the 1916 Rising “as an event only slightly less catastrophic than the Black Death”.
No wonder they’re all aghast that McGuinness might win. If he did, his victory would collapse the whole narrative house of cards so painstakingly stacked together over the past 40 years.
In an uncanny replay of the 1918 election, putting McGuinness in the Aras would legitimise the whole IRA campaign just as giving Sinn Fein an overwhelming endorsement in 1918 provided electoral ratification for the 1916 Rising.
Of course you could also say electing McGuinness is an expression of the frustration, anger and outrage the voters in the Republic feel at the established parties for plunging the state into penury. You could say that but President McGuinness and Sinn Fein would say different. They would say quite correctly that people knew who they were voting for, not least because the southern meeja keep reminding them. They kept reminding them who Gerry Adams was in February and he ended up in Louth with the third highest personal vote in the state.
Perhaps the supreme hypocrisy is repeating that McGuinness’s past disqualifies him in the Republic while the same Republic’s government extols his past as a necessary and desirable qualification for sharing power with unionists. This attitude was exemplified by Ruth Dudley Edwards on the BBC on Sunday when she said having unionists share power with Sinn Fein was “practical politics, nothing to do with an independent sovereign republic, an entirely different situation”.
Really? So it’s more acceptable for unionists who were in a lethal conflict with republicans to team up with Martin McGuinness than for politicians in the Republic who regarded the Troubles merely as an embarrassment and a hindrance to the Celtic tiger’s roar?
Yes, he’s OK for us because for them, if McGuinness were to win or even top the poll before being knocked out by transfers, it would not only change the way Irish people view the state but would alter the view of the state that others such as the British, for example, hold. In short the official description of Ireland presented to the world over the past 40 years would be exposed as a fraud manufactured for political expediency.
No wonder the southern establishment is horrified to find McGuinness is the man to beat. No wonder every element of the southern meeja has turned its firepower on McGuinness. A northerner redefining the state, reminding the world of the unfashionable origins of the state?
And they thought Mary McAleese was a threat 14 years ago?