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rescue mission Sinn Féin eye Martin McGuinness's son for Assembly elections

Shinners see McGuinness Jr as man to rescue the party from Foyle fallout

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Son of former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness could be a possible election contender in Sinn Fein's Derry branch

Son of former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness could be a possible election contender in Sinn Fein's Derry branch

Son of former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness could be a possible election contender in Sinn Fein's Derry branch

This is the man Sinn Féin are banking on to stop the rot in Derry.

With features so reminiscent of his late father and a name revered among republicans, Fiachra McGuinness excites a disillusioned Sinn Féin base.

But it's still not known if he will throw his hat into the election ring and claim a seat for the embattled party in next May's Assembly elections.

Amid talk of a widening chasm in Foyle, prompted by its night of the long knives when MLAs Martina Anderson and Karen Mullan were effectively axed, his has been the name on the lips of commentators, analysts and observers - despite the party's recent reluctance to replace female representatives with male.

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Fiachra McGuinness with his father Martin

Fiachra McGuinness with his father Martin

Fiachra McGuinness with his father Martin

An electrician by trade, the youngest son of Martin is viewed as the feelgood option, a unity candidate to ameliorate the damage done in the wake of the fractious recriminations and discontent over how 59-year-old Anderson in particular was treated following a review by Republican Movement grandees Gerry Kelly, Sean Hughes and Martin 'Duckser' Lynch.

"He would walk it on name alone," a party insider said last week.

It's a lot of expectation on the shoulders of someone who his hitherto never admitted to any political aspirations.

But let's face it, it's hard to imagine how he could fare any worse.

If Elisha McCallion's drubbing at Westminster - a 17,000-vote swing in favour of Colum Eastwood, the SF vote down 19 per cent in the city - was the canary in the coalmine, its poor showing in the council elections where it lost five of its 16 seats only served to confirm the party's electoral malaise in Foyle.

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Portrait of the former deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. Photo: William Cherry / Presseye

Portrait of the former deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. Photo: William Cherry / Presseye

Portrait of the former deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. Photo: William Cherry / Presseye

It focused attention on the performance of the two MLAs Anderson and Mullan. Much has been made of Sinn Féin's supposed sleight of hand, that time-honoured trick of burying bad news while the world looks the other way - on this occasion, to the shenanigans of the DUP and their defenestration of Arlene Foster.

But it stretches credulity to swallow the belief that strategists at the heart of the party thought they could do this quietly, remove a figure like Anderson, a dedicated republican and one-time IRA bomber.

And Martina Anderson's family have stood by her, accusing Sinn Féin of "publicly humiliating" her in a "brutal way".

More than simple opportunism, the ruthless reshuffle surely signals an even more robust approach to internal affairs by a party already noted for its iron discipline; a warning that there will be a reckoning for failure, regardless of reputation.

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The party have set their eyes on power on both sides of the border and anyone seen as an obstacle to that project will be ditched.

No one is too big to fall.

In their bid to rehabilitate and resurrect their Foyle operation, former Assembly member Maeve McLaughlin, Sinn Féin leader on Derry and Strabane District Council, Sandra Duffy and former spad Conor Heaney have all been mooted as successors, but it's the name Fiachra McGuinness which is most energising the grassroots.

Martin McGuinness was renowned for protecting his children from the slings and arrows of politics and the inevitable brickbats that come with having such a controversial father.

And up until fairly recently, it was understood none of them - Grainne, Emmet, Fionnuala and Fiachra - had any hankering for public life.

However, with 8,600 followers and some 3,600 posts, Twitter has been the outlet of choice for Fiachra's activism.

And as befits the scion of a republican icon, a cursory trawl through his activity reveals him to be an outspoken supporter of issues close to Sinn Féin, and a trenchant critic of those that aren't.

There are no causes outside Irish unity which galvanises Sinn Féin more than that of the Palestinians, and like his father, a vociferous supporter of the Palestinian right to statehood, Fiachra makes no secret of who he stands squarely behind in the intractable, interminable Arab-Israeli conflict.

Recently too, the 39-year-old posted his sympathy and support for the families of the Ballymurphy Massacre, retweeted Mary Lou's condolences to the Queen on the death of Prince Philip, and quoted Bobby Sands on the 40th anniversary of his death on hunger strike.

Fiachra was born in August 1981, as the hunger strike was coming to its tragic climax.

And, perhaps foreshadowing future ding-dongs with the SDLP in Derry, he got stuck into incumbent Foyle MP Eastwood, who sought to juxtapose Sinn Féin's differing vaccination policies in the two jurisdictions, acquiescing to one based on age in Northern Ireland while railing at a similar plan in the Republic.

"Just as you rise up of your green bench seat. Catch yourself on!" Fiachra tweeted, in an allusion to the seats in the House of Commons where the SDLP leader and his deputy Claire Hanna sit.

And the influence his father had on him is never far from his thoughts. In March he tweeted a warm message: "He was more than just a father, a teacher, my best friend.

"No, I never will forget him. He made me what I am.

"Four years since you passed. You are loved and missed every single day."

A Derry republican source told the Sunday World: "For a few weeks this was a party in turmoil - but Sinn Féin could solve this crisis with one stroke - and that's getting Fiachra's name on the ballot paper."

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