Marty Down Under

A feature of the current Irish Presidential campaign has been the emergence of a body of opinion that has homed in on what it regards as a brand of hypocrisy in the South of the country. The latter it is said manifests, even prides itself in a willingness to have Martin McGuinness occupy a position of political authority in the North while simultaneously holding its nose at the prospect of something similar in the South. While certainly not alone in subscribing to this critical perspective the writer Jude Collins tersely caught its main theme:

There is no rational line that can be argued which says that McGuinness is fine 'up there' but a deadly danger 'down here'. Except, of course, you're a southern partitionist who is scared witless at the way the North has begun to play an increasing part in the public life of the south.

Setting aside the expansionist overtone in such commentary, it is plausible to contend that in the South, not vastly different from the North in this regard, hypocrisy is moved in skips rather than brown envelopes, it being so bulky and voluminous. But it is far from certain that the attitude towards McGuinness is informed by hypocrisy alone.

That the North is considered a special case where the conventional political norms do not apply is no more the property of ‘southern partitionists’ than the general containing of IRA political violence to the North was the property of northern partitionists.  

There are some things in the North that are not wanted in the South with good reason, which the people there have every right to resile from and seek protection against. While the argument should not be made that Martin McGuinness is one of those things, he having the same right as any other Irish person over the age of 35 to enter the presidential race, there is insufficient cause to reduce this to a mentality born of partition. It might be nothing other than the manifestation of democratic sentiment. There is no reason why the South should not be inoculated against the peculiarly Northern virus of government without opposition. Why would anybody in the South other than the authoritarian (and there may be many) want a political system devoid of political opposition? 

Perhaps there is a need to draw a distinction between the past of Martin McGuiness and his political experience.  Whatever about his leadership of the IRA post-1974, his potential to be a president of national unity is attenuated by his experience. As Deputy First Minister in the Belfast Executive he is the product of an exceptional type of circumstance, peculiar to the North but not to the country as a whole.  He is not a unifying presidential-style figure in Northern society but rather is a functioning symbol of its inherently divided character and composition. He is part of a ruling bloc defined by the imperatives of office which require: that the ruling bloc administratively but not politically unites itself; that structurally, aided by D’Hondt, it reproduces the fundamental sectarian disunity within society; that it stabilises and polices at community level that societal division; and that it mediates the relationship between that fractious society and itself. There is nothing new here about how ruling blocs rule. Nicos Poulantzas identified it over forty years ago.

Martin McGuinness is not in senior office in the North because unionists have acclimatised, or are forgiving of his IRA past. They remain even more hostile to that aspect of his character than most in the South. They acquiesce in rather than approve of his role in the executive. As I argued in London 3 years ago, in the North there is parsimonious power splitting rather than generous power sharing. Martin McGuinness is in office because the cost of him not being there is too high. As Fintan O’Toole observed: ‘The DUP had to accept Sinn Fein and its nominee because otherwise the DUP itself could not have entered government - there would be no government for it to enter.’

There is no denying that Martin McGuinness was central to ending the IRA’s campaign and creating the political climate that allowed the emergence and bedding down of the Northern executive. Nevertheless, none of what has been secured in the North resulted from Martin McGuinness standing as an overarching, inspiring, presidential Leviathan trafficking unity into those regions where division is most prevalent. His function is more akin to that of a tribal chieftain managing his fiefdom while simultaneously competing and liaising with his opposite number in the rival fiefdom.  His achievement has been to manage division within the North not unite society there. His political experience lies in division not unifying.

He has as much right to stand in the Irish Presidential election as any of the other six candidates. But no amount of special pleading on his behalf allows an advantage to fall his way and not theirs in terms of what he can do to unify the whole of Irish society based on his experience in the North.


  1. A fine example of your political training combined with your journalistic experience, AM, to provide a cogent and forceful argument for why McG does not matter as much as he might think he does.

  2. Jude Collins makes some interesting points but he fails to grasp that the likes of McGuinness only makes sense in the context of NI.
    The North is through the looking glass to people in the Republic.
    Maybe you have to live outside it a while to see how different the social norms are. The paranoia, the bitterness, and above all the willing self-deception, are woven into the psychological fabric as a consequence of living in a divided society at war or in its aftermath. Such a society breeds a certain kind of political leader but the qualities that make it work in the north, essentially operating a kind of tribal hustle, are irrelevant where conditions are different.
    Sinn Fein will never make serious headway on the Republic until it engages with the Republic on its own terms. Its battle scarred old dinosaurs like McGuinness and Adams should be the last people they send south of the border. In fact, the party would do well to start thinking now about how and when they will put them out to grass altogether.

  3. AM, 100% right. I posted on Slugger and I (think) I posted on here, that instead of going on and on and on about MMcG's past in the IRA, ask him how SF in the 26 counties and SF in the north can square the circle of, in the 26, they'll stand shoulder to shoulder with the workers, while in the north, they are wielding the cuts axe as well as, if not more so than any true blue Tory! (which I predicted they would do ages ago). He won't wriggle out of questions like that as easilly as he does about his IRA past!

  4. Mackers,
    brilliantly written, but as you rightly pointed out in another post the people of the South are hardly spolit for choice.
    Read an article the other day which suggested the prospective candidate would have their work cut out trying to fill the dhoes of McAleese.
    The article then went on to list her achievements which appeared to start and end with the bridges she had built with the loyalists and the British.
    If this is what the ideal candidate has to follow, then given the fact he has declared himself a bigger crawler than she ever was, it must follow he is the ideal candidate.

  5. Marty McGuinness down under in donegal-

    Wonder what became of marty down under-hope he survived those storms-

    Git- Sinn Fein supported those workers
    who had to go on strike this week- unlike the d.u.p who put the boot into hospital workers- those people who try there best to keep us living are having there livelihood killed of-

  6. AM well written piece as usual. We might not be able to see it but there's a peace wall running through the centre of Northern Politics.

    Ah michaelhenry; he was always harping on about SF and the Queen both here and on Slugger...

    Now, not only does McGuinness say he will meet the Queen, Prince Charles and likely wear a Poppy; he even compared the Bloody Sunday victims to Mountbatten....


    Martin McGuinness has said that “reliable sources” have informed him that Prince Charles is keen to meet him.

    In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Journal Mr. McGuinness, who is one of seven contesting this month’s Irish Presidential race said that even though Prince Charles is Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment he would have no problem meeting with him.

    The British Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 innocent people in Derry on January 30, 1972.

    “I lost friends on Bloody Sunday and 27 people were shot that day,” said Mr. McGuinness. “The Queen of England and other members of the Royal Family lost loved ones during the conflict too but what has happened recently shows just how far we have come.”

    Mr. McGuinness announced on RTE television on Friday evening that he understood that Prince Charles was keen to meet. When asked to elaborate he said that he had heard of the prince’s intentions through well placed sources....

  7. Michaelhenry,

    funny, I was thinking the same thing about him being away from us. It was his username that gave me the idea for this article

  8. michaelhenry, do you mean SF supported the workers by doing a slimy behind closed doors deal with their dup and alliance friends, so that public sector workers now have to pay 3.2 per cent more into their pension funds?

  9. AM
    Had the sleep of the dead myself, around 1:30pm!

  10. Dixie-

    I like to harp on about the things which i think are important to me-
    there is no change in Sinn Fein policy over the crown oath-which is what i brought up in the Quill-

    By the way- the Quill is the only site-place to get my comment out- that i have never been suspended/ given the boot from-

  11. michaelhenry

    'By the way- the Quill is the only site-place to get my comment out- that i have never been suspended/ given the boot from-'

    HONESTLY!!? with SF so popular?? I'm in shock. What other sites were so out of touch?

  12. michaelhenry,
    Sinn Fein have actively participated in pushing through hospital ward closures.
    Tom Hartley and Sinn Fein have been named many times by nurse and top trade union official Pat Lawlor as being central to job cuts and closures in the Royal.
    Your boss never brought too many jobs to West Belfast.
    Brian Feeney was on the money when he argued, Adams did nothing for the people he represented.

  13. FionnchĂș,

    Thanks for that.


    Jude sees the matter through a McGuinness lens which he is quite honest about. I think that colours his analysis of the South in relation to the North. The South has a lot to answer for no doubt but in this instance there are more factors at play than can be explained away by hypocrisy.

    It is possible that McGuinness could win but unlikely. The political waters are turbulent as a result of the economic crisis. I wonder what a different Sinn Fein candidate might have achieved, one that had no baggage that they had to cover up.


    the Quill has been fair to you and you have always been fair to it.

  14. Fionnuala-

    I never said Sinn Fein were the children of the Gods- i said that Sinn Fein supported the hospital workers who had to go on strike - is that what you are sore about-

  15. Dixie and Nuala,

    Thanks for your reassuring words.

    Why would Charles want to meet him? It might be true but we would need more than Martin’s word for it. MI6 wanted to meet him because they sought to wind up the conflict on their terms. What interest could Charles have other than personal curiosity? He has been well briefed that Martin was chief of staff at the time Mountbatten was killed. Maybe Martin wants to do the meeting coz he is jealous of Bangers having met Charles first!

  16. Belfastgit,

    Patrick Murphy cut thr tripe out of SF in an Irish News article a week or two back on the very issue you raised.

  17. Anthony,

    What interest could Charles have other than personal curiosity?

    It could be personal curiosity with that which has caused him personal pain? Much more intriging is Charles desire to personally meet Britains greatest post cold war human asset!

  18. Robert-

    Maybe it was Charles who set up
    Mountbatton- could it be that charles
    was the best- during the hot war- human asset-

  19. michaelhenry I'd call your last post a streaker...

    You just seemed to strip yourself of all commonsense and run.

    Marty does that a lot!

  20. Jeez Anthony thought I was famous for a second there. Got so much catching up to do on here, i see the usual suspects are still around and good to see.

  21. MDU,

    can't deny that your name inspired the title!