The presidential race with only about three weeks left, is getting tighter. And some are getting worried. Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, is now in second place behind the Labour Party candidate.
Until 1992 the presidency was a retirement home for old successful politicians who had finished their careers. And because until last year Fianna Fail was the dominant party in Ireland, it was a rest home for Fianna Fail politicians. The first president, Douglas Hyde, was a literary figure, one of the few Protestant revivers of Irish. Then came Sean T. O'Kelly, who served for two terms from 1945 to 1959, he was the deputy prime minister or tanaiste under Eamon de Valera. Then in 1959 Eamon de Valera finally retired from the premiership after 27 years and was made president when he was nearly blind. He finally retired from the presidency in 1973 after two terms. Then came Erskine H. Childers, the son of an Anglo-Irish literary figure who ran guns for the Irish rebels before the Easter Rising of 1916. The son served as a deputy in the Irish Dail. After he died in office after only 17 months there was an all-party nomination of Cearbhall O Dalaigh, a Fianna Fail politician. But because by then a Fine Gael--Labour Party coalition was in one of its periodic spells in power, he had problems and ended up resigning after only two years. He was followed by another Fianna Fail politician, Patrick Hillery, who served two terms from 1976 to 1990.
In 1990 human rights lawyer Mary Robinson, a former Labour Party minister, broke the mold. She was nominated by both the Labour Party, the third largest party in Ireland, and by Sinn Fein--the Workers' Party, which was then still the political wing of the Official IRA, and some independents. Two years later most of the party in the Republic broke with the IRA to become the Democratic Left. Eventually they ended up merging with Labour. Robinson resigned just three months short of having completed her term to take up a position with the UN. She was followed by Mary McAleese, a law professor at Queen's University at Belfast, who had once beat future First Minister David Trimble out of a tenured faculty position. McAleese was nominated by both Fianna Fail and some independents. Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Bertie Ahern led former Prime Minister Albert Reynolds, who had pushed the peace process in Northern Ireland, that he was supporting him when he was really supporting McAleese. But because she wasn't a politician and was from Northern Ireland, McAleese seemed more like Robinson than like her other predecessors. President McAleese is now retiring after two terms. Click here for a list of Irish presidents.
Now Martin McGuinness is trying to break the mold again by combining the IRA background of De Valera and the Northern background--although he is from Derry and not Belfast--of McAleese. I expect that the Labour candidate will end up winning in the end, but McGuinness has added a lot of excitement to the race.