20 November 2003 Edition
Sinn Féin storms the Castle
Belfast Castle was brimming with republican enthusiasm as Sinn Féin held its candidate launch this past Friday 14 November. Neither the rain outside nor a bomb threat inside could shake the sense of purpose in the air, as representatives took their place alongside Party President Gerry Adams to collectively launch the nomination of more than three dozen candidates across the Six Counties.
"Sinn Féin comes here today as the third largest party on the island and as the largest nationalist party in the Six Counties," Adams told the assembled media. "We are standing 38 candidates across 18 constituencies — including 12 women, the largest number of any party in this election.
"We have been making a real difference. The transformation of Local Government came about because of the involvement of Sinn Féin councillors. The Peace Process itself was initiated — and has been continually energised — by our party. Sinn Féin brought forward a peace strategy that has already brought about huge progress and there is still more to do.
"The Good Friday Agreement must be fully implemented. That is why we went into the negotiations and that is why we will stay there until the rights of all have been achieved. People are responding positively to this message. It's about getting seats to implement the process of change, and I am confident that we will take an additional four seats at least.
"After this election, Sinn Féin will be seeking to nominate the first republican First or Deputy First Minister. We also want to continue the work we have advanced in Education and Health."
Speaking of the current political stalemate, Adams said: "We wouldn't need a Peace Process if we didn't have difficulties. But I think we've led by example and people know in terms of negotiations that not only are we the only all-Ireland team, but we are the best team to get the job done."
He urged unionist voters to "take a quantum leap" and support Sinn Féin this election, asking: "Those unionists who live in deprived and economically disadvantaged areas, what value is the union for them?
"Those unionists who think there is going to be a united Ireland anyway, why don't they endorse what we are doing in terms of work that is being done across a range of issues — the seismic shifts, the quantum leaps, the imaginative initiatives which have come from republicans?
"We've taken risks, and we will continue to take risks, but we need the biggest possible mandate from the electorate. Sinn Féin does not take the voters for granted. We are asking people to endorse the work we have undertaken and to validate our position.
"So we are asking people to join with us and make history. We are asking people to help make us agents of change. Use your vote wisely. Vote republican and vote for a United Ireland. Or vote for the pro-Agreement candidate of your choice."
The tone of quiet determination displayed by Adams and his party colleagues was also in evidence before the press conference began. An unidentified caller rang Belfast Castle just prior to the launch to announce that a bomb had been placed inside the building. Castle staff were forced to evacuate tourists but the Sinn Féin candidates refused to budge.
Apparently, in spite of the rain, they were enjoying the view.