‘Gang of four’ to put McGuinness in race
FOUR eclectic independent TDs are poised to provide Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness with the golden ticket that will secure his place in the Aras race.
With 17 TDs and senators, Sinn Fein is three seats short of the number necessary for a nomination. However, the Sunday Independent has learnt that Sinn Fein has secured the support of independent TDs Finian McGrath, Luke ‘Ming' Flanagan, Tom Fleming and Michael Healy-Rae.
Mr McGrath and ‘Ming' Flanagan had originally been supporters of David Norris. However, their decision to withdraw support from the TCD senator created a vacuum which SF swiftly exploited.
Yesterday Mr Healy-Rae said he was the first politician after the Sinn Fein members to sign the papers for Martin McGuinness. “He has proven his ability to work with a diversity of people back over the years,” he said. “He has been committed to the peace process since 1994 and in signing the papers it's giving people the opportunity to vote for him. I'm not saying whether they should or shouldn't do so.”
Mr Flanagan also confirmed he had “signed the papers to allow him to go forward”. He said he had been motivated by the belief that “it was up to the people to decide”.
He said he was asked a few weeks ago to support him. He added that he would have been just as happy to “sign papers for anyone, even Dana''. The independent Kerry TD Tom Fleming also told the Sunday Independent that even though he was “already committed to Mary Davis because of all she has achieved in disability'', after he had been “approached and requested would I facilitate Mr McGuinness to acquire a nomination'' he agreed to sign the papers.
Mr McGrath was not available for comment. It is believed that, subject to the agreement of a group of his supporters, he will back the Sinn Fein candidate. The decision of the independents, who are already being dubbed ‘the gang of four', to facilitate the SF deputy first minister in running for the Aras is likely to be politically disastrous for Fianna Fail.
The absence of a credible FF candidate means Sinn Fein is likely to make a concerted attempt to borrow the votes of the old republican wing of Fianna Fail.
The decision of Mr McGuinness to run is also likely to damage the chances of Michael D Higgins and the two independents.
In contrast, senior FG strategists were positively gloating. One noted: “At last we have a conflict. This will definitely suit Gay [Mitchell].”