1. Most of the southern media are a sad, craven lot. If you watched Tonight with Vincent Browne last night you’ll have seen an example of how they react when confronted with their own shortcomings. Robert Ballagh told Michael Clifford what he thought and Clifford looked as though he’d swallowed, not a sip from his mug but his own tongue. Ballagh’s criticism was that Clifford and Co. dealt with candidates’ personalities and ignored the big issues. My own judgement is based on the fact that they spent several weeks standing on coffins pointing at Martin McGuinness and no time examining his record over the past seventeen years. If that’s not bias with a capital B, then my cat has five legs.
2. McGuinness’s entry transformed the contest. It sent a surge of electricity through it – the type surgeons produce when they put clamps on the patient’s chest and shout “Stand clear!” When McGuinness announced his candidacy, what had been a half-dead affair was suddenly pulsating, brimming with life.
3. The Irish electorate shouldn’t be let out without a grown-up. With three days to go, with the state on its economic knees having its softer parts squeezed tighter and ever tighter by Europe, the electorate decided it would be a wonderful idea to elect a life-long member of the party that banjaxed them.
4. Sean Gallagher didn’t follow Martin McGuinness’s career at Stormont. For decades in the north, the question of the 11+ examination was tossed around. It shouldn’t be held, yes it should, maybe there’s something to be said for it, no there’s not, we’ve the highest A Level results in the world, we’ve the highest level of non-qualifieds, etc, etc etc. Then McGuinness was made Minister for Education and within weeks he’d abolished the ghastly examination. Vested interests screamed and still scream, but the ridiculous exam is gone and it ain’t coming back. Over Gallagher’s financial and Fianna Fail dealings, the southern media spent ten days and more making tut-tut and oh-dear and well-now noises. McGuinness went onto RTÉ’s Frontline on Monday night and cut through the waffle. He confronted Gallagher with a single clear case of chicanery, Gallagher went ooer, recollection, envelope, I did, I didn’t, where can I implode, please? I bet Gallagher wishes he’d paid more attention to how Martin McGuinness the politician works.
5. Michael D Higgins owes his place in the Phoenix Park to McGuinness’s intervention. The Labour party is denying it already but the facts speak for themselves. On 24 October – three days before election day – paddypower bookies had Sean Gallagher at 1/4 and Michael D Higgins at 5/2. Three days before. There was a giant gap between them on the three consecutive polls. McGuinness confronted Gallagher about that cheque and within 48 hours, all bets were off, the gap vanished and Higgins was home. Today, it’s a formality – Michael D Higgins will be the ninth President of Ireland.
Why did McGuinness do it? Well, partly to enhance his party’s standing in the eyes of the electorate. No politician acts without an eye to the effect on voters. But also because that’s the kind of man McGuinness is. When he sees something that he believes needs changing, he applies all his formidable power to it – whether that’s as an IRA leader, a Minister for Education, a Deputy First Minister or a Presidential candidate. He has indeed done the state some service. Granted, we’re back 21 years with an over-the-hill politician being sent to the Park; but think what nearly happened – seven years of Gallagher representing Ireland. Phew – close one, that.