Derry man Martin McGuinness may win an election that he is not allowed to vote in.
Is that a first?
I can’t think of another example of such a situation.
It highlights one of the anomalies of the Belfast Agreement.
The northern peace treaty gives people in the Six Counties the right to declare themselves as being “British Irish or both”.
The presidency is open to any Irish citizen over the age of 30.
Hence an Irish citizen in the Northern Ireland can seek the nomination of one of the political parties in the Dáil or seek the support of County Councils in the 26 counties.
This is the route for independent candidates.
Our current president Mary McAleese is a Belfast woman who was domiciled in Rostrevor County Down at the time of her candidature and election.
Given the largely ceremonial role of the President I can see no serious political impediment to the election being a 32 county affair.
Voters in the six north eastern counties would simply apply for postal ballots.
I cannot envisage a unionist having a problem with this.
I accept that the idea of electing the head of state is something they cannot culturally grasp.
If the Derryman wins he’ll be President McGuinness not Majestic Martin.
Were he to succeed it would represent the final chapter in a remarkable personal and political journey.
The Peace process was about, in part, empowering the excluded, abandoned nationalist people of the Six Counties.
When Mary McAleese became Fianna Fail’s candidate in 1997
She was already part of the Dublin establishment.
The same cannot be said for Martin McGuinness.
The election of the man from Derry would further nail down the peace process.
As well as Northern based Irish citizens being allowed a vote there is also a case for allowing the Irish Diaspora a vote. Once more it would be a citizenship qualification.
The issue of emigrant’s voting rights is once more to the fore as we now have the highest emigration since the 19th century.
Step forward and take a bow Fianna Fáil!
This island is, once more, losing our best and brightest.
Now thankfully they’re not in coffin ships, but on Quantas planes.
I hope we get them back from Australia someday.
What makes the McGuinness candidacy for Sinn féin not such a daft idea is the weakness of the field.
Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell is just bland. He isn’t a bad man and he is able. He’s just that. Grey and politically lifeless. The Labour candidate Michael D Higgins is a worthy enough man. However at this time of life he would be more appropriate for some honorary academic award rather than as head of state. The rest aren’t worth mentioning.
I am sure that the SF strategy (and they always have a strategy) is to use the Presidential election to further consolidate their electoral gains in the last Dáil election.
If McGuinness can outperform the Fianna Fail proxy candidate then Sinn féin will solidify its claim to be the de facto opposition in the Dáil Éireann.
That in itself will be another step along the road for this political organisation that is committed to the long haul like no other on the island.
The idea of President McGuinness and wife Bernie inviting the neighbouring head of state to Áras an Uachtaráin does appeal.
McGuinness makes no secret of his military past in the IRA.
He has admitted to being the Derry Brigade’s Adjutant (second in command) on the day of Bloody Sunday 1972.
Seasoned journalists on the Northern scene like Ed Moloney reckon that McGuinness was on the Army council of the Provisional IRA from the mid late 70s onwards. Without his unflinching support Gerry Adams would not have been able to steer the Provisional movement into constitutional politics.
If Martin McGuinness is successful in his presidential bid then it will be every bit as historic as when 1916 insurgent commander Eamonn De Valera became head of state.
McGuinness has stated that if he is elected that he will take the average industrial wage.
Over ten years ago when I was working at a local paper in North Donegal we got a visiting English journalist who wanted a handle on the whole Peace process shebang.
At that point McGuinness was the Minister for Education.
I got the job of babysitting the English hack-actually he was a really decent bloke, but he had no idea of the entire situation.
I took him to Derry. We were on a budget so we went to a little caff that I knew well.
I was explaining to him that the Minister for education in this statelet got a very handsome salary for that position, but only took a fraction of it.
“Oh and one other thing.”
“Yes?” he inquired.
“The wife of the Minister for Education just gave you your lunch!”
Bernie smiled as she left the table.
For a denizen of the Westminster village used to mingling with Old Etonians on a daily basis it was a genuine political culture shock.
The ability of this one time fenian militarist to build bridges with Ian Paisley has had hard boiled Belfast hacks just stare in amazement.
A very boring election suddenly got interesting.
It’s a shame that his clan in the Bogside travelling on Irish passports as they do will not be able to vote for him.
Maybe that’s a job for his first term in office…