Last week Sinn Fein (SF), the all-Ireland party and political half of the Republican Movement, announced that Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is its candidate for the Irish presidency. SF's thinking is that with Fianna Fail not running, the party now has the opportunity to by-pass the once dominant Irish political party. McGuinness could conceivably come in as runner up in the election, thereby further mainstreaming SF within the Republic of Ireland. The election is to be held on October 27, 2011. McGuinness will have to take a leave of absence from his job as deputy first minister in Northern Ireland during the campaign. In Ireland the presidency is a largely ceremonial position.
During the peace process, SF's leadership spun a scenario to the Republican Movement's rank and file of a united Ireland coming about peacefully because the party would use its influence both within the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive and the Irish government in the Republic to bring this about. The projected date of unification was sometime in 2016, the centennial anniversary of the declaration of the Irish republic on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin in 1916 at the start of the Easter Rising. Until recently this was a fantasy because SF was a marginal party within the Republic and shunned by the other parties as a coalition partner. Hypocritically Fianna Fail and Fine Gael would urge Northern unionists to share power with Sinn Fein while the IRA still had its guns, while excluding it from power in the South for the same reason. Then last year the collapse of the Irish economy and of Fianna Fail's dominant status within the Irish party system seemed to make this dream feasible. But ironically, the same collapse made a majority of Northern nationalists opposed to unity with the Republic in the forseeable future.
McGuinness's nomination is also another sign of the eclipse of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. It was speculated after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that Adams remained outside of the Executive because he was being groomed for the bigger prize of the Irish presidency. Throughout the peace process Adams was the most popular politician in the Republic in public opinion surveys because of his role. But three things changed. First, the robbery of the Northern Bank in Dublin on December 20, 2004 exposed Adams to the scrutiny of the Irish press and his credibility was tarnished. He claimed not to have known any details of the robbery while he had been negotiating with the Democratic Unionists and British government on a power-sharing deal. Second, Ed Moloney's Secrets From the Grave tied Adams to the disappearance of Jean McConville, a young Belfast mother of ten, in the early 1970s when Adams was reputed to be a senior figure in the Belfast Brigade of the IRA. Moloney interviewed a number of senior republican and loyalist figures for Boston College's Troubles project with the stipulation that the interviews would only be made public upon the death of the subjects. When this occurred with Brendan Hughes, Moloney published. Third, in 2010 it was revealed that Gerry Adams was lying about his patronage of his younger brother, Liam, a suspected child abuser, within SF. Adams had kept his knowledge of Liam's sexual problems to himself allowing Liam to find work with young people. The press then exposed these lies.
Adams was elected a TD (deputy in Irish Dail) last year from the border county of Louth. So he is still a marketable commodity. But if McGuinness someday ends up as Irish president, it will be like the guy who saves himself for his one true love only to have his best friend wind up with his girl.
McGuinness was a 20 or 21-year old butcher's apprentice in Derry when he joined the IRA in 1971. Ironically, he originally joined the Official IRA but left it for the Provisional IRA after a few months because he was not interested in politics but in action. By the time of the Bloody Sunday massacre in January 1972 he was second in command of the Derry IRA. The Official IRA went on a permanent ceasefire in May 1972--22 years before the Provisionals did. After 1976 he and Adams wrested control of Northern Command from more moderate figures and made it the dominant force in the IRA. In the latter half of the 1980s he was IRA chief of staff and remained in that position well into the 1990s guiding the organization through the peace process. He also became Gerry Adams's deputy within SF and its chief negotiator during the Good Friday and subsequent negotiations. He also became education minister during the period of the First Assembly from December 1999 to October 2002. In the spring of 2007 when the peace process was resurrected it was McGuinness who became the partner of the Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of the DUP--the infamous Dr. No of Ulster politics. The two were dubbed the "chuckle brothers" by the media for their public shows of affection. McGuinness has always been more open about his past IRA background than Adams who to this day denies every having been a member of the IRA.