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Column: Cardinal Rules – on Sinn Fein’s presidential campaign

This week, the (not) Primate of All Ireland is greeted by the Martin McGuinness supporters – but it all goes terribly wrong…

Image: Paul Faith/PA Wire

THIS WEEK THE presidential campaign arrived on our very own doorstep…


There is great excitement outside the church after Mass. Word has spread that Martin McGuiness is now running for president. Suddenly a black van screeches to a halt outside the gate. Fr Lawlor is wide eyed. “Maybe it’s the A-Team,” he says with childlike hope.

Oddly enough it is not the A-Team. Instead it is local Sinn Féin activist, John Joe Kelly. John Joe hops out of the van with three burly companions. His companions are well known around town for hanging around on street corners, looking lost, and strangely forlorn. They have been that way since 1994.

John Joe greets the crowd with his usual mixture of bonhomie and steely determination. Each warm “hello” is accompanied with an implacable “Vote for Martin McGuinness” followed by a cheery laugh, and a low ominous “No, seriously, do.”

He asks me how things are, and I tell him that myself and the twelve priests are very well indeed. His eyes light up. “That’s thirteen votes right there so,” and he laughs. Then he leans into me and says in a quiet serious voice “No, really, it is.”


Monday morning. There is a knock on the door. Fr Lawlor opens it to find John Joe and his three colleagues standing outside.

“Just a bit of canvassing,” says John Joe. He hands Fr Lawlor some leaflets and badges. “What about Martin McGuinness’ past?” asks Fr Lawlor.
John Joe smiles. His companions edge nearer the door. “In fairness, Martin McGuinness left the IRA in 1974,” says John Joe. “Like the way Les McKeown left the Bay City Rollers in 1978?” says Fr Lawlor. “Exactly like that,” smiles John Joe.

Fr Lawlor thinks for a moment. “But the Bay City Rollers still did some truly awful stuff after that,” he says. One of John Joe’s companions must be a Bay City Rollers fan, because he becomes a little irate “What are you implying?” he growls. “I’m not implying anything,” replies a bemused Fr Lawlor.

The situation is defused by the arrival of the postman who is coming up the driveway. John Joe suggests that they give him some election literature. Fr Lawlor thanks them and closes the door. Then he hears John Joe shouting “No, Liam. Not the face!”

Their passion for promoting Mr McGuiness as a candidate is quite impressive.


We are all out shopping when we bump into John Joe and his friends canvassing inside Tescos. John Joe and his team are handing out some very nice pictures of Martin McGuinness to “reassure people.” There is a picture of Martin baking a cake. A picture of Martin hugging a kitten. My own personal favourite is a picture of Martin and Santa Claus having a great laugh together.

There are big smiles all round. And it seems, that if the pictures are anything to go by, that Martin McGuinness must be a very nice man altogether.

Then Fr Ryan asks “What about Martin McGuinness’ past?” John Joe frowns. “Ah now. Let the past be the past, eh?” says John Joe. “Yes, but doesn’t the past have a direct relevance to a person’s current circumstances. Particularly if that person occupies a position of moral and symbolic relevance?”

For some reason everybody looks at me. Then one of John Joe’s companions takes Fr Ryan aside because he thinks he saw “some good offers down on the ice cream aisle.”

Before we head back to the house John Joe insists on giving me a photo of Nelson Mandela and Martin McGuinness together. “Like ideological peas from a pod,” he chuckles. “They even look alike,” he says.


John Joe and friends are canvassing at the house again. A hurt looking John Joe is still wondering why people are so obsessed with the past. While the constant canvassing has become a little wearisome, things aren’t so bad since Fr Lawlor mentioned that Fr Cronin can’t remember what happened before last week. John Joe and his assistants have now switched their attentions to Fr Cronin, who is now wearing a large “Vote Martin” rosette and a hat with the legend “Forget the past, think about the future. Vote Martin.”

Meanwhile, Fr Ryan is still trying to get the ice cream out of his jacket.


John Joe’s campaign now appears to be in tatters. After a Google image search, Fr O’ Leary has discovered that the “similarities” in the Mandela/McGuinness photo are quite superficial, and that Nelson Mandela is not in fact ginger. The term “photo shopping” has been mentioned more than once.

Fr Doyle has also pointed out the small matter that voting for an Irish president really isn’t a runner in the six counties. Over-enthusiasm on the part of John Joe and his friends is blamed. As is their touching hope that the presidency might make their far off dream of a thirty two county idyll appear to be that eensy weensy bit closer.

All the fight seems to have gone out of their campaign. Although later that evening Fr Ryan spies them walking disconsolately through the garden.

“They haven’t gone away you know,” he says.

“More’s the pity,” says Fr O’ Shea.

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