Martin McGuinness is a trail blazer. That much must be clear. Even to his detractors. A life devoted to struggle has seen many examples of this. Martin, in good times and bad, has had many opportunities and occasions to draw on these pioneering qualities. The net outcome has generally benefitted the people he struggled alongside. It has also, particularly in this time of peace, assisted those, in time of war, who would have been or seen themselves as his enemies or opponents.
Rarely has this been acknowledged by the great and the good. But no matter. None of this is done to win favour with them. They know that. They have their values. We have ours.
The Presidential election brought all this to the surface.
Martin is the first Sinn Fein person ever to contest a presidential election. He fought a six week campaign. And as a result of this, despite the short time involved, many of the issues he argued for are now firmly on the public agenda.
These include voting rights for Irish citizens.
The need for a new Republic based on genuine core republican values.
The fact that there is an alternative to greed and corruption and austerity. The need for and merits of Irish unity. The imperative of an ongoing process of reconciliation. For reunification through reconciliation.
The issue of victims was also raised. Legitimately by relatives of some victims. This is a matter which needs to be dealt with. Properly and in a manner acceptable to all victims.
There has also been huge attention and comment on the Frontline debate and Martin’s outing of Sean Gallagher’s involvement with Fianna Fail leaders and with its former leaderships’ corrupt practices, fundraising activities and with policies that have brought the Irish people into the awful economic and social mess that is the cause of so much distress and hardship.
Sean Gallagher’s problem wasn’t that he was involved in this. It was that he was denying such involvement and presenting himself as a casual and occasional volunteer from the Fianna Fail grass roots - alongside many other good and decent people who undoubtedly work for that party.
At the time of the Frontline debate opinion polls indicated that this stroke might work and that the premature rehabilitation of this type of unacceptable politics was almost upon us.
Hugh Morgan had contacted our campaign office and given us a break down on Sean Gallagher’s approaches to him. He had already spoken to the media about this. He turned to us when this failed to get traction and we decided to ask Mr Morgan to brief Martin in advance of the Frontline programme.
We also decided that Martin should challenge Sean Gallagher on this. We did so - and Martin challenged Sean Gallagher- in the knowledge at that stage in the campaign, depending on how Sean Gallagher responded, that Michael D Higgins would be the main beneficiary of any such challenge. Martin was and is entirely satisfied that this was the right thing to do. So am I.
Michael D Higgins will be a very good President. I wish him and Sabina and their family well. I gave Michael D my second preference vote. The tally people tell me that many of his voters returned the favour to Martin a thousand fold.
Martin McGuinness’ entry into the Presidential election was bound to lead to a reaction from the Dublin establishment. Our campaign team knew that. A small cadre of the usual media suspects, particularly, although not exclusively, in the Independent Newspaper group led the charge. Some of these at least have been consistent over the years. Revisionists, two-nationists, supporters of Section 31, the odd hard boiled old fashioned partitionist and opponents of the peace process, were provoked into action once again. Nothing but the same old story.
We should not tar all the media with the same brush or rail against robust scrutiny even if we suspect the motivation. Good, fair and balanced interrogative or investigative journalism is to be applauded. And RTE should be especially encouraged to provide such a public service. After all the tax payer foots that particular bill.
There was a certain hysteria within the wider political establishment. This hysteria was led by Fine Gael, best personified by Gay Mitchell’s strident negativity, and most memorably represented by the attack on Martin by Fine Gael ministers and Chief Whip Paul Keogh a month or so ago. Their contribution was entirely self-serving and cynical. And arrogant. That is an emerging and growing trait of that party.
Especially in Leinster House.
Little wonder Fine Gael did so badly. In the by-election. The referendum. And particularly the Presidential election.
Well hard cheese!
Every doggie has its day and on this issue their day has come and gone. It has passed. That much is clear.
They obviously need to be given time to come to the new dispensation which now exists across this island. Like the unionist leaderships most of them, though maybe not all of them, will come around. Until then this infuriating and self-serving negativity is just something they have to go through. Thankfully we don’t have to wait for them to play catch up. The rest of us can get on with narrowing the political gap between north and south. That gap was considerably closed in the course of this presidential election campaign.
For that and for many other achievements thank you Martin.