There's an awful lot of nonsense being talked about Martin McGuinness's candidacy for the Irish Presidency.
Before I get into that, though, let me be clear: I don't think I'd vote for McGuinness. Certainly, he'd not be my first prefence or my second, and if he received my vote at all, it'd be some way down the list. Probably lower than third. He might be a last resort.
What's more, I suspect a McGuinness victory could be bad for the Peace Process in the North. I can't see many Unionists being overjoyed with the population of the Republic having directly chosen to appoint a former IRA commander as head of the Irish state. I doubt this would help things.
Having said that, so many of the complaints against McGuinness are complete rot.
Hysterical Nonsense in the Irish Times
Take, for instance, yesterday's Irish Times article by Fintan O'Toole, with the article holding that the crux of the issue is as follows:
'Sinn Féin has taken uneasy resignation for complete compliance. It has decided to turn a quietly agreed reticence (don’t talk about the war) into an explicit endorsement (the war was legitimate). It has posed a question that goes far beyond McGuinness’s personal qualities. The question, to put it starkly, is whether we should have a head of State who would, in principle, be liable to arrest for war crimes under international law.'
In principle? Really? By whom? The International Criminal Court does not have retroactive jurisdiction, and cannot rule on crimes committed before 1 July 2002. What war crimes, might I ask, has the IRA committed since that date?
Now, granted, it is possible that a separate ad hoc war crimes tribunal could be set up by the UN Security Council to try crimes that took place in connection with the Troubles, but do you really think that the UK, which is a member of the Council, would allow that to happen? It'd be like putting up a big flag that says the UK is a failed state, like Rwanda and Yugoslavia.
That may be the most ridiculous column Fintan's ever written.
Such a President would not be without Precedent
This isn't the only stupid argument wheeled out against McGuinness's candidacy. Others are asking how he could be head of the armed forces of a country he'd been at war with when in the IRA, how he could preside over a country when until recently he refused even to acknowledge that country's legitimacy, how he could send bills to the Irish Supreme Court when in the past he'd refused to recognise Irish courts...
So many people who've made these arguments have whined about people not knowing their history. As ever, the pots are calling kettles black here. We've jumped these kind of hurdles before, you know. Sean T.O'Kelly and Eamon de Valera, both of whom had been in the anti-treaty side in the Civil War, served as President for a full two terms each, presiding over the state between 1945 and 1973.
It might seem like a long time ago now, and thus irrelevant, but it wasn't a long time ago then. The Civil War had only been over nine years when de Valera became head of the Irish Government, and had only been over twenty-two years when O'Kelly became head of the Irish State.
Double Standards, anyone...
One of the things that makes me uneasy about this situation is that it reeks of the most disgusting hypocrisy, and a hypocrisy we've seen before.
On 22 May 1998, the people of the Republic voted by an overwhelming majority -- 94 per cent -- to have the Good Friday Agreement brought into law. This entailed a few things which were, obviously, unpleasant.
One was an accelerated release scheme for terrorist prisoners, effectively treating them as Prisoners of War in a situation when a conflict had ended; obviously, this was going to be very painful for the thousands of families in Northern Ireland who had lost people at the hands of the IRA, UVF, etc, but we in the Republic voted for them to suck it up as the price of peace. But how indignant we got when we realised that this meant that Garda Jerry McCabe's killers would go free too...
Yeah, it was horrible, but we expected Ulster's Protestants and Catholics to put up with the release of people who'd killed their friends and family members, so how on earth did we justify our disgust at us having to pay the same price?
Another key feature of the Agreement was that seats of the Northern Ireland Executive were to be allocated on the basis of party strength, using the D'Hondt system. This basically guaranteed that people who'd hitherto only ever voted for parties dedicated to constitutional politics were going to have to accept that former terrorists and people with links to terrorist organisations would sit in government. And again, we in the Republic voted for this: that ordinary Ulster people were just going to have to put up with being ruled by former terrorists.
And yet now, when Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister is proposed as a candidate for the Irish Presidency, people go nuts. How dare he?
We expect the people of Northern Ireland to put up with this sort of stuff. We voted for the people of Northern Ireland to put up with this sort of stuff. And if there's now a whole generation of Irish teenagers who don't remember what the IRA used to do, well, is that a wholly bad thing? Or is it a sign that -- perhaps -- we're making progress?