I used to interterview graduate students who wanted to become teachers. Since there were four applicants for every place on the course, the room tended to have more than its share of tight smiles and leaky armpits. We were looking for several things, principally a personality suited to teaching and recent experience that matched the job.
Personality? Some applicant had timid litte mouse manners, others were brash, a few faintly condescending – all bad news had they ever faced a classroom of teenagers. Experience? Some told how they’d once helped their wee brother with his homework, others that they’d babysat for the neighbour next door. And this was? Oh, ten or twelve years ago.
Then just when we were ready to bang our head on the interview table, in would come that fourth applicant: warm but firm personality, had spent the past year running the local youth club and filled with a vision of what real education could be. Oh thank you God, we whispered silently, thank you, thank you.
As with teaching, so with leadership. The role of Irish president is not for the mousey man or woman, even less for the brash or condescending. It calls for a mixture of the natural touch and measured authority. Think Mary McAleese and you won’t be far wrong. Mind you when she ran, there were those who said she came from ‘up there’ and muttered darkly of a ticking tribal time bomb. So – were the people of the south right to ignore these dire warnings? The last fourteen years, I’d say, give the answer to that question.
That was then, this is now. No talk of a ticking tribal bomb this time round – just endless questions about McGuinness’s time in the IRA. Some southern experts focus on the harrowing detail of carefully selected victims of the conflict; other sigh and say yes, McGuinness did build bridges, he did work to make and sustain peace for the past quarter century but (sigh again) it’s still too soon to elect a former IRA man to such a post. And shut up about Dev, would you?
What really weighs heavily on these people’s minds is not the past but the future. What would visiting dignitaries think? Say if Prince Charles, Commander-in-Chie of the Parachute Regiment were to come calling? Or a President McGuinness were to greet David Cameron, or Nicolas Sarcozy, or Barack Obama – all men with no connection with violence at all at all. Well, maybe a bit of the old shock and awe in other people’s countries but not, definitely NOT in their own.
The dread of these scribblers is two-fold. On the one hand, for the next seven years a President McGuinness would be drawing the average industrial wage. Omigod. That could make those fat Dail and Seanad salaries look just a bit, um, diffferent, wouldn’t you say? Like a pebble looks a bit different from the Rock of Cashel. Next you know the majority of southern people might warm to a man who puts his money where his mouth is and omigod again, that warmth might extend to Sinn Féin. Talk about an appalling vista.
But equally appalling would be McGuinness’s presence in the Aras on a daily basis – a visible reminder that the north exists. That wouldn’t be good news for parties who think their country stops at Dundalk but boast that they’re The Republican Party or the heirs of Michael Collins.
The great hope of the southern scribblers is that they can tie a millstone of McGuinness’s IRA past around his neck and so sink him. This is difficult, since McGuinness says he’s proud of his IRA past and now what about the future, boys and girls? The great test for the people of the south is, will they allow their media thinkers to submerge one candidate while resurrecting another? In the coming weeks they’ll do all in their power to convince people that what the Aras needs is someone – ANYONE – else. Say, one who talks like a toff and writes on Oireachtas notepaper. Failing that, a wee man with a nice soft voice who talks about imagination and vision and culture and stuff. Failing that …Jeez, some of you bozos must be electable.
We can only hope that this head-banging-on the-table time, like all nightmares, will pass.
Fair point Jude.. I know you are not one to sit on the fence or try to get along with everyone in the north..
And.. I suppose having the Republic as a neighbour with ambitions for the north again might suit your agenda, but perhaps those down in the south like everything just as it currently is, it works for them no mess etc as much as it works for the majority of people in the north with forgetting the past, accepting where we are and just trying to live a happy life? But wouldnt it be nice to have no-one pushing the united Ireland agenda every day of every week for a wee while? (and I guess with me as a ‘unionist’ you arent going to agree with me)
I get that it’ll be really great for Sinn Fein to have the presidency over 2016, As much as Marty is a former enemy, he’s still from the North and to everyone else in Ireleand he’s an ulsterman just like the rest of us.. So I’d vote for him tomorrow and we like to see one of our own do well, dont we? I just dont get a vote -perhaps thats something they could sort out in the future?
So I wish him well at achieving what him and his party wants, sure SF deserve to win as much as anyone in the dublin establishment. Having him walk out at Landsdowne Road to welcome teams at rugby would be an amusement for the first time but I’m sure he’d sing the national anthem pretty damm well.
BUT.. I just dont think he has the voice or oratory ability to be a president.. That gruff Derry accent doesn’t belong on the world stage, compare him to Mary McAleese and therein lies my only problem with him… Solve that and he’d be great.
Ryan – thanks for that truly thoughtful and detailed response – great stuff. My thinking about Irish unity (or re-unity, strictly speaking) is that I think Irish people north and south should be grown-up politically – i.e., handle their own affairs, rather than having some outside superior power tell them what to do and not do. It’s kinda nice being told what to do as it absolves you of responsibility. My analogy tends to be with the man next door: if he moved into my house he’d probably make damned sight better first of things financially and every other way than I do. But if he tried to do it I’d resist him to my last breath, cos I’m all growed up now and I figure I’m entitled to make the decisions. I take your point too about M McG’s ‘gruff Derry accent’ – but while I know the cultured classes of Dublin 4 and beyond will recoil in horror at it, I very strongly believe that accent is a wonderful thing, to be preserved rather than ironed out. I used to teach in Canada and when I told the kids that people where I came from used different accents, even though, say, thirty miles separated them, they were amazed. As Gerard Manley Hopkins said ‘Glory be to God for dappled things’ – long live variety, at least in accents…Hey, I better shut up and do some work. Again, thanks for your stimulating thoughts.
You seem to be the only man who is not interested in Martin’s past. You must surely have an opinion?
Whats that you say? You used to be a journalist? Why then maybe you came into contact with… what, you wrote for Daily Ireland, you tell me?
Why maybe you knew lots of people who could have told you if Martin left the IRA in the seventies.
What’s your opinion?
Do you value truthfulness in a President? Or should everyone just stop asking those pesky questions?
Hello giordanobruno – good to hear from you again. I am interested in Martin’s past – all of it. It’s a bit like the Dallas saga – some southern hacks seem to have suffered amnesia about the last twenty years. For the record, I never was a journalist (yes, I know, I know, my blog name – I promise you, my son set it up and as usual ignored my advice) – I’m a poor ex-ivory-towerer. I may well have met many people who could have told me when Martin left the IRA but since I didn’t ask them they sensibly didn’t tell me. What baffles me is, the people who are so hilariously fixated on getting Martin to tell ‘the truth’ also believe he’s a terrorist psychopath. And they’re all hot and bothered over dates…Pass the smelling salts, Auntie…
I find myself frustrated every time I go to the shop and see at least three different newspapers are banging on about McGuinness’s past and how he obviously can’t be trusted.
Yet, the worst part is when people start lapping it up like dehydrated dogs. I mean for God’s sake, the man has the last 25 years maintaining peace and still, people can not let sleeping dogs lie. But when it comes to the IMF or the EU who are constantly butting their noses in where it’s not wanted, they do nothing. They just take it lying down.
The urge to leave this country becomes all the more tempting. 🙁
You didn’t ask? I am amazed.
Was that because you weren’t interested, or because you already knew the answer?
I don’t want to underplay Martin’s role in our peace process. It was never as simple as just stopping fighting. I am sure he had a lot of persuading to do, with his (ex) comrades in arms. And I think he is a persuasive fellow. Certainly Gerry could never have won over Paisley in the same way.
But the man is running for President. Voters surely have a right to know what kind of man or woman they are electing.
His evasiveness does not look good. To me at least.
giordanobruno – thanks for your second contribution – and I mean that – you’re a thoughtful, reasonable and courteous guy/woman (nah – not woman – you’d be giordanobruna then…) with whom I disagree.
V briefly: you really shouldn’t be amazed, not because I’m dodging asking important questions – you don’t have to believe that but it happens to be the case – but because I couldn’t care less when he left. He was a central figure in the conflict, which means, like all people in a conflict/war, his job was to kill or be killed. All the rest is detail and either opportunism by political opponents and/or a type of sick voyeurism. Except one is a pacifist -e.g., the Quakers – and opposed to ALL violence, it’s simply wrong to say “Killing these people is good, but killing those people is bad”. Non-combatants? Tell that to Harry Truman…Oh shut up, Jude, shut up. I’m talking too much and my tired old body and brain need rest. Thanks once more, g – keep reading and keep commenting. I disagree but I like your style.
Thanks for the kind words. Flattery always works with me. I won’t be able to argue with you anymore.
While we are being nice to each other , can I say that ‘below the line Jude’ is a much more civil fellow than ‘blogger Jude’.
I do disagree with your views,(though not necessarily your aspirations) and I hope to continue pointing out the error of your ways, but not tonight.
Richard Nixon was a Quaker.
12 Fine Gael Councillors in County Clare voted for a festival honouring a violent Cuban leader.
Anon 00:03 -I did add ‘And opposed to ALL violence’ . Exit R Nixon, stage left…