7 April 2005 Edition
Sinn Féin breakthrough in Údarás elections
BY ROBBIE SMYTH
Sinn Féin's Gráinne Mhic Géidigh took the third of four seats in the Donegal constituency of the Údarás elections this week, leaving just the Seanad and the Presidency as the only tiers of elected representation in Ireland that Sinn Féin have yet to contest and win seats.
Mhic Géidigh was contesting the election for Sinn Féin with Colm Ó Ceannabháin in Galway and Seán Mac There There were 17 Údarás seats to be filled in the election, four in Donegal, six in Galway, one in Meath, two in Kerry and Mayo, with one seat also in Cork and Meath.
Turnout in the election varied hugely, with an average poll of 40%, rising to nearly 70% in parts of Meath and Waterford, 50% in Kerry and 43% in Mayo, out of an electorate of 79,600 Irish speakers.
Three more seats on the Údarás Board, including the position of chair, are nominated by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Eamon Ó Cuív.
Welcoming the election result, Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin has described Mhic Géidigh's election as Sinn Féin's first representative on the Board of Údarás na Gaeltachta as an 'historic breakthrough' for the party.
Congratulating all of the Sinn Féin candidates, McLaughlin said: "The election of Gráinne Mhic Géidigh as Sinn Féin's first representative on the Board of Údarás na Gaeltachta is an historic breakthrough for the party. Our strong showing in the three constituencies of Donegal, Galway and Meath shows that support for Sinn Féin is growing and I want to thank all those who voted for our party."
Outlining the themes of the Sinn Féin Údarás campaign, McLaughlin said the party "stood in this election on our agenda for change in relation to the role of Údarás na Gaeltachta, rebuilding the peace process and campaigning for Irish reunification".
Now that Sinn Féin has a presence on the board, McLaughlin said that Sinn Féin "will use our mandate for change.
"Our priorities on the Board of Údarás na Gaeltachta will be job creation, reform of Údarás na Gaeltachta to make it relevant, accountable and democratic and an integrated strategic plan, which would look at all the language needs of the Gaeltacht areas."
An historic win
A jubilant Gráinne Mhic Géidigh told An Phoblacht that she was only getting her voice back after the weekend celebrations.
"This was a history making victory here in Donegal," she said. "I'm the first woman elected to Údarás and the first Sinn Féin woman elected in Donegal to any body. It shows that despite all the media and government attacks on our party, people are seeing though them for their opportunism and can see that the establishment is afraid of the growth of our party.
"For this to happen a week after Easter, when a government minister called us criminals because we were honouring our dead heroes, is a perfect answer.
"Now that I am a member of Údarás, I will do my best for the people that elected me. The biggest priority is unemployment in Northwest Donegal, which is five times higher than national average. Donegal is the forgotten county and northwest Donegal is the forgotten Gaeltacht. Údarás needs to focus on keeping people in the Gaeltacht, because if the unemployment trend continues it will have a serious effect on our language and culture. The gaeltachts around the country are the main source of our language. If that diminishes, there is no hope for preserving the language in the rest of the country."
Win or lose, she said, "I would never have been sorry I did this. It was a wonderful experience and I am indebted to all the people who played a part in this victory, the people from all over Donegal and Ireland who came out canvassing with me and who did other work.
"I never knew how much effort goes into an election. I want to thank my family, who were a great support. In particular I want to mention Peter Ogle, my Director of Elections, who was a rock, and Michelle Boyle, Pearse Doherty and Paul Magee."