David McKittrick: A bold piece of opportunism – and he might just win

Sinn Fein is hopeful that it can lure former Fianna Fail voters and those unhappy with the mainstream
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Sinn Fein's decision to run Martin McGuinness for the presidency of Ireland is a bold piece of opportunism made possible by the Irish Republic's dire economic difficulties.

The outcome of this year's general election opened up a gap in the political market which has proved irresistible to the republicans.

That result put two large parties, Fine Gael and Labour, into office in a coalition, but it decimated the Fianna Fail party, traditionally the country's most powerful political force. The party was severely punished for creating the present economic morass.

Sinn Fein, meanwhile, greatly increased its vote, while the number of independents in the Irish parliament also went up. These were both seen as signs of a deep public disaffection with mainstream politics.

With Fianna Fail in continuing disarray, and conventional parties and politicians held in low esteem, Sinn Fein might cash in.

While it is one of the governing parties in Northern Ireland, it is viewed as anti-establishment in the south. Its hope is that in this contest it could hoover up former Fianna Fail supporters as well as votes from those who supported independents.

Having taken ten per cent of the vote in the general election, it will need to attract support from across the spectrum. But Mr McGuinness is already the centre of attention in the contest and is up against a range of generally uninspiring opponents.

He will need to weather a storm of questions about his IRA past: if he can do so effectively, he is seen as being in with a chance of success.