23 October 1997 Edition
Presidential campaign raises anti-nationalists
BY MICHEAL MAC DONNCHA
Few people would have guessed at the start of this the most bizarre of all the presidential elections ever held in the 26 Counties that the campaign would take such a serious turn and become so inextricably linked with the politics of peace. It has almost become a referendum on the peace process.
The controversy began when the Sunday Business Post of 12 October published memos from the Department of Foreign Affairs which recorded summaries of conversations between an official and Mary McAleese earlier this year. The context was the aftermath of the Westminster election of 1 May, with McAleese allegedly saying that she was pleased Sinn Féin had done so well. She is also supposed to have indicated that she would not get involved in the election in the absense of a Sinn Féin/SDLP pact. The SDLP had turned down Sinn Féin's call for a pre-election agreement.
There was little immediate controversy but on the following Monday evening before the two candidates were due to appear on Questions and Answers, Derek Nally issued a stinging attack on McAleese who he said seemed to be ``working on a different set of moral assumptions'' compared to ``most Irish people''. The attack continued on the programme with Irish Times journalist and former Progressive Democrats TD Geraldine Kennedy weighing in behind Nally. ``Did you ever vote for Sinn Féin?'' demanded Kennedy. McAleese said she had never done so and was always an SDLP supporter.
Nally's handlers John Caden and Eoghan Harris - both former RTE producers who are virulently anti-nationalist and defended Section 31 censorship for years - orchestrated the attack behind the scenes. But they went too far even for Nally and he ditched Caden in the middle of the week.
When Gerry Adams said on Thursday that personally, if he had a vote, he would probably vote for McAleese the anti-nationalists weighed in again, this time with Fine Gael leader John Bruton leading the posse.
The real agenda behind the Mary McAleese controversy is an anti-nationalist reaction led by enemies of the peace process. The thread running through this whole controversy has three strands - anti-nationalist, partitionist and anti-peace process. The same voices who were raised against the Hume-Adams-Reynolds dialogue which began the peace process have been raised to attack Mary McAleese for being a nationalist.
Fine Gael leader John Bruton is responsible for escalating the controversy. Once again he has lent himself and his party to the anti-nationalist crusade with echoes of McCarthyism.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was quite entitled to indicate what his personal preference would be if he had a vote. To use this as a stick to beat Mary McAleese is to return to the old agenda of demonising and excluding Sinn Féin and all who have contact with the party.
Sinn Féin has every right to have its say in this election and in any election on this island. They are the only party substantially organised on both sides of the border - not a Northern party as some labelled them this week.
Speaking in Leinster House on 8 October Caoimhghin O Caoláin said that it is ``time to put behind us the failures of the past, the failure of partition and particularly partitionist thinking'' so often evidenced in Leinster House.
The latest anti-nationalist crusade is a perfect example of this partitionist thinking. It is glaring in the election material issued by Fine Gael candidate Mary Banotti. It says:''The presidency is about the nation behind the state. About all the individual people who make up Irish society. It is the only public office elected by the direct vote of all the people of Ireland.''
The clear import of this statement is that people in the Six Counties are not Irish, that Ireland stops at the border and that Irish society is confined to the 26 Counties.
Fine Gael is also guilty of hypocrisy with Mary Banotti claiming the mantle of Michael Collins, her great uncle, yet saying that Mary McAleese could not build bridges to unionists because she is a nationalist.
Even more hypocritical is the posture of Fine Gael in deploring the leaks and then using them to attack McAleese.
The Department of Foreign Affairs leaks clearly came from senior political sources. The parties in office at the time were Fine Gael, Labour and Democtratic Left. They have questions to answer.
Whoever was responsible they obviously did not care what damage their action might do to the peace process and in particular to the position of the Irish government in that process. Once again the anti-nationalist agenda was at work.
This was not just about the presidential election. It was about targetting nationalism and pushing a partitionist pro-unionist agenda.
John Bruton endorses the partitionist agenda. That agenda must be rejected if we are to build an inclusive Irish society based on equality and justice.
Nally's behaviour criticised
Sinn Féin Kildare County Councillor, Paddy Wright, who seconded Derek Nally's candidature at Kildare County Council, thus allowing him to stand in the Presidential election, has expressed his ``deep disappointment'' at Nally's recent behaviour.
In a statement, he said:
``My decision to second Derek Nally's candidature, at the relevant Kildare county Council meeting regarding the Presidential election, was based on my belief in the need for the structures of power to be open to each and every citizen who wishes to serve the community.
``Local government in Ireland has pitiful powers as it is, so I felt it was important that we as a County Council exercise our right to facilitate a citizen who was outside the loop of the arty political system in this election.
``I was also aware of Mr Nally's claim of having exposed the Garda Special Branch ``Heavy Gang''.
``I was deeply disappointed therefore that Mr Nally abused his position to front a shameful smear campaign against Mary McAleese, whose work as part of the Redemptorist Peace Ministry should be commended not ridiculed.
``That Mr. Nally and his supporters would use one of the most shameful episodes int his sates recent history, namely the leaking of Department of Foreign Affairs files, to further their own agenda only adds to the insult of the situation.
`It should be known, given the nature of the abuse Ms. McAleese has endured, that Derek Nally's agent was quite happy to approach me after the vote and thank me for the part I played in securing the support of Kildare County Council for Mr Nally's candidature.
``Given the above and the face that the Nally campaign has its headquarters in Naas, I was amazed to hear Mr Nally say he was ``unaware'' of the presence of a Sinn Féin Councillor on Kildare County Council.''