Miriam & Martin

The past week has not been a good one for Martin McGuinness in his bid to become President of Ireland. Dropping points in the latest Red C poll while two of his rivals made gains was hardly the news he wanted to wake up to on Sunday morning.  At the beginning of the week he had been challenged in Athlone by the son of an Irish soldier killed during an IRA operation in 1983. His frosty response risked polluting the public mood. Then during a televised presidential candidates debate on Prime Time, which pulled 700, 000 viewers at its peak, he seemed to wince as Miriam O’Callaghan held his feet to the fire. The deficiency in his performance was only slightly masked by a bizarre intervention towards the end by his fellow Derry citizen, Dana. To boot, the seriousness to be attached to his bid for the Aras was called into question by none other than his party colleague, Martin Ferris, who informed the Dail that McGuinness was ‘only journeying down for a number of weeks.’ This added ballast to the suspicions of those already predisposed to the notion that seizing the Aras was not after all the strategic logic behind Sinn Fein’s decision to run McGuinness; it was more about colonising the Fianna Fail vote.

It has been claimed that during the Prime Time discussion O’Callaghan ‘took McGuinness down.’ That may be less accurate than the alternative view that he simply ran out of dummying tactics and dropped the ball. According to the political consultant Johnny Fallon, who in a not unsympathetic appraisal stated that Martin McGuinness:

was clearly annoyed at the questions and came across as angry and upset. Talking over others and even taking issue with those who said something nice, he just wasn’t in control in the manner he has been before. I think his voters will understand his frustration but it all got a little too aggressive and unpresidential.

This rather than allegations of his IRA past may turn out to be the biggest negative for McGuinness.

Already on some of the websites we can see the standard Sinn Fein response. RTE has been urged to ‘sack the bitch’ while her ‘knockers’ seem to have had a titillating effect on others. None of which detracts from the fact that Miriam O’Callaghan is a robust and experienced interviewer. I have watched her over the years apply her technique to a range of characters and have rarely found her less than thorough.

It is not that Martin McGuinness cannot perform, he can. He has handled interviewers as formidable as Jeremy Paxman and held his own. He can wax eloquent on the current politics of the North. But as has been witnessed so often in the North, defending ‘legal fictions’ can lead to ridicule and a press posse in hot pursuit.  

What made matters even more difficult is the McGuinness decision to tackle O’Callaghan in private after the televised exchange. One witness to the confrontation was reported in the press as saying ‘there's no doubt that he tried to intimidate her. She looked quite shaken after it ...’ The Herald claimed to have been told by RTE sources that O’Callaghan found the exchange with McGuinness threatening and intimidating. ‘He was extremely angry and intimidating and Miriam was left very shaken.’ Martin McGuinness disputed that he behaved in a threatening or aggressive manner, claiming that ‘it was a very low key encounter in terms of no raised voices ... I expressed my disappointment at the way the debate was handled.’

Whatever the truth, and O’Callaghan appears not to have made any allegations, McGuinness would have been better advised to let it go. Even had he won any argument in a closed room he stood to gain little from it and was only ever likely to arouse suspicions that he had sought to intimidate her in a ‘don’t get smart Sharon’ moment taken from his party leader’s repertoire. It had the effect of making political commentators sound more plausible when they referred to the thuggish tendencies of Sinn Fein. Ultimately, it increases the likelihood of a public wondering on the future of intellectual and cultural pluralism if the would-be president of the country indicates he favours stamping out freedom of inquiry.

Were I a supporter of Martin McGuinness’s Aras bid I would not have liked the rigorous line of questioning. Yet I could not claim with any degree of conviction that such questioning should be ruled out of order. The issues in a candidate’s past are bound to emerge over the course of a campaign. If the candidate fails to deal with them convincingly they are certain to come up again. McGuinness claimed ‘I was accused of being a murderer ... the focus was on the past and not on me as President and what I would do in the future and I think that was a great disservice to the viewers.’ But things are never so simple. McGuinness at an earlier date had introduced the term ‘murder’ into the discourse by referring to some IRA operations as murder. As he is widely believed, in spite of his denials, to have been at the heart of the IRA when many of these ‘murderous’ operations were carried out, he allowed himself to be hoist on his own petard. 

Moreover, on the past, reflect on this: Bishop John Magee runs for the Irish Presidency. He gets grilled about a history of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and then insists that the past is the past, he made mistakes but adequate child safety measures are now in place; he was in the Church but had left in 1974; his role in the priest process must be acknowledged. How far would he get? The comparison is facetious and hardly a carbon copy but the point remains that it is not a hostile media, fuelled by its own resentment, keeping the past alive. What keeps this going is the deficit between the demand for credible answers and the supply of them. 

The biggest criticism that can be made of RTE is not that it put questions to Martin McGuinness in front of a national audience but that it deprived the national audience of a chance to have those questions put to him and his republican colleagues for over two decades and allow him to make a case for militant republicanism while the armed conflict was in progress. It opted for censorship and denied the public an understanding of an issue about which more rather than less knowledge was needed. To whatever extent this helped prolong the politically violent conflict, institutions like RTE must bear some responsibility.


  1. Sharp as ever Anthony ,and if I was Mariam I wouldnt go out alone for a while,better still stay away from lonely beaches,Martyboy would say he had a soft spot for Mariam, and yip you got it a bog in Monaghan.

  2. How can spoofer Gallagher be elected president ? He relied on govt grants throughout his so called business career.Sounds and looks like Muttley from Wacky races.Anthony, how well did/do you know Tom Mc Feely ? Clongriffin in Dublin 13 is one hell of a mess.

  3. Ruairi Joseph,
    bet the bad man did not say what he would like to have said.
    He was not too slow in applying the 'murder' label to other volunteers, yet when it was turned on him, he got more than a tad upset.
    He is even a better liar than Adams and I doubt anyone thought that was possible.

  4. Ruairi Joseph,

    troll elsewhere or set up your own blog.

  5. By Gail Walker

    Wednesday, 19 October 2011

    Long runs the Provo fox ... It seems that Sinn Fein's 'daring' move in running Martin McGuinness in the Irish presidential election is coming seriously unstuck. Now that the prospect of a former IRA leader, once dedicated to overthrowing the Republic, becoming president has become vaguely real, the media is waking up and asking some rather pointed questions about Machine Gun Marty's 'now you see it, now you don't' past.

    And he doesn't like it - not one little bit.

    Since Miriam O'Callaghan's close questioning of him on the RTE leadership debate, McGuinness has been bleating about being treated unfairly because the other candidates were asked if he was suitable to hold the office of President. Apparently, if it had been a round robin type of thing when everyone was asked about everyone else's suitability things would have been just dandy.

    Except of course none of the other candidates - regardless of their political positions - stands accused of heading a murderous organisation which killed almost 1,700 people in the Troubles. No other candidate has been accused of being involved in the murder of members of the Gardai. No other candidate took an oath - which he has still not taken back - about overthrowing the state.

    Surely questions of legitimate interest? But not according to Mr McGuinness.

    Indeed, so outraged were his sensitivities, he demanded a private meeting with Miriam O'Callaghan immediately after the debate.

    Some might say that was indicative of an overweening sense of entitlement, others that it was sinister.

    Recent polls show that many have had a long, hard look at McGuinness and aren't quite so impressed as they once were.

    McGuinness' exposure does leave us with one small niggling conundrum: if he's not Presidential material down there, why is he deputy First Minister material up here?

    Read more:


  6. I doubt the bad man said anything that would incriminate him, probably how he said it was what left Miriam quaking in her boots.

    Surprised he's dropped in the polls though. All the little Michael Henry's of ogra must have got repetitive strain injury in their fingers from clicking all those online poll buttons.

  7. impongo2 Gail,when you look at who Martyboy and his cronies are in partnership with here in norn iorn you might just realise just what a con job the brits aided and abetted by those liars and carpetbaggers in both the psf /dup have managed to pull of.neither of those two parties and a good few others could survive a proper investigation of their activities in our recent past.

  8. Dave,

    I know him very well, having been in the jail with him, visited him in Dublin on a few occasions post release and then worked for him. Clongriffen is a problem for different reasons. I don’t know who built that.

  9. Martin is on RTE saying Sean has been up to his neck in Fianna Fail until recently and should be questioned about that. It is a fair point but at the same time undermines his own case that he should not be questioned about his past. I suppose it is a tacit acknowledgement by him that the past is always hanging there regardless of what we wish for

  10. Ruairi Joseph,

    It is not what the man said rather what he refuses to say.

  11. Tain Bo, Nuala and Belfast Bookworm,

    RJ will not be coming back to you on your comments as he is dropped. The fetish with labelling Miriam O Callaghan a 'bitch' is not something this blog will facilitate. He is free to set up his own blog and indulge in the fetish there. It won't be happening here.

  12. Impongo2

    You Wrote: "McGuinness' exposure does leave us with one small niggling conundrum: if he's not Presidential material down there, why is he deputy First Minister material up here?"

    There is no 'conundrum' the electorate as off yet have neither confirmed nor rejected McG 'down there' whereas he has been democratically elected 'up here'. Your confusion seems to originate with your inability to understand political mandates and the right for candidates to stand for election whom we may not like or agree with. The appropriate word is democracy and not 'conundrum'.

  13. Tiarna,

    Impongo2 was citing Gail Walker from the Belfast Telegraph

  14. Am

    Impongo copied verbatim and without comment that I thought the intention was that what was written by Gail White represented what Impongo2 intended?

    If I read that wrong then my appologies.


  15. just discussing your posts there with a friend who says there might be a copyright problem. I am not sure on it given that you always cite the source. Just to ensure that the issue does not come back to bite us could you in future post some relevant lines and then post the link?

    Also it seems that some people think you wrote the thing rather than the person you cite.

    Hope you are ok with this suggestion.

  16. Tiarna,

    I am not sure you are wrong at all. Impongo2 might agree entirely with what he/she cites or might just think it is a piece worth reading. I just don't know. I think your interpretation is plausible. In any event there might be a copyright issue so I have suggested to him a change of tack.

  17. On the TG4 prog. Sean Gallagher (in reference to "The Soldiers Song") being too militaristic, said he thought it should be revised, to which Marty retorted: "so you're a revisionist now", whether he was half "joking" or not,(which I don't think he was) coming from MMcG, words fail me.

  18. On the same TG4 prog. he ducked (wouldn't answer) the ONH question AGAIN!

  19. ‘he allowed himself to be hoist on his own petard. ‘

    W Shakespeare - Hamlet

    To be blown up with his own bomb

    You’re beginning to sound like Eoghain Harris………

  20. the race has gone a bit flat lately,mcguinness livened it up but gone bit flat again.

    cant believe gallagher in front.. WTF???????????