Breaking down the walls

The revelations of child abuse and cover-ups within the Irish Catholic Church have shocked the faithful, writes Karen Kissane from Dublin.

MARIE COLLINS was 13 and in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children when she was abused. It was the hospital chaplain, a Catholic priest. He went to jail for it, many years later, like so many of his colleagues in Ireland, but only after decades of misery for Collins.
“I never connected his abuse with the church,” she says. “I thought it was somehow my fault and that I was a bad person who had brought it on myself. I had years of depression and agoraphobia that included nine admissions to psychiatric wards.”
As a young adult, anxious that other children not be hurt as she had, she told a priest in her parish. “He told me it was probably my fault, that I must have led the poor man on, but that I was forgiven and I could go away and forget about it.”
That priest’s sentence of guilt outweighed any promise of forgiveness. Collins did go away, into more years of silence and depression. The misery did not lift until after her attacker, Father Paul McGennis, was jailed in 1997 over offences involving her and another child he abused 18 years after Collins. He was later convicted of having raped a third girl, 24 years after he attacked Collins.
She has no doubt the validation given to her by those court cases, and the later findings of four major inquiries into child abuse, helped her to recover. She says of the opening up of Ireland’s cesspit of secrets: “I think it’s helped everybody, really, except the Catholic Church … It’s certainly worked for survivors. Even as late as the 1990s, it was difficult for any survivor to be heard or believed in any way. That’s not the case any more.”
Australia’s royal commission into child sex abuse, announced last week by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will look at the Catholic Church and other institutions. In Ireland, the church has been the focus of inquiries because its traditional reach there incorporated almost all schools, hospitals, orphanages, charities and welfare organisations.
And it is the church hierarchy that has time and again been found guilty of covering up scandals and protecting perpetrators in its ranks.
“The revelation that had the biggest impact was not that the church had abusers,” Collins says. “It was news of the systemic cover-ups that angered people.”
In her case, the bishop to whom she took her story told her the priest concerned had no complaints against him: “But they had known 30 years earlier he was an abuser. A few months after he abused me, the church found out he was doing it. He used to take indecent pictures of the children and he sent them to the UK for processing, and Kodak … picked out a roll and sent them to police here. The police commissioner did not investigate, but brought the pictures to the archbishop. They took him out of the hospital and put him in a parish.”
Ireland’s Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, a practising Catholic, was so outraged by stories such as this that following a damning report last year, he launched an attack on the Vatican that made world headlines.
The Cloyne inquiry found a 1997 letter from the Vatican criticising a new policy by the Irish church hierarchy of reporting all offenders to police. The Cloyne report documented, as had three other inquiries before it, patterns of clerical deceit.
Breaking with decades of subservience to the church by Irish politicians of all stripes, Kenny stood up in Ireland’s parliament and attacked Rome.
He said the report exposed an attempt “to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic – as little as three years ago, not three decades ago. And in doing so, the report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism … the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican. The rape and torture of children was downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold, instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and reputation”.
Rome removed its ambassador to Ireland, and Dublin closed its embassy to the Vatican. Ireland has since reinforced its determination to act on secular principles of child protection by making it mandatory to report sexual abuse.
Meanwhile, ordinary Catholics aghast at the scandals have voted with their feet. While national attendance at weekly mass is about 45 per cent, in Dublin the figure is less than 20 per cent – both a huge drop from the 90 per cent attendance of 30 years ago.
Dublin’s archbishop, Diarmuid Martin, said in February: “The fact thousands of children were abused within the church … is a scar the church will bear for generations. There is no way in which what happened can be consigned out of the way into the archives.”
Of the Murphy report into the misdeeds of the Dublin archdiocese before his time, he said: “I offer to each and every survivor my apology, my sorrow and my shame for what happened to them … the Archdiocese of Dublin failed to recognise the theft of childhood.”
The church has set up new structures to deal with abuse. Andrew Fagan, director of child safeguarding for the Dublin archdiocese, says the new system reports all complaints to police immediately: “Civil law and civil procedure takes precedence.”
Church volunteers are now trained to be abuse-aware and to develop practices that involve careful supervision of children “to ensure our churches are as safe as they can possibly be. And people are carrying that information into other situations – it is making our society safer”.
Despite the positive developments, Marie Collins feels she can no longer be part of the church. She still believes in God and has tried to regain her faith in the institution, but each time has found herself slamming into what she believes is a wall of resistance to change on child abuse.
In February, she went to Rome for a Vatican seminar on child abuse for bishops around the world. There she met a church official who gave her hope because he was passionate about the need to tackle the problem. Soon afterwards, he was demoted.

First published in The Sydney Sun-Herald.

Death sparks anger at Ireland’s abortion laws


THE Irish government faces worldwide pressure to reform abortion law, with demonstrations planned for Irish embassies around the globe over the death of a young woman in a Galway hospital.
About 2000 demonstrators gathered outside the Irish parliament, the Dail, on Wednesday night to protest against the government’s inaction over abortion after news of the death of Savita Halappanavar, 31.
Mrs Halappanavar died after doctors refused to terminate her 17-week pregnancy, even though they knew her miscarriage was inevitable and there was no chance the foetus would survive.
They left Mrs Halappanavar to labour naturally, despite her pleas to be induced, as long as the foetal heartbeat continued.
Her husband said doctors told him this was because “this is a Catholic country”.
Mrs Halappanavar delivered a dead foetus after three days of agonising pain but later died of septicaemia.
Many distressed protesters outside the Dail held candles in her memory, and there were emotional scenes as speakers condemned the government for having rejected abortion-law reforms tabled by United Left Alliance MP Clare Daly.
“Had that legislation been in place, Savita’s life would have been saved because doctors at University Hospital in Galway would have had a very clear understanding of legal guidelines,” Choice spokeswoman Stephanie Lord later told Fairfax Media.
“People are very angry and upset that this woman had to die before anyone would take notice. There have been women who have been raped and suicidal or who have had horrendous medical conditions and now this young woman has died – why has it got to this stage?
“Savita had a heartbeat, too.”
Abortion is a bitterly divisive issue in Catholic-dominated Ireland, where an effective ban on the procedure results in thousands of women each year flying out of the country to get abortions overseas. More than 4000 go to the UK alone, according to British health statistics.
In 1983 Ireland’s constitution was amended to ban abortion completely.
In 1992, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that it was permitted when the mother’s life was at risk, including at risk of suicide. This related to a case in which the government used the courts to try to prevent a 14-year-old rape victim from leaving the country to have an abortion overseas.
The 1983 ban is effectively still in place because seven successive governments have refused to back the Supreme Court decision by enacting legislation.
In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights demanded that Ireland pass legislation to give effect to the court decision. The government then set up an expert panel to report to the Irish health minister.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the government was due to respond by the end of the month to the demand for reform by the Court of Human Rights.
“This is a tragic case where we have a woman who lost her life, her child is lost and her husband is bereaved,” he said.
Several weeks ago he had said that abortion-law reform was not a priority for his government.
Another abortion-rights demonstration ending in a march on the Dail is planned for the weekend.

First published in The Age.

Woman dies in Irish hospital after being denied abortion

Karen Kissane in Dublin

A YOUNG woman died of septicaemia in Ireland after Catholic doctors refused to terminate her miscarriage because abortion was against the country’s law and religious beliefs.A YOUNG woman died of septicaemia in Ireland after Catholic doctors refused to terminate her miscarriage because abortion was against the country’s law and religious beliefs.

Savita Halappanavar, 31, died last month in University Hospital Galway after three days of agony, the Irish Times reported on Wednesday.

Doctors told her she was losing her 17-week pregnancy, as her cervix had dilated and the amniotic sac had broken, and that the foetus would not survive.

Her husband told the newspaper she begged for birth to be induced but was told this was not possible because the foetal heartbeat was still present “and this is a Catholic country”.

Praveen Halappanavar said that his wife, a Hindu, said, “I am neither Irish nor Catholic,” but they said there was nothing they could do.”

Mr Halappanavar said his wife was left in extreme pain for another two-and-a-half days until the foetal heartbeat stopped. The dead foetus was then removed but Mrs Halappanavar was soon taken to intensive care where she died on October 28.

An autopsy determined she had developed septicaemia, or blood poisoning, the Irish Times reported.

The hospital and local health service confirmed they were investigating her death but said privacy issues prevented them from commenting on individual cases.

Abortion is a bitterly divisive issue in Catholic-dominated Ireland, where an effective ban on the procedure leaves thousands of women each year flying out of the country to get abortions overseas. More than 4000 go to the UK alone, according to British health statistics.

Stephanie Lord, a spokeswoman for Choice Ireland, said Mrs Halappanavar’s death was a tragedy that would never have happened if Ireland’s politicians had lived up to their responsibilities on the issue.

“There have been raped woman and suicidal woman [who have wanted abortions] and that has not been enough to make the government change the legislation regarding abortion in Ireland,” she told Fairfax Media.

“People would ask if it had to get to the situation where somebody died. It should never have gotten to this stage. [Mrs Halappanavar’s death] is an absolute tragedy, and it should have been prevented.”

In 1983 Ireland’s constitution was amended to ban abortion completely. In 1992, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that it was permitted in cases where the mother’s life was at risk, including at risk of suicide. This related to a case in which the government tried to prevent a 14-year-old rape victim from leaving the country to have an abortion overseas.

The 1983 ban is effectively still in place because successive governments have refused to back the Supreme Court decision with legislation.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights demanded that Ireland pass legislation to give effect to the court decision. The government then set up an expert panel to report to the Irish Health Minister, who is due to respond by the end of this month.

A poll for the British newspaper The Sunday Times earlier this year found that four out of five Irish voters would back legal changes to permit abortion in cases where a mother’s life was at risk.

First published on

Another generation of Irish forced to leave their homeland

Ireland was the Celtic Tiger of the ’90s but has been reduced to a mewing kitten. Like so often in the past for so many, the answer is emigration. Karen Kissane reports.


EVERY culture has its own spectre of hardship, says economist Alan Barrett. For Germans, it is the hyper-inflation of the Weimar Republic and its destruction of families’ hard-earned savings. For the English, it is the rationing during and after World War II, which left some in that generation still prone to hoarding every time headlines cause alarm. For the Irish, it is landlessness.
Their folk memory turns on the stories of the potato famine of the 1840s, when starving people were evicted from their homes by English landlords and died by the roadsides with grass stains around their mouths.
Even today, says Professor Barrett, of Trinity College, Dublin, “in the social collective consciousness, losing your property and eviction are the worst things that can possibly happen.”
This has led to a national preoccupation with property ownership, agrees Professor Piaras Mac Einri of Cork University, “We have an obsession with land. Owning your own land is the biggest thing you can do.”
Which partly explains what has happened with traditionally frugal, hard-working Ireland. In the 15 years to 2008 the country boomed, proclaimed as “the Celtic Tiger”. On a surge of prosperity and optimism, and turbo-charged by low interest rates, Ireland spent billions building roads, luxury hotels, golf courses, and a gleaming, futuristic, €600 million (A$783 million) international airport, T2. The Irish also borrowed heavily to buy into a feverish local property market.
Barrett, who is on secondment from Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute, says: “If you asked anybody what was the big benefit of the Celtic Tiger, I think a lot of people would have answered that for the first time ever, if you were born in Ireland you could assume that you could live and work in Ireland for the rest of your life.”
But the Celtic Tiger is now a mewing kitten. Last month marked the first anniversary of Ireland’s humiliating bailout by the troika of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund, without which it would be bankrupt. Ireland has also just suffered its fourth consecutive austerity budget, this time one that provides an “adjustment” of
€3.8 billion through increased taxes and slashed spending. It follows cuts of €4 billion last year.
The Irish are talking about unemployment tripling to 14.5 per cent with 450,000 now jobless, about the way houses have lost half their value and about the big cuts to salaries and social services that make life harder. But there is another painful Irish spectre that is not getting as much airplay — forced emigration.
Emma and Eoin Monaghan are typical of those hardest hit by the crash. They have regretfully decided that they must leave the country if they and their children are to have a future. He is 35 and works as a thermal insulator; she is 29 and works part-time as a make-up artist. They have two children, five-year-old Jamie and baby Maleah, nine months, and live in a Celtic Tiger-era housing estate at Donabate, on the edge of Dublin.
They did what they thought was the responsible thing and bought a house before they had children, at a time when prices were rising fast, because they feared they might not get into the market at all if they dithered.
“The day we actually bought, there was a big queue,” Emma says. “They said if you didn’t bring your deposit within 24 hours you would lose your place. We were so frightened that we wouldn’t even get on the property ladder.”
They were conservative, for the time; they took a mortgage of 100 per cent, when all around them people were borrowing even more than that to add on a car, or a renovation. Between 1998 and 2008, Irish banks borrowed €300 billion to fund loans for property speculation, which amounted to 2½ times the country’s gross domestic product.
In 2008, the Irish government offered to guarantee six banks, thinking they had a temporary liquidity problem. But the banks were close to insolvent, and the guarantee has cost the Irish people many billions more than expected.
Now that the property bubble has burst, with busted banks close to being nationalised and the nation crippled by a ruinous €144 billion debt, Emma and Eoin are left with a house that is valued at €150,000 less than they paid for it. About 100,000 Irish families are in trouble with their mortgages, and most of them are in negative equity too, which means they can’t sell and start again. One senior economist estimates that 25,000 families could lose their homes by 2013.
Construction employed 286,000 people at the height of the boom but that has shrunk to only 100,000 now. “I have never been out of work but now it’s looking likely,” Eoin says. “I was with this firm for nine years and it went bang.” He has contract work that will see him through to Christmas but after that, nothing.
The Monaghans know at least five families in their social circle who are emigrating; three are already gone. “People are panicking now; they are just jumping ship,” says Eoin. Emma adds: “We both have work at the moment, but we are saying we should go before it gets too bad.” Their preferred destination is Australia, which Eoin loved when he worked in Sydney several years ago.
It would be difficult to leave their families, Emma says, “But we have got to think of the kids and their future. There really is nothing, no kind of opportunity here.”
About 40,000 Irish nationals have left the country in the 12 months to last April, along with 36,000 people of other nationalities.
“Emigration” is a dirty word in Irish politics. Politicians prefer to paint it as young people spreading their wings. “It’s not really emigration if you want to go and experience Bondi beach,” Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan tells The Age.
It is true that because it is a small country (Ireland has only 4.5 million people), many voluntarily travel to see the world or improve their CVs. Karen McHugh migrated to Germany for several years when only three of her class of 250 engineering graduates found jobs in Ireland. “Irish people . . . know that we don’t have enough of a population to sustain ongoing growth, so people get used to travelling for work,” she says. “It’s part of our psyche.”
McHugh is now back in Dublin and managing director of technical recruiting firm JobContax. She finds engineers and other specialists for overseas projects, including several in Australia.
“I came back because there was work here again,” she says of her return. But now she sees even highly qualified, experienced people scrabbling for a job. When her website was mentioned on the national broadcaster, it received 4000 hits each day of the following weekend.
“People are sick of the government, they feel they are being screwed over taxes — a lot of people have had enough,” she says.
But they also feel anguish about family separation.
“People who have got elderly parents — that’s the biggest wrench.”
Emigration has long been the Irish escape at times of greatest hardship. More than 2 million people fled the country during the Great Famine of the 1840s; half a million in the 1950s; and 200,000 during a downturn in the late 1980s. The Irish diaspora — of emigrants and their descendants — now vastly outnumbers the Irish at home and is estimated at more than 70 million people.
Critics say this history has taught Ireland’s policymakers to rely, like Aesop’s lazy donkey, on a lightening of the load through emigration whenever times get tough. A study of 90 young unemployed people by the Youth Council of Ireland this year found that 70 per cent thought they would emigrate and many believed the government was relying on it.
“It’s a handy way for them to export the problem and to cut the costs [of welfare payments],” says one. Another says: “I am sure it is built into the economic projections for the next five years because there doesn’t seem to be any meaningful policies being developed to help young unemployed people.” Youth unemployment is running at 24 per cent.
Macdara Doyle, a spokesman for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, says: “The jobless figures have not risen to Spanish levels [where youth unemployment is 40 per cent] because people are leaving. We’ve had [whole] classes of newly trained teachers heading to the southern hemisphere, of newly graduated nurses being recruited en masse by [Britain’s] National Health Service. And thousands more are leaving quietly.”
Minister Noonan says three out of five of his children are abroad, “and none of them would regard themselves as emigrants . . . It’s certainly not a matter of policy for the Irish government [to rely on emigration]. It’s a consequence of the recession.”
Professor Mac Einri, director of the Centre for Irish Migration Studies at Cork University, says there is forced emigration and that it is a political safety valve, as well as “a declaration of the failure of the independent state. We haven’t managed to create an economy that works in a way that creates jobs for these people. There’s a huge sense of inchoate, subterranean bitterness here”.
Noonan says many who leave will be back, and Mac Einri confirms that about half of those who left in the 1980s later returned, bringing with them the skills to start Ireland’s own software industry. Google and Twitter have set up large bases in Ireland.
He points to the nation’s other strengths, which compare well with the turmoil of its bailout companion Greece: a young and well-educated workforce, excellent infrastructure, social and political stability and the ability to collect taxes effectively. Indeed Ireland has obediently swallowed the troika’s bitter medicine of austerity and is the poster child for bailout nations.
BUT, while exports of many kinds are doing well — Ireland produces the entire world supply of Botox — the domestic economy is flatlining because consumers are too frightened to spend.
It is a struggle for Ireland to get back on its feet given its huge interest bill. Even the tough-love Noonan, who has overseen the budget cuts, says Ireland needs a “haircut” to reduce its debt. Economists warn privately that the current figures would mean austerity for at least 10 years, strangling domestic growth.
And then there is what one senior official calls “the mood music” of the euro-zone crisis. “We are sitting here doing our best but if the whole eurozone collapses, Ireland is completely screwed,” says Alan Barrett.
A recent report from Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute warned that Europe faced another Great Depression if it did not resolve the crisis, and that Ireland’s forecast pick-up next year had now reversed, with a prediction of another 22,000 unemployed.
Emma and Eoin Monaghan don’t need that warning. They see emigration as the only way they can carve out choices for their family. “We are trying to take control of our future, rather than just existing,” Emma says.
If they can work their way through the bureaucratic tangle, they will soon be farewelled at Ireland’s gleaming new airport by tearful mothers like one featured recently on an Irish TV documentary. She hugged her daughter and her two grandchildren and watched them go through the gates to a new life in Canada.
“I just feel we are exporting our kids,” she said, wiping her eyes. “We are bringing them up, educating them and then giving them away. My grandchildren too — it’s two generations.”
For her and many like her, Ireland has again become, in the bitter words of writer James Joyce, “the old sow that eats her farrow”.

Karen Kissane travelled to Dublin as a guest of the Irish Government.First published in The Age.

Book casts new light on Ireland’s dark past

IT IS a wild, wet night, and inside Kilmainham Gaol the wind wails through the steel girders on the roof. It produces an unearthly, keening howl, so eerie that many tourists mistake it for man-made sound effects, but the grim fortress of Kilmainham has never needed help with atmosphere.
Kilmainham is now a museum but it once housed generations of Irish political rebels. Most of the young leaders of Ireland’s proudest rebellion, the Easter Rising, were executed here after being held in the dark, dank, cells of what is now called the 1916 Corridor.
This night, it is again filled with Irishmen who were jailed by the British. They should have notified the Guinness book of records, jokes host Ruan O’Donnell, historian and author of a new book on the Irish Republican Army: “We might have claimed the record for the highest number of prisoners trying to get back into a jail.”
Standing in the glare of the fluorescent lights of the newer west wing are 140 people, including dozens of greying, unremarkable-looking men who have done time in British jails for offences linked to the IRA violence of the 1970s and 1980s. They are here for the launch of Dr O’Donnell’s book, which documents the story of 200 such men: Special Category: The IRA in English Prisons. Volume I, 1968-78. Dr O’Donnell is a lecturer in history at the University of Limerick. He completed his PhD — on Irish republicans transported to Australia — at the Australian National University.
He says he wrote Special Category because that aspect of Ireland’s history was undocumented but had been significant; IRA attacks on British soil received far more media and political attention than violence in Northern Ireland. He believes IRA attacks in Britain were critical to the advancement of the Northern Ireland peace process: “The bombing of Canary Wharf [in London in 1996] removed many pre-conditions and obstructions to the peace process by the British government.”
But even in Ireland, the modern IRA is not regarded in the same heroic light as the IRA that fought in Ireland’s War of Independence. What was it like to sit in a room with men who had killed and listen to their stories?
“I have a very strong sense of this balance in the realm of history,” he says. “I had no equivocation about speaking to prime movers. It’s 30 years old; it’s not political in that sense any more.”
The IRA men who moved to England lived like ghosts, talking little, leaving no fingerprints, avoiding photographs. They knew that arrest would mean a life sentence but still they did it.
John McComb, 58, spent 17 years in jail for conspiring to cause an explosion.
He says he joined the IRA as a teenager after he experienced British troops saturating his Belfast neighbourhood with “gas”: “Old-age pensioners were rolling on the floor. Babies in prams were in convulsions. You saw it every day on the news.”
Asked how he sees his life, looking back now, he says, “I’m proud to be a member of the IRA. Of course the IRA made mistakes and tragedies happened, and there’s a collective responsibility for that if you are part of an organisation, but we tried to have a clean war. We tried to give a warning before every operation. ”
He approves of the peace process and thinks it has improved equality between Catholics and Protestants. Does he think there will ever be a united Ireland? He smiles: “It’s a work in progress.”

Scandal stalks race for Irish presidency

THE campaign to be the ninth president of Ireland has been distinguished by the rattling of skeletons in closets, with two candidates now carrying bruises from old bones that fell out of cupboards and into the glare of the media.
Following a series of controversies, big names have been left trailing in the final week of campaigning before Thursday’s vote, and a relative outsider, Sean Gallagher, has leapfrogged to the top of the list alongside grand old man Michael D. Higgins.
“It has been a nasty and insubstantial campaign and the result is a little like ‘last man standing’,” says Adrian Guelke, professor of comparative politics at Queen’s University, Belfast. “The candidates who have offended the least have got to the top. Michael D. and Sean Gallagher don’t offend lots of people.”
Current President Mary McAleese, a barrister and academic admired for her skilled peacemaking, was re-elected for a second term unopposed seven years ago.
She built bridges with Northern Ireland and arranged an almost penitential visit by the Queen to the republic earlier this year. The Queen laid wreaths at sites memorialising Irish freedom fighters and visited the stadium where the 1920 Bloody Sunday massacre took place.
Mrs McAleese’s predecessor, Mary Robinson, was also a visionary, held in affection for transforming the ceremonial role into one with more warmth and meaning. She emphasised the needs of the marginalised and reached out to the Irish diaspora.
The bar is now set high — possibly too high for two well-known candidates whose campaigns have been tarnished by sexual allegations.
“Dana” Rosemary Scallon is so well known from her singing career that she goes by her stage name. She won a seat in the European Parliament stressing opposition to divorce and abortion and has had two previous tilts at the presidency.
But she is involved in a bitter family row over allegations by her sister, Susan Stein, that a brother abused Mrs Stein’s daughter as a child. Mrs Scallon last week said the allegations had emerged in the context of a court dispute over other matters in 2008 and had now “conveniently” re-emerged. She said she was sure they were malicious and untrue.
In response, Mrs Stein this week hired a libel lawyer. She claimed she had told Mrs Scallon about the alleged abuse when it was first disclosed years ago but Mrs Scallon had advised her to “protect the family name” by not telling others.
“Dana had a very respectable showing last time but she’s in complete meltdown now,” says John Waters, author and columnist for The Irish Times.
David Norris, the first openly gay person elected to public office in Ireland, had been a front-runner. But he withdrew in July after it emerged that in 1997 he wrote a letter to Israeli authorities pleading on behalf of former partner Ezra Yitzhak Nawi, who had been convicted of the statutory rape of a teenage boy.
Mr Waters says: “It’s been watered down as a letter for clemency, but it was a letter in which he misrepresented the situation because he didn’t allude at all to the fact that this was his [former] lover.”
Mr Norris has since re-entered the race and people are divided between those concerned about his judgment and those who see him as hounded by the media.
Still in with a chance is former IRA chief Martin McGuinness, who left his job as deputy chief minister in Northern Ireland, the culmination of his work in the peace process. He has said that the Irish are angry at the way the debt crisis has led to loss of sovereignty to the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.
“It is time for a president who will stand up for Ireland and the Irish people,” he said. “Ireland needs a new beginning, and I do new beginnings.”
He has also promised to be president for “the 32 counties” — republican code for a united Ireland, as there are 26 counties in the republic and six in Northern Ireland. It is not clear how he plans to do this.
Waters thinks Mr McGuinness has not stood up well to strong criticism over his paramilitary past, but Professor Guelke thinks those attacks are unfortunate: “The case is being made that he is morally unsuitable because of his past . . . People in [Northern Ireland] hear that, and Unionists will ask why he has been imposed on them. It gives legitimacy to the argument that the power-sharing arrangement shouldn’t be in place.”
On the other hand, both analysts see Gay Mitchell, the Fine Gael candidate, as part of the establishment in a country still furious at politicians for allowing the “Celtic tiger” to shrink to a mewling kitten.
Mary Davis’s performance in polls is lacklustre, but she shares some of the qualities of the past two presidents: she is a woman who emphasises caring and inclusion, her own background being decades of work with disabled people.
Which leaves the new guy and the old guy: Mr Gallagher and Mr Higgins. Professor Guelke says of Mr Higgins: “He’s elegant, intelligent, thoughtful . . . The thing that has counted against him is that he looks old. He does come across as an old man.”
And at 70, he has to convince voters he can maintain his vigour until he is 78. But he remains a front-runner, along with Mr Gallagher.
“The banana skin that’s waiting for Gallagher is his time in Fianna Fail [the main party of the previous government],” says Mr Waters. “But many people have an association with Fianna Fail and don’t regard it as a criminal offence.
“He’s a very charismatic guy. There’s a particular quality of the Irish personality that outsiders recognise: immediately on contact with another person there is a kind of spark, a warmth, instant banter, and an instant capacity to communicate in a very human, almost intimate way. Gallagher has this quality, and people feel they are meeting the real person.”

McGuinness may have too much baggage for Ireland

IT IS NOT often that a man who wants to be president of a western democracy faces questions about whether he has blood on his hands.
But that is exactly what happened this week to Martin McGuinness, a former leader of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who is running for Ireland’s presidency.
Had he ever killed anyone in his time with the IRA? a reporter asked bluntly during an interview in Cork. “No,” he replied.
Mr McGuinness also denied that he had ever been indirectly responsible for people being killed by the IRA.
“I didn’t say I never fired a gun – I was in the IRA. There were battles on the streets of Derry. I’ve never run away from that,” he said.
But he has never answered for it either, and that is what troubles his critics.
Northern Ireland is at peace, the IRA supposedly disbanded, and Mr McGuinness is one of the chief architects of this new political landscape. Whether the people of the Irish republic will see fit to reward him with the position of head of state is another question, but his bold move has added spice to what had been a rather bland election.
Mr McGuinness, 61, belongs to Sinn Fein (Ourselves Alone), the political arm of the Irish republican movement. Until he nominated for the presidency he was the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, a role in which he served at first beside his longtime foe, unionist leader Ian Paisley. The two had worked together to produce the Good Friday peace accord in 1998. They developed such a good public relationship, joking in front of the cameras, that they were nicknamed “the chuckle brothers”.
“There’s a lot of admiration for McGuinness as someone who was central to the peace process in Northern Ireland and none of his critics would take any of that away from him,” said Fintan O’Toole, a political columnist with The Irish Times. “He’s been a very effective player and the way he bonded with Ian Paisley and entered the executive is amazing, really.”
It has allowed Mr McGuinness to brand himself a peacemaker – and this is where O’Toole baulks.
“A lot of people have difficulty in that regard with someone who embodied the values of the IRA for such a long time and has never given a proper account of what he’s done in the IRA,” he said. “He’s effectively refusing even to discuss it, claiming questions about it are politically motivated … The point of the IRA was to kill people.”
By the age of 21, Mr McGuinness was second in command of the IRA in Londonderry. The inquiry into Bloody Sunday concluded he was probably carrying a Thompson submachine-gun that day but had done nothing to trigger the soldiers’ shooting.
In 1973, he was jailed for six months after being caught in a car with 113 kilograms of explosives and nearly 5000 rounds of ammunition. It has since been claimed that they were not intended to kill anybody.
But O’Toole said he and many others question some of Mr McGuinness’s denials. He spoke of the 1700 people killed by the IRA, 644 of whom were civilians, and the many more who were tortured or maimed.
“There are families in Northern Ireland on both sides who feel very raw,” he said. “There has never been accountability, never been a trial. No one has been held responsible for their loved ones.”
But a flash poll associated with an afternoon talk show seen as an uncanny barometer of middle Ireland found Mr McGuinness to be the favourite candidate, with 5700 votes, 200 votes ahead of the next most popular choice. He has said that he considered himself to be part of a new atmosphere: “The people of Ireland have watched the political progress that Gerry Adams and I have been at the heart of for many years.”
He has promised that he will take only the average wage, about €35,000 ($47,712), and give the rest of the €250,000 salary back to the Irish people, a move that might mollify voters resentful about Ireland’s austerity program.
Sinn Fein is well placed to harness the anger of the many people disillusioned with the establishment following the crash that brought in the International Monetary Fund, says Elaine Byrne, lecturer in politics at Trinity College, Dublin.
In the south, Sinn Fein “has always been a small party on the periphery who object to everything. There’s the Sinn Fein in power in the north which is introducing cuts; the one in the south is opposed to all cuts,” she said.
Dr Byrne also pointed out that younger generations had no personal memory of the Troubles.
O’Toole said that to many nationalists, Mr McGuinness is a positive figure. “There’s a great desire in a country going through tough times to have a hero,” he said. But there is the delicate question of how Mr McGuinness would manage the Queen. Like all Sinn Fein MPs, who want a united Ireland, Mr McGuinness refused to take his seat at Westminster, and the party avoided all events associated with the Queen’s visit to Ireland. But Mr McGuinness said he would be prepared to meet all heads of state “without exception” if elected on October 27.
One critic pointed out the issue might be whether the Queen was prepared to meet him: the IRA murdered Prince Philip’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten, in 1979.
Dr Byrne and O’Toole believe Mr McGuinness will poll well but ultimately not get over the line. Dr Byrne said he was unlikely to attract enough preferences from other candidates. She pointed out that this term of office holds special significance: whoever wins will preside over the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, the rebellion that started the chain of events that led to Irish independence.
“These are emotional things in Ireland,” she said. “It’s all very fresh in people’s minds.”