|Gay Mitchell, Irish Rover|
In between my attempts to be taken seriously as an academic, I've been trying to stay tuned into the developments of the Presidential election and the thing that has recently come to the fore, is the self-proclaimed “Street-Fighter” attitude of Fine Gael candidate Gay Mitchell.
Mitchell, we are told, has now been let loose – like a rabid political dog – on Martin McGuinness. “I'm not afraid of you, Martin!”, he declared triumphantly on Eamon Dunphy's radio show on Newstalk. And many commentators suggest that Mitchell's zealous attacks on McGuinness will ultimately prove to be a fruitful endeavour, if only for the sake of “honour”. Eoghan Harris for example, in a piece for the Irish Independent, would have us believe that Mitchell was ready to step into a ring with McGuinness, that he was a man of robust character who has been preparing for and relishing this opportunity for years. Just postpone the thoughts of Mr Burns and the release of hounds for a second, for in the same article, Harris amazingly states that “IRA tribalism is to Ireland what anti-Semitism was to Germany”. His endorsement of Mitchell, therefore, appears to be one of desperation.
The fighting Irishman Gay has constantly reminded us of how, growing up in Dublin, he and his family endured a difficult time, riddled with sudden bereavement and financial hardship. Strangely, however, he attempts to frame this in the exact same context of Martin McGuinness growing up on the streets of Derry. Such a ludicrous comparison does not make Mitchell out to be heroic, but rather ignorant. I'll go out on a limb and guess that Mitchell didn't live in an institutionally gerrymandered city, where the state felt he was a second-class citizen, considered him a threat to the status quo and even shot at him, killing and injuring his fellow citizens. But no, he insists that “I've had a hard life Martin, yet I didn't resort to the gun.”, noble as he is. I think Father Sean McManus summed it up perfectly when he, quite reasonably, said:
"How have McGuinness’s critics resisted British injustice and anti-Catholic discrimination and inequality in Northern Ireland?"
Mitchell's other gripes concern the financial well-being of McGuinness and the fact that he is inextricably linked with Sinn Féin. That McGuinness is inextricably linked with Sinn Féin is no secret, so to continually raise it as an issue seems pointless and with regard to Mitchell's scepticism over salaries, McGuinness responded by releasing his financial details to the public, thus taking the wind out of Gay's sails. Mitchell is certainly not stupid, but one must wonder at the rationale behind his militant stance on McGuinness and whether it will serve to gain him votes.
It's all very interesting to observe as the events unfold, it is absolutely entertaining. McGuinness has his enemies; be they those angered by his involvement in the Troubles, dissident republicans who feel he has sold out “The Cause”, or southern politicians who simply loathe the rise of Sinn Féin. At the same time however, he most certainly has his sympathisers and Mitchell's frequent, somewhat obsessive tirades may just grant him a few more. Sinn Féin and McGuinness have a past that is rooted in violent conflict, but they also have a vision for the future of Ireland and as someone who hopes to see the reunification - the freedom - of Ireland, I can't see any other party working for it in the way that Sinn Féin is. Their approach is now one of pragmatism, although many will argue that it is completely hypocritical, and while the President's role is largely ceremonial, I want to see a President who takes the entire people of Ireland seriously – not one who thinks Ireland ends at Dundalk and Letterkenny.