McGuinness makes final push for the presidency

Some polls have Martin McGuinness in third place

Some polls have Martin McGuinness in third place

With less than seven days to go until the presidential election in the Republic it still remains unclear who will ultimately take up residency at the Aras.

Since the start of the election the polls have seen no less than four of the seven candidates being made favourite to win.

First it was David Norris, then Martin McGuinness became a front runner followed by Labour’s Michael D Higgins and now Dragon’s Den entrepreneur Sean Gallagher.

The accuracy of the polls themselves has been called into question by the candidates, with concerns that they could even bizarrely influence the final outcome of the election.

What is true is that this presidential election has been like no other.

Sections of the southern media have been accused of attempting to turn the election into a presidential witch-hunt.

Each of the seven candidates has complained about, what they feel is intrusive and partisan, media reporting.

David Norris’ campaign was effectively ended by the revelation that he had lobbied for clemency to be shown to a former gay lover who had been convicted of the statutory rape of a 15 year-old boy in Israel in the 1990s.

Dana was dogged by revelations that she had failed to publicly acknowledge that she had obtained joint US/Irish citizenship in the late 1990s.

Michael D Higgins has faced questions as to whether, at 70 years of age, he is fit enough to become president.

Mary Davis has faced criticism over the number of government quangos she was a member of during the Celtic Tiger era.

Gay Mitchell has faced questions over why his campaign has failed so dramatically, when his own Fine Gael party is the most popular in the state.

Even Sean Gallagher, the polls’ favourite, has had difficulties; with serious questions over his links to Fianna Fail and repeated probing of his business affairs.

But it is the southern media’s insatiable appetite to question Martin McGuinness about his IRA past, which has caused most controversy.

Reporters and presenters have repeatedly challenged the Sinn Fein leader over the veracity of his claim that he left the IRA in 1974.

To date the families of at least four members of the Irish security forces have publicly questioned his ability to become the commander-in-chief of the Republic’s defence forces.

The most controversial incident in the election race came when RTE Prime Time presenter Miriam O’Callaghan challenged the Sinn Fein leader as to how he could square with his god “the fact that you were involved in the murder of so many people?”

Ms O’Callaghan later went further, asking other candidates if they believed Mr McGuinness was a fit person to become Irish president.

Had the RTE presenter gone too far? Or was it only right that the former IRA leader should be challenged over his suitability to become the head of state?

Ministers in the coalition government have also publicly voiced concerns about the Sinn Fein leader’s suitability to become president.

For his part Martin McGuinness highlighted the irony that he finds himself praised as a peacemaker by former sworn enemies such as Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson in the north, but is now being portrayed as a `pariah’ by sections of the southern establishment.

Some journalists now believe that a key part of the Sinn Fein leader’s strategy has been to effectively bypass the media by promoting his message at town-hall style meetings.

For virtually every night of the last three weeks of campaigning the Derry man has addressed packed out halls of more than 500 people in towns and cities across the country.

While he has taken part in day time radio and television programmes, his campaign team have been blamed for keeping McGuinness away from the media during day time election walkabouts.

While the MP for Mid Ulster has attracted major attention during campaign walkabouts, few of these events have been reported, as journalists have not been present to report on the events.

Is it Sinn Fein or the media, or both, which is to blame for the failure to report Mr McGuinness’ campaign journey?

But even if McGuinness fails to win the race for the Aras, will Sinn Fein end up winning the battle for the hearts and minds of southern nationalism?

Political analysts in the Republic are divided as to whether the Fine Gael/Labour coalition is capable of lasting the entire full term of the current Dail, with huge budget cuts that they are set to impose on the public sector in coming months.

If Martin McGuinness has done nothing else he has succeeded in advertising the Sinn Fein brand right across the state.

While Sinn Fein reject the suggestion out of hand, there are those who suspect that the republican party has never seriously believed that it could win the battle for Phoenix Park but is instead determined to ensure that it, and not Fianna Fail, will be the leading party of opposition in the Dail at a time when the coalition parties are committed to bailing out of the banks.

But can Martin McGuinness return to the Deputy First Minister post at Stormont after this historic election campaign in the Republic?

He has already said that, if elected president, he would meet the Queen.

If Mr McGuinness has to return to the `day job’ at Stormont he will presumably have to revert to the stated Sinn Fein position of refusing to meet the British monarch.

If he fails to be elected to Aras an Uachtarian next Thursday, is it just possible that McGuinness could follow the Adams’ precedent and choose to fight in the next general election in the Republic?

But if the McGuinness campaign fails to make significant inroads in next week’s election will it be viewed as a major defeat for the republican party’s southern advances?

Statistics show that the majority of voters in the last general election in February failed to make up their mind as to who they would vote for until the last four days of the race.

Privately, all candidates expect another round of media scandal stories on the last weekend of the campaign.

Can the one time rank outsider Sean Gallagher hang on to the lead?

Will Michael D Higgins’ Teflon status ensure that he makes it to the Aras despite repeated concerns about his age?

Or will the boy soldier from the Bogside, the man who convinced Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson to share power with republicans, defy all the odds and become the modern day Eamon De Valera?