1 April 2004 Edition
Meet the locals
BY JOANNE CORCORAN
It's been barely two years since Sinn Féin last pulled out all the stops for an election in the 26 Counties. The results of General Election 2002 showed that the party was beginning to reap the rewards of its hard work. The day after the five TDs were elected, a campaign began to ensure that the even more success would be had at the local and European elections in 2004. They're almost upon us now, and the party is once again miles ahead of the rest when it comes to preparation.
For the last few weeks, Gerry Adams has been engaged in a hectic tour across Dublin, visiting as many areas as possible and meeting with numerous community groups. Along the way, he's been updating the city's residents on the current political situation in the Six Counties, talking with them about local problems, and telling them exactly what he thinks of the attacks Sinn Féin has come under from the establishment parties.
Already Adams has been to Ballymun, Blanchardstown, Ballyfermot, Crumlin, Palmerstown, Tallaght, and Dundrum, but by the time the tour is finished he'll have been to many more areas in Dublin's four council wards.
His reception in each of the areas he has visited has been impressive. Halls have been packed with locals, eager to hear news from the Sinn Féin leader, news they are often denied by the media. Residents say they are delighted to have the leader of the fastest growing party on the island taking time to visit their areas, and it hasn't escaped their attention that other party leaders have been giving them a wide berth.
Local representatives and Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald have joined Adams at each of these meetings and have dealt with issues ranging from housing to health, which have been brought up by those in attendance
At the meeting in Ballyfermot last Wednesday, McDonald summed up the feeling that's growing in Dublin, that Sinn Féin is the engine of change in Ireland and is the party that the others are running scared from. "We are on the streets campaigning against drugs, for a right to housing, against the invasion of Iraq, against the bin charges and other crippling stealth taxes," she said. "Our opponents in Leinster House and the media fear us because we are a radical party. Our elected representatives take home only the average industrial wage, we cannot be bought off, we will not be intimidated by lies in newspapers and nor will our support."
The same meeting heard local election candidate Tony Smithers mention the party's recent attempt to have the right to housing inserted in the Constitution — a move that could have forced the authorities to live up to their responsibility for housing provision. "The government voted down our Bill but I am glad to see that other parties such as the Greens have now adopted Sinn Féin's policy in this regard," Smithers added.
Adams hasn't just been to the meetings. He has spent time visiting neighbourhoods and catching up with old acquaintances. In Ballyfermot, he thanked people for their decision in 1992 to allow Sinn Féin the use of the local community centre for its Ard Fheis at a time when the political establishment was attempting to marginalise the party and refuse it the use of public buildings. He said that by their actions, the Ballyfermot community had helped defeat the policy of political exclusion and in no small way had contributed to the emergence of the Peace Process. Similar sentiments were echoed in all the local communities he has visited, including Tallaght, which hosted the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in 1994. Adams has also been entertained by local groups, including Irish dancing and karate clubs.
The meetings are set to continue over the next few weeks.