By Padraic Halpin, Reuters
DUBLIN — Whether Martin McGuinness completes his journey from guerrilla commander to Ireland’s president or not, his Sinn Fein party has scored a major coup just by putting the ex-Irish Republican Army (IRA) man forward for next week’s poll. The only major party in the Republic of Ireland to oppose an EU-IMF-endorsed austerity drive, Sinn Fein has capitalized on McGuinness’s controversial candidacy by becoming the second most popular party for the first time, according to opinion polls.
The political wing of the now-defunct IRA, Sinn Fein members officially were banned from speaking in Irish media until 1993 and until recently were viewed as political pariahs. But buoyed by popular anger over the country’s financial crisis, Sinn Fein tripled its seats to a record 14 in the Republic’s 166-seat lower chamber after elections in February. Temporarily parachuting McGuinness south from his role as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister has further raised the possibility that Sinn Fein could one day replicate its success north of the border where the party shares power. “I think it (putting McGuinness forward) is a shrewd move and it’s establishing them in the longer term in the republic,” Theresa Reidy, a politics lecturer at University College Cork (UCC), said. “Sinn Fein play a much more long-term game than all of the other political parties. While one political party is looking at two to three years, they are looking at 10 to 15.” “The very fact that they have a candidate in the race and that he is a serious challenger, that will be all they want to achieve. If they replicate their election vote and maybe add on a few percent, they will view that as a success.”
McGuinness’s support stands at 13 percent according to the most recent opinion poll, down from a high of 19 percent and some way behind the two front runners but up on the 10 percent Sinn Fein commanded in February’s parliamentary elections. However the decision to run the guerrilla-commander-turned-peacemaker seems particularly calculated given that Fianna Fail, southern Ireland’s traditional republican party, opted not to nominate a candidate after its spectacular fall from power at the hands of an angry electorate.