Irish elections: the Presidency and the SDLP

Two interesting political developments yesterday.

The presidential race in the Republic, having lost a lot of its sparkle when David Norris was forced to pull out, and again when Fianna Fáil failed to persuade one of their celebrity options to stand, is now heating up again. Not only is David Norris now trying to get back into the race, not only is Fianna Fáil now embarrassed by Tipperary senator Labhrás Ó Murchú who is determined to run his own backwoodsman bid, but it now seems that Martin McGuiness will stand for Sinn Féin.

I can’t believe that he will win, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he seriously embarrasses Fine Gael, whose candidate Gay Mitchell looks pretty unelectable. I would have thought that the race is between Michael D Higgins and David Norris if the latter actually runs, and that Higgins is a pretty sure bet if Norris remains on the sidelines. But it certainly makes things more interesting.

Meanwhile in the North, after the hapless Margaret Ritchie announced her intention to stand down as leader of the SDLP, no less than four candidates are racing to succeed her – three from Belfast and one from the West. I know all four slightly, and can see strengths and weaknesses to each: my early sympathies were with Patsy McGlone, but I have cooled on him since he made it clear that he resents not being a minister – though not to the extent that I prefer any of the other three to him.

The SDLP has two problems: its weakness at the polls (which has been augmented by a deliberate culture of keeping heads in the sand about the size of their electoral challenge) and its lack of a unique selling point that Sinn Féin is not providing better. As I did with the Ulster Unionists this time last year, I look forward to close analysis of what the candidates actually have to say for themselves on those subjects.