Rivals too soft on 'Mandela' McGuinness
Gay Mitchell has only tentatively engaged with the former IRA man's record, writes John-Paul McCarthy
Martin McGuinness's disturbingly robust showing in last week's presidential polls may remind people of the story told about British Prime Minister James Callaghan in 1979.
Speeding home to Downing Street in the PM's Jaguar, a young aide bombarded him with ideas for thwarting Mrs Thatcher in the weeks that remained before polling day.
Callaghan cut the aide off curtly, and told him that they were living through a once-in-a-generation structural shift in politics.
The tide had turned in The Lady's direction, and the best they could hope for was a dignified retreat.
Are we in the midst of something similar, an inexorable electoral and moral shift signalling the emergence of a 'New Republic' that accepts McGuinness's credentials as a Hibernian Mandela?
We might have to accept something like this grim conclusion if McGuinness' career had been scrutinised in an uninhibited, robust and wide-open manner.
But RTE, his six presidential peers or the Fine Gael Party have not really broken sweat in their interrogations.
McGuinness continues to neutralise general indictments about his past with serene pivots towards anodyne non-answers that would have imploded well before the New Hampshire primary in an American presidential cycle.
Gay Mitchell badly needs to draw some strength from older Fine Gael titans, who always felt in their hearts that McGuinness' Provisional faction constituted not just an enemy of life, but an enemy for life.
Rather than allowing Captain James Kelly to present a vague and general sob-story about the "conflict" during 1970, Garret FitzGerald famously shattered his credibility on the old Dunlop and Finlay talkshow in 2001 by offering a highly specific counter-indictment.
(Kelly said Jack Lynch used him as a passive instrument of purpose before the Arms Crisis, but FitzGerald read his hysterical 'intelligence' reports back to him in the studio, before telling him that during his two terms as Taoiseach he had never seen such menacing and partisan writings.)
And we got another taste of that tough Fine Gael tradition during Liam Cosgrave's rivetting speech at the launch of the recent biography of JA Costello last October.
Here, Cosgrave described the merits of what he called "an módh díreach" [the direct method] when dealing with a terrorist conspiracy that sought to use this Republic as a base of operations against a foreign power.
He ended his speech reminding people that "the Army and the gardai deserve a height of thanks and praise and gratitude from all generations since the State was established".
Gay Mitchell has only tentatively engaged with McGuinness' record on the security forces, and none of the other candidates seems remotely interested in what might happen in the Republic if a PIRA commander whose units killed unarmed guards is vested with the pardon power the Constitution grants the president.
One might have expected Michael D Higgins to do some of the heavy rhetorical lifting here alongside Mitchell.
Does PIRA's Kingsmill massacre of Protestant workers in 1976 not weigh like a heavy stone on the international socialist conscience?
Is it all that unreasonable to expect that an intellectual stamped by the writings of Gramsci, Sorel and Chomsky would swing a lance for the Protestant working class who became the main target of McGuinness' PIRA units after the "Ulsterisation" of the security forces and the "police primacy" policy kicked in the early Eighties?
Older socialists might have thought that Mr McGuinness's sordid poll numbers merited a slight course-correction on the part of the leading candidate, if only to prove that "solidarity" was no mere rhetorical spectre.
But Ireland's Derry-based Mandela continues his jolly canter and probably pinches himself with glee after each new interview, when once again no one asks him the following:
What on earth could possibly merit the IRA's incineration of defenceless diners at LaMon House?
How was the agony of Bloody Sunday assuaged by the blast-bombing of unarmed Poppy Day pensioners stooped in prayer in 1987?
What kind of "people's liberation struggle" condones prolonged and elaborate torture-murder and the feeding of broken bodies into mincing machines?
(Remember what your comrades did to SAS Captain Robert Nairac in 1977?)
How do you square your world-historical diplomatic skills with the fact that you never signed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998?
Do you really think that citizens of our Republic don't know that your PIRA units killed almost 80 children, that they killed five times as many people as the British Army, or that your comrades killed twice as many Catholics as the security forces?
When John Hume called your campaign "fascist", do you think he meant you personally, or just your peer and collaborator Thomas 'Slab' Murphy?
Do you really think that we can't sense within you still that veiled contempt for our Republic that has animated a large part of the Provisional Sinn Fein thinking since 1970?
Having used our Republic as an arms-dump, torture chamber and mass graveyard, can you explain once again why we should hand the Aras to someone who speaks about politics as a form of personal therapy?
The good ship Fine Gael is adrift today, and night is coming down. But if she could hold the line against McGuinness during the H-Block campaign in 1981 when he tried to bring down Garret FitzGerald's hardnosed government, surely it can do it again in calmer presidential waters.
JPMcCarthy writes for Beo Magazine.