15 February 2007 Edition
Assembly elections: Crucial for all Ireland
‘Now or never’ for unionists
Every election has its own unique set of issues, arguments, debates and principles, but rarely more so than in the case of the Six-County Assembly elections on 7 March. Sinn Féin Vice-President and Director of Elections PAT DOHERTY MP talks to PHILIP CONNOLLY about the issues and why this is such a crucial election, not just for Sinn Féin but for all of Ireland in the years ahead.
Establishing the Assembly Executive is not the only thing on the mind of Pat Doherty in the run up to this election.
“Within the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement there is the equality agenda, the all-Ireland agenda and the human rights agenda,” Pat Doherty says. “Added to this there is a very clear focus on the DUP as to whether they are capable of living up to the commitments under all of those headings in the agreement.”
No Assembly means no human rights agenda and no equality agenda, and the Sinn Féin vice-president agrees that there is a sense of “now or never” about this election,
“In one sense, every election is ‘now or never’, but in the context of Paisley sitting down and doing the business or not doing the business, if unionism can’t fulfill the criteria, due to their own intransigent attitude, then the institutions will collapse. Then we will just have to move on to doing the business with the two governments instead.
“So in that sense, yes, there is a sense of ‘now or never’. But politics will go on and the criteria will be met, just in a different format. Which format is applied is entirely in the hands of unionists.”
So it appears that there is light at the end of the tunnel and some hold the view that this is a win/win situation for nationalists to be in, but the MP for West Tyrone is not yet contemplating the alternatives, which for now are regarded as second-best.
“It depends on how much faith you have in what’s commonly known as ‘Plan B’. Sinn Féin would much rather ‘Plan A’, which would give people here immediate access and would get rid of these direct-rule ministers who are answerable to nobody.
“There is a whole range of issues like rural development and planning in the Six Counties. We have the British trying to impose an English model of planning on an Irish reality and an Irish requirement, which is totally different to what the British are attempting.
“Anyone who has ever read a book will know that that simply won’t work.
“We have the problems with education, parental choice and the 11-Plus, which is just a microcosm of the social battles that have to be fought.
“We have the whole problem of hospital services, which is very acute in my own constituency. They are building a new hospital there but we have to fight extremely hard to keep the level of services. There is no point in building new hospitals while at the same time downgrading their level of services.
“Added to this, we have the problems with water rates, infrastructure, unemployment and the drain of educated young people.
“All of these can only be dealt with through political responsibility and accountability. These are big issues that Sinn Féin will be vigorously campaigning on as it simply can’t be left to faceless administrators from London. To paraphrase Gerry Adams, when it comes to these issues, we’re just going to have to put manners on them.”
There is no question that, when it comes to the hard miles, Sinn Féin is able for the journey. The recent outcome of the Extraordinary Ard Fheis on Policing being a case in point. The Sinn Féin Director of Elections is in no doubt as to the difficulties that the issue has raised for some in accepting the new policing boards.
“For our people who have been involved in the struggle for all of their adult lives, it is a big, big ask.
“Even though there was such a big majority in favour of it, it still remains a big swallow for them and that we understand. Outside of our activist base, though, there has been a very positive reaction because people know that they need responsible and accountable civic policing. They also know they haven’t had it up to now, and there is a huge responsibility on us now to deliver on that.
“We are under no illusions. We know that it will take time and that it won’t happen overnight, but I’m fully confident that we will continue to get a very positive reaction from people generally and from the electorate come 7 March.”
But haven’t the findings and the timing of Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan’s report into collusion between unionist death squads and the RUC Special Branch have cast some doubt over this viewpoint?
“Disgraceful and sickening as the O’Loan Report is, it has to be said that everybody in the north of the country knew, every nationalist and republican has known, that collusion has been a reality of life in the North. They have seen it in their own observations in everyday life, how the RUC reacted to any given situation.
“Everyone knows that this wasn’t limited to some bad apples in a small area in North Belfast. People know — and others should be reminded — that at the core of this is the fact that this wasn’t a renegade hit squad; this was British government policy, authorising the systematic murder of republicans and non-republicans, North and South, and of their own citizens as well.
“But a lot of people are taking heart from the fact that they can now prise open the truth behind all of these cases.”
The last election has put Sinn Féin in pole position as the most representative nationalist party in the Six Counties and the third-largest party in Ireland. Is there anywhere to go now, in terms of electoral gains, for the party that increased its first preference vote by almost 6 per cent last time out in the Assembly elections?
“Absolutely. We won 24 seats in the last election and we know that we can increase that to 26.
“We are confident that there are four areas where we can make substantial gains. We’re looking at West Belfast, West of the Bann, South Lagan Valley and West Tyrone. This will guarantee that instead of two ministers Sinn Féin will have three ministers and the post of deputy first minister.
“Due to the D’Hondt system, power in the Executive will be split 50/50 between nationalists/republicans and unionists/loyalists and this would also prevent the SDLP from ganging up with the rest to form a weighted majority.
“Sinn Féin’s popularity has grown in real terms because our message has remained clear and our goal of a united Ireland is unambiguous and non-negotiable. That goal is one that has brought us to this point and it is a goal that gathers more and more support, North and South.
“Sinn Féin knows the value of hard work and we have never shied away from it because it is the people of Ireland who reward us for our effort by their continuing and growing support.”
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.