By Frances Davis
On Thursday night (13 October) Martin McGuinness’ speech to a packed rally in Dublin’s Mansion House demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt why the left and progressives everywhere should not only support his bid for the Irish Presidency, but draw inspiration from it.
His speech gave a strong message to all of the detractors and the right wing establishment in the 26 counties, who have done everything possible to malign his candidacy. Far from having anything to hide or regret, he explained how he was not only right to have followed the course he had, but proud of his history.
Outlining his own involvement in the struggle, he described how as a young man in Derry during the British military intervention and occupation he saw the city turned into a ‘war zone’, the bloody offensive against the civil rights movement, and how ‘when I was 21 on the streets of Derry I did not think I would see the age of 25’. He described the necessity for the fight against this: ‘Fighting back was not a crime’. His part in this, through to his critical leadership role in the development of the peace process today, he said he was proud of, and could ‘not have lived’ with himself had he not chosen to fight back.
Standing in the current election, he said he stood firmly ‘against the elite’ and with ‘ordinary people to be a voice of the voiceless’. The new Republic he envisaged would be based on ‘equality, decency and respect’.
The breadth of endorsements for Martin – from international and Irish diaspora figures as far and wide as ANC former Minister Ronnie Kasrils, actors Angelica Houston and Colm Meaney who hosted the rally, to US trade union leader Terry O’Sullivan, sporting legends and many others – reflects the chord this campaign has struck and, despite the detractors, the immense stature which Martin McGuinness has around the world. Or as Presbyterian Minister David Latimer put it, ‘one of the great leaders of our time’.
The resonance of this message with the electorate is reflected in the polls, against an immense right wing establishment which cannot in its worst nightmares countenance a Martin McGuinness victory. Clearly one of the three front-runners, Martin’s support reflects a growing dissatisfaction with the main bourgeois nationalist parties, in particular Fianna Fáil, who were reduced to a rump at the last election, and Labour, who in coalition with the right wing Fine Gael are continuing the last government’s austerity policies. Indeed Labour-backed Michael D. Higgins, the front runner, is able to distance himself from Labour as a party, and is getting the most positive press of all the candidates. The attacks on Martin McGuinness’ past have been at odds with the reality of the situation. Decrying his suitability as a candidate when he has been in a power-sharing government in the north, and his role lauded around the world, is clearly ridiculous and hugely hypocritical, as pointed out by former British government ministers and unionist politicians alike. Attempts to relentlessly harp on about his past has seemed irrelevant to many people facing huge cuts, unemployment and hardships today, and when set against the real record of his role in the peace process.
As a party, Sinn Féin’s alternative, a left platform urging state investment and growth stimulus against cuts, progressive social policies for equality, workers’ rights and, importantly a perspective of Irish re-unification, is also gaining a growing resonance. Following its breakthrough in the last general election in the south, Sinn Féin is now polling second in the polls, ahead of Labour and Fine Gael. This is hugely significant and a reflection of Sinn Féin’s correct strategy.
Importantly, Martin McGuinness has posed this as a truly national election. As he has repeatedly pointed out, there are 32 counties in Ireland, exposing how the hostility to his candidacy is drawn from a partitionist belief that yet again the troublesome northerners are coming down here to the south to make problems. Many, most notably epitomised by Fine Gael, are apoplectic that the likes of Martin McGuinness should dare to even stand in the first place. Sinn Féin have strongly argued that those in the north should also have a vote in the election, ending the ludicrous anomaly that Martin McGuinness, and indeed the current President, can stand for election, but can’t vote.
As the election day on 27 October draws near, the stakes in this election are likely to come into an even sharper focus. What is already a huge step forward for Sinn Féin should be celebrated. The left in Britain could do far worse than learn from the leadership they have shown and that of Martin McGuinness.
A video of the 13 October Mansion House rally in Dublin can be viewed here: McGuinness’ speech starts at 1hr 21mn.
Visit the Martin McGuinness’ campaign website here.