I suppose it says something about the vacuous nature of mainstream 26-county politics, and the state those politics reflect, that someone like Sean Gallagher appears to be pulling out in front in polls for the presidential election. His election site and the short vid I looked at there are certainly utterly banal and empty in terms of any political substance.
The wikipedia entry on Gallagher contains the following: “His previous company Home Wiring Systems (HWS) received a loan of £20,000 from the state funded Louth County enterprise board in 2001. He subsequently transferred the assets of HWS to a new company Smarthomes leaving the debt with HWS. He then refused to repay the loan arguing he was no longer liable for it, despite making substantial profits with Smarthomes. After a three legal battle, he eventually re-paid the loan to the enterprise board.”
So, yes, he’s a Fianna Failer!
Given Fianna Fail’s unpopularity, it’s in both their and Gallagher’s interest that he be presented as an independent, although his voter base is presumably the remaining rump of Fianna Fail support. Given that the old fake-republican party dominated southern politics for nearly 80 years and given all the networks of support, based on palm-greasing, building consents, land rezoning and state contracts that implies, the base is still considerable.
While Fine Gael has, for the first time ever, replaced the Soldiers of Destiny as the major 26-county party, their candidate, the insipid Gay Mitchell, seems to be languishing in single digit support land. This would suggest a number of things – partly resentment for the austerity politics being carried out by his party in government and partly the fact that, while the modernised pseudo-liberal heirs of the Blueshirts have overtaken Fianna Fail in parliamentary terms, their wider social base and roots are weaker than the heirs of De Valera.
Michael D. Higgins, a phoney old opportunist from way back, meanwhile attempts to present himself as the left candidate, albeit the very respectable and safe left candidate. Given the record of his party in government – it was in coalition during the Heavy Gang period in the mid-70s and it was Labour minister Conor ‘the Cruiser’ O’Brien who brought in the section 31 censorship; plus Labour has participated fully in governmental attacks on workers – Higgins has a bit of a credibility gap problem. Always one to support liberation struggles abroad but not the one in his own country, Higgins presumably hopes that the presidential election, win or lose, will turn into a nice little retirement earner for him. Either he’ll get to park his opportunist carcass in the Aras or, if he loses, the election will have helped bolster his claim for a cushy job at the United Nations.
When it comes to credibility gap, however, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness is perhaps in a class of his own. I was at the 1986 Sinn Fein ard fheis, as a new, enthusiastic member, when McGuinness assured the ranks that the guns of the IRA would not be put away until Britain had been cleared out of Ireland. It all seems so far away. I’ve no problem with the end of the armed struggle per se – it had clearly reached an impasse, even by the late 1980s, and there was probably a good political case for dumping arms and simply continuing the struggle by other means (a Plan B based on radical/socialist-republican politics). However that case was never put. Instead, a small cabal around Adams, with McGuinness offering militant cover, manoeuvred within party and army alike to end all struggle and negotiate, mainly in secret and certainly behind the backs of all wings of the movement, for their own inclusion in the administration of a modernised but still British-controlled six-county state. In a fashion positively Orwellian, McGuinness now argues in favour of everything he once argued against and the body of blind followers all chirp along, added to by folks who would never have joined Sinn Fein back in the day when it had some principles.
McGuinness, of course, has no chance of winning the presidency. But, in a very real sense, he and the Sinners may well win more out of the election than anyone else. His candidacy has substantially raised the profile of Sinn Fein and even won over at least one former total opponent of the Provos – noted sports writer and commentator Eamon Dunphy. Dunphy, a bitter critic of the Provos for many years, has defended McGuinness from attacks by trendy Dublin, and essentially West Brit, liberals like Fintan O’Toole and even declared that he will be voting for McGuinness and that he voted for Sinn Fein in the February election.
Opinion polls, while indicating McGuinness being stuck slightly either side of 15%, show a noticeable rise in popularity for Sinn Fein. Even if McGuinness gets 15% and the Sinners can convert that to party support, it would be a significant increase in the base of Sinn Fein i nthe south and in their representation in Leinster House.
Where does all this leave socialist-republicans, however. Since we accept the idea of running for, and taking seats in, Leinster House, because of the propaganda value and because sitting in Leinster House can allow solid radicals to use the position to help build extra-parliamentary action, does this mean we – and workers and small farmers – have any interest in running for an Uachtarain? In my view, the answer is a resounding no. The arguments for running for, and taking seats in, Leinster House don’t apply to the Free State presidency. Not only can the position not be used in any way to advance struggle, but it is set up in a way that is even more undemocratic than the partitionist southern parliament. The required endorsements mean that not anyone can run for the post, for instance. While some on the left have argued that the presidency has no power anyway, in my view this is not quite right: the presidency is set up in such a way as to be part of the checks and balances that the southern ruling class have built into their state. In a crisis situation, the president actually has quite sweeping powers. Moreover, the less power the president has, frankly, the better, because of the especially anti-democratic nature of the position. The call should be for the abolition of the presidency.
I no longer live in Ireland and I don’t have a vote anywhere on the island. If I did, however, I wouldn’t waste it on the presidential election.