Selecting McGuinness is a win-win scenario for Sinn Fein
Published 17/09/2011 | 05:00
IF Martin McGuinness makes it to Aras an Uachtarain it will mark one of the most remarkable political journeys possible in a lifetime, greater even than his chuckle brother moments with Ian Paisley.
For the palatial Aras, the residence of Viceroys when Ireland was united under British rule, is as far as it is possible to go from the hungry streets of the Bogside in the 1970s. It was there that, at his first press conference, he voiced the IRA's disdain for politics.
Shaking with nervousness he announced "it doesn't matter a f*** what Gerry Fitt or John Hume says, we fight on. We're not stopping until we get a united Ireland".
His words will be more measured as he accepts his party's nomination for the presidency. Inwardly he may tell himself that he is continuing the same struggle by different means.
When he joined the Provisional IRA around 1970 after a spell in the Officials, he could have been court-martialled for even talking about contesting elections.
Even the words Uachtaran na hEireann used by Gerry Adams to nominate him would have been forbidden.
The Irish State and all its institutions were looked on as treasonous.
Now that is all water under the bridge. Instead of a backdrop of bombs, bullets and threats he goes into this election with Rev David Latimer's description of him as "one of the great leaders of modern times" fresh in the public's mind.
Suddenly Sinn Fein no longer seems the edgy or dangerous choice it once did to southern voters.
Fielding McGuinness is a master stroke. He is a polished performer, people like him and he has instant name recognition in the Republic. If he wins it will enable Sinn Fein to say that they hold high political office on both sides of the Border.
Even if he doesn't win he will, given the other candidates in the field and the absence of a Fianna Fail runner, be more or less guaranteed a creditable vote.
Sinn Fein intends building him up as a "people's president" involving the diaspora, Northerners and those disenchanted with the main parties.
Win or lose, it is a useful exercise without any obvious downside.