European elections face growing threat of organised social media manipulation
07 Jan 2019 – 11:36 | No Comment

With a new batch of MEPs, a new president of the European Council and European Central Bank, as well as new commissioners due to take up their posts in 2019, European elections face growing threat …

Read the full story »

Energy & Environment

Circular Economy

Climate Change


Home » Elections and Governance, electoral

The Irish Presidential Elections

Submitted by on 06 Oct 2011 – 11:22

Stormont Parliament BuildingBy Dr John Coulter, Columnist with the Irish Daily Star and Tribune Magazine

Irish republicans will take a step closer towards achieving some type of formal all-island structure if Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness can produce a strong showing in the October 27 Presidential election in the South of Ireland.

Normally a low key poll for the seven-year Presidential term, this year’s campaign to find a suitable replacement for the high profile and exceptionally popular Mary McAleese suddenly sparked into hyper drive when former leading IRA commander and the Stormont Deputy First Minister McGuinness unveiled his nomination.

Unlike the United States, the position of Irish President is that of a national figurehead with no constitutional clout. When Sinn Fein initially declared McGuinness – one of the architects of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the party’s chief negotiator – as its Presidential candidate, it seemed as if the Mid Ulster Westminster MP had committed political suicide.

Sinn Fein’s choice appeared puzzling, if not downright bizarre. Why would McGuinness abandon the second most powerful post in the Northern Ireland Executive for what could be dismissed as nothing more than a glorified ambassador?

This is a tremendous gamble for both McGuinness and Sinn Fein. If it pays off, the party is set to commemorate the centenary of the Dublin Easter Rising in 2016 with some kind of solid all-Ireland arrangement.

A McGuinness Presidential victory – even a credible vote – would provide Sinn Fein with its greatest electoral triumph since the 1918 Westminster General Election when the movement won the vast majority of the Irish Commons seats in an entire island still under British rule.

But if McGuinness turns in a low poll, it will be an electoral disaster akin to the 2007 Dublin Parliament meltdown when Sinn Fein expected a dozen Dail seats, but ended up with only four.

However, McGuinness possesses an ace card, and that is the amazing performance of his own party president and close ally, Gerry Adams. Earlier this year, Adams left his ultra safe Westminster fiefdom of republican West Belfast and snatched a Dail seat in County Louth in the Republic’s General Election.

The Adams factor saw Sinn Fein increase its Dail tally from five TDs to 14. Even if McGuinness does not become Irish President, his campaign could electorally position Sinn Fein to capture more than 20 seats in the next Dail election. If Sinn Fein can burst through this 20-seat barrier, it could place the party in a strong negotiating stance to becoming a junior partner in a coalition government in Leinster House.

That would be a major achievement for Sinn Fein by 2016 – a government partner in both Stormont and the Dail. But to achieve this, McGuinness has to endure the vicious media storm over his IRA past. In running such a high profile Presidential campaign, he risks an intense spotlight being focussed on his role with the Provisional IRA. He is already facing serious questioning about his IRA past.

Sinn Fein should not underestimate the political mountain it has to climb to get McGuinness into the Presidency. While Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland has swept to power by breaking out of its traditional working class republican heartlands and invading the middle class nationalist housing developments, in the Republic it is still viewed with tremendous suspicion.

Cynically, the Adams’ 14-seat Dail victory could be written off as merely a massive protest vote against the then ruling Fianna Fail/Green Party coalition which witnessed the once impregnable ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy collapse into financial meltdown. For generations, Southern voters treated Sinn Fein as a communist party under another name.

There are still many Southern republican families who remember the bitter splits in the 1920s when pro and anti Treaty factions indulged in a bloody civil war. In that conflict, more IRA members were murdered or executed by the pro Treaty Free State forces than were killed fighting the British in the earlier War of Independence.

A McGuinness victory or strong showing will also determine the future direction of Northern moderate nationalism. Within days of the Presidential outcome, the mainly Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) will elect a new leader at its annual conference on 5 November.

It is now a case while moderate nationalism grows weaker as a political movement, constitutional republicanism grows equally stronger. SDLP delegates will want to choose a leader who can combat the steady slip of the party into political irrelevance. While the SDLP is only organised in the North, Sinn Fein already has senior elected representatives in the Dail, Stormont and Europe.

If the SDLP cannot match Sinn Fein’s all-island success, it will join other moderate Northern movements – such as the Irish Nationalist Party and Irish Independence Party – in the dustbin of history. Gone forever are the glory days under former MEP and 1998 Nobel Peace Prize joint winner John Hume, when the SDLP dominated the nationalist agenda.

Even if McGuinness can increase Sinn Fein’s vote above the 2007 Dail tally, it will force the SDLP into considering electing a leader who will merge the party with a Southern Irish counterpart, possibly Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, even Irish Labour.

And there is also the impact which a McGuinness victory could have on the wider so-called Celtic Front in Scotland and Wales. With a nationalist majority government in Scotland, a strong McGuinness showing could tempt First Minister Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party to adopt an even more militant stance over a referendum on independence.

Likewise, a McGuinness victory could also act as a knock-on boost to the flagging fortunes of Welsh nationalism. And a President McGuinness will simply not be content with being a figurehead, hosting grand dinners and visiting the global Irish family.

He will want to campaign for constitutional powers for the Presidency. This could result in a ‘half-way house’ accommodation with Ireland’s Unionist community. Could some kind of 32-county, all-island arrangement be negotiated by President McGuinness, with the price being the Republic joining the increasingly influential Commonwealth Parliamentary Association?

The Republic is facing massive paybacks on the multi-billion euro bailout after the collapse of the Southern economy. The United Kingdom is a significant contributor to that bailout.

If Sinn Fein under McGuinness can enter a power-sharing partitionist parliament at Stormont with the Democratic Unionists, could the South under a President McGuinness bring the Republic into a new Union with Britain and the English monarchy? Irish politics in the third millennium represents the art of the impossible becoming a reality.