Unionists rubbish candidate for Irish president

October 17, 1997

UNIONIST politicians and Protestant clergy have come out strongly against Mary McAleese becoming the next president of Ireland.

But despite a systematic campaign attempting to rubbish her credentials, the Queen's University pro vice chancellor is ahead in opinion polls. The central complaint is that Professor McAleese is not a person who could represent the pro-union majority community in Northern Ireland.

But the Belfast-based professor, while denying she is sympathetic to Sinn Fein, stoutly defended her nationalist views.

New Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: "I do not think Mary McAleese is someone who can reach out to the Unionist community. If she is elected it will set back relations between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic."

Mr Donaldson is seen as ideologically close to party leader David Trimble, who bitterly clashed with Professor McAleese after losing to her for the post of director of legal studies at Queen's in the late 1980s. He said: "I think she would have to moderate her views significantly toward Northern Ireland and rise above her own very narrow view of politics."

The Rev Roy Magee, a Presbyterian minister and key figure in brokering the Loyalist ceasefire, said Unionists were suspicious of her candidacy. "She would, in all probability, be very much Catholic Church-orientated and that would give them a bit of suspicion. Some people might see her as a threat."

Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey said: "She is looked upon as an unreconstructed nationalist, a very traditional, conservative nationalist and not as empathising in any way with unionists."

Responding this week to the critics that she is an unapologetic nationalist, Professor McAleese said: "That is absolutely true. I think nationalism and unionism for that matter are both perfectly legitimate and acceptable political expressions."

But she added: "I know the north probably an awful lot better than (predecessor) Mary Robinson or (former Irish foreign minister) Dick Spring for that matter."

The election for the president, a largely symbolic post, is on October 30.

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