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22 February 2007 Edition

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Assembly Elections: 14 days to polling day

First preferences the key

With election day just 14 days away, Sinn Féin activists across the Six Counties are knocking on doors, leafleting, postering and putting in the long hours needed to compete in a modern election. Sinn Féin members from the 26 Counties are also playing their part, with many Southern activists giving up free time and weekends to make that extra push for first preferences.

With six seats per constituency and strong unionist transfer patterns in many areas, building Sinn Féin first preferences is the key to success in the Assembly poll. In the first of a two-week report, ROBBIE SMYTH assesses the Sinn Féin vote and profiles the candidates in ten of the constituencies.


• East Antrim

Sinn Féin first preferences and %

1998 Assembly            746      2%

2001 Westminster        903      2.5%

2003 Assembly            768      2.5%

2005 Westminster        828      2.6%

Oliver McMullan

Oliver McMullan, the Sinn Féin candidate in East Antrim, is a sitting Moyle District Councillor for the Glens. He topped the polls in the previous four elections.

Oliver was first elected in 1993 and became the first Sinn Féin Chair of Moyle following the last council elections, when Sinn Féin became the Council’s largest party. He currently sits on Sinn Féin’s All-Ireland Advisory Committees for Agriculture, Tourism and Rural Development.



• North Antrim

Sinn Féin first preferences and %

1998 Assembly            4,045   8%

2001 Westminster        4,822   9.8%

2003 Assembly            6,195   14%

2005 Westminster        7,191   15.7%

Daithí McKay

Philip McGuigan won an Assembly seat here in 2003 with just over 95% of a quota, and with the Sinn Féin vote share having grown in the 2005 Westminster elections, Daithí McKay is well placed to hold this seat.

Daithí is currently the head of the Sinn Féin grouping on Ballymoney Council and, at 24 years of age, is the youngest Sinn Féin Councillor in the North.

McKay acted as a Political Advisor to Philip McGuigan in the Assembly. He was born in Ballymena and raised in Rasharkin. He has been involved in aid work in the Palestinian West Bank as well as in Central America, and has represented the party in both the Basque Country and Kurdistan.

Daithí is Sinn Féin’s All-Ireland Co-ordinator for Tourism and, along with Philip McGuigan, spearheaded the campaign to have the Ulster Canal reopened.


• South Antrim

Sinn Féin first preferences and %

1998 Assembly            3,226   7%

2001 Westminster        4,160   9.4%

2003 Assembly            4,295   11.5%

2005 Westminster        4,407   11.6%

Mitchel McLaughlin

Mitchel McLaughlin alone of the Sinn Féin candidates has contested every possible election in the Six Counties, having run for council, Assembly, Westminster and the European Parliament. He has his work cut out in a constituency where 80% of a quota was not enough to elect Martin Meehan in 2003. The Sinn Féin vote share is still growing, though, and McLaughlin could be heading back to the Assembly in March.

Mitchel became Sinn Féin’s Chairperson in 1995 and the party’s General Secretary in 2005.

McLaughlin’s history of political activity began with the Civil Rights Association in 1968. He was also a leading member of the National H-Blocks Committee and has played a central role in formulating Sinn Féin’s current peace strategy. He was instrumental in the drawing up of our two peace documents, Scenario for Peace (1987) and Towards a Lasting Peace in Ireland (1992).

Mitchel’s electoral odyssey began when he was voted onto Derry City Council in 1985. He was then elected as an Assembly member for Foyle in the 1998 and 2003 elections. He was the Sinn Féin candidate for Foyle in the 2005 Westminster elections.


• East Belfast

Sinn Féin first preferences and %

1998 Assembly            917      2%

2001 Westminster        1,237   3.4%

2003 Assembly            1,180   3.81%

2005 Westminster        1,029   3.3%

Niall Ó Donnghaile

Sinn Féin’s East Belfast candidate is Niall Ó Donnghaile. He is a University of Ulster politics graduate and an ardent activist on behalf of the Gaelic culture and language. Most recently, he was elected Chairperson of Glór an Tine Bheo.

Niall has been involved in politics for many years, having joined Ógra Shinn Féin when he was 16. He is a member of the Belfast committee of the National Graves Association, board member of the Short Strand Partnership, committee member of the Short Strand Festival Group and Vice Chairperson of the Martin/Treacy Sinn Féin Cumann.


• North Belfast

Sinn Féin first preferences and %

1998 Assembly            5,610   21%

2001 Westminster        10,331 25.2%

2003 Assembly            8,514   27%

2005 Westminster        8,747   28.6%

Since the 1996 redrawing of electoral boundaries, North Belfast has become one of the most hotly-contested constituencies in the Six Counties. The Sinn Féin vote share has grown election by election, with the party taking two Assembly seats in 2003. Gerry Kelly and Kathy Stanton had 1.89 quotas in 2003.


Gerry Kelly

A leading member of the Sinn Féin negotiations team, Gerry Kelly is party spokesperson on policing and criminal justice. He has been to the forefront in encouraging dialogue and bringing forward solutions to the problem of attacks at interface areas.

In promoting the peace process, Gerry has been involved in talks with Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. He has been instrumental in securing economic investment for North Belfast and is working to achieve a resolution to the area’s housing crisis.

Gerry first became involved in politics during the civil rights campaign of the late sixties and was imprisoned in England in the mid-1970s, when he was force-fed while on a 60- day hunger strike for repatriation. Kelly was transferred in 1976 and escaped from the H-Blocks in 1983 during that year’s mass breakout. He was recaptured in Amsterdam three years later and extradited following a lengthy court battle.

Gerry is a member of the party’s Ard Chomhairle and was a member of the Social Development Committee in the Assembly.


Caral Ní Chuilín

Born and bred in the New Lodge area, where she still lives, Caral Ní Chuilín was elected to represent the Oldpark ward in North Belfast in 2005. For the last 10 years she has been the Co-ordinator of Tar Anall, the political ex-prisoners’ and family centre. Caral is herself an ex-POW. She was until recently the co-chair of the North Belfast Partnership Board and URBAN II, delivering much-needed funds to local groups for capacity building and empowerment.

Caral holds a BSc in Social Studies and is undertaking a Master’s Degree in management. She has a particular interest in human rights, housing, community development and the Irish language.


• South Belfast

Sinn Féin first preferences and %

1998 Assembly            2,605   6.4%

2001 Westminster        2,894   7.6%

2003 Assembly            3,933   12.6%

2005 Westminster        2,882   9%

Alex Maskey

In 2003, by moving out of a safe West Belfast seat to contest South Belfast, Alex Maskey demonstrated the core of the difference between Sinn Féin and other political parties. Maskey is from Andersonstown and in 2002 became the first republican Mayor of Belfast. He was also the first Sinn Féin Councillor to be elected to Belfast City Council, winning a by-election in 1984.

Alex has overcome two loyalist attempts on his life and continues to be both a committed community activist and a senior party negotiator. He is head of the West Belfast Partnership, working for the economic development of the area.

Elected as an Assembly member for West Belfast in 1998, Alex became the party’s Chief Whip in 2003 and has served on several committees, including the Finance and Personnel Committee. He is a member of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle.


• West Belfast

Sinn Féin first preferences and %

1998 Assembly            24,650 59%

2001 Westminster        27,096 66.1%

2003 Assembly            21,368 65%

2005 Westminster        24,348 70.48%

West Belfast is the strongest Sinn Féin constituency in the Six Counties and the party vote share continues to grow, reaching just over 70% in 2005. With 4.5 quotas in 2003, the party is looking for a fifth seat in 2007.


Gerry Adams

Gerry Adams was elected to the Prior Assembly in 1982 and to Westminster in 1983. He held that seat until 1992, winning it back in 1997 and leading the Sinn Féin team here in 1998 and 2003.

Born in 1948 in West Belfast, where he continues to reside with his family, Adams has been Sinn Féin President since 1983. His political career spans five decades, beginning  in the civil rights campaign in the late 1960s.




Paul Maskey

Paul Maskey has represented Sinn Féin in the Upper Falls ward since 2001 in Belfast City Council and is the current leader of the Sinn Féin team on the Council. Paul’s campaign work includes developing West Belfast as a tourism destination and working to halt the proposed asbestos transfer site in the heart of the area.

Paul is a board member of the Upper Andersonstown Community Forum and Greater Andersonstown Neighbourhood Partnership.




Fra McCann

A former republican prisoner, Fra was interned on the Maidstone Prison Ship and the Cages of Long Kesh and was later imprisoned in both Crumlin Road and Long Kesh. He spent three years on the blanket protest and on release from prison in 1979 became active in the anti H-Block/Armagh Committee. Fra was elected to Belfast City Council in 1987 and has held that seat ever since.

Fra has played a leading role in the growth and political development of the party in the Six Counties over many years.




Jennifer McCann

Jennifer McCann comes from Twinbrook and represents Dunmurry Cross on Lisburn Council. She is a longtime political activist who spent over ten years in Armagh and Maghaberry prisons.

On her release, Jennifer joined the Sinn Féin POW and Women’s Departments. She was instrumental in organising the An Fhírinne group, which exposed collusion between loyalist death squads and the British State. The group, along with a number of victims’ families, has travelled to Brussels, London and Dublin to highlight their campaign.



Sue Ramsey

Sue Ramsey is a Sinn Féin Councillor in Lisburn. Her first involvement with Sinn Féin was through the party’s Youth Department. By 1992, she was involved in full-time party work in her local area, as well as in the party’s Women’s Department.

Formerly Chairperson of West Belfast Sinn Féin, Sue also works in a range of community activities including the Twinbrook Festival Committee.

She was elected as an Assembly member for West Belfast in 1998 and was a member of the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee. She is the party spokesperson on children’s issues.


• East Derry

Sinn Féin first preferences and %

1998 Assembly            3,860   9.8%

2001 Westminster        6,221   15.6%

2003 Assembly            6,121   17.9%

2005 Westminster        5,709   16.1%

Sinn Féin is again running a two-candidate strategy in East Derry, where Francie Brolly won a seat in 2003. Sinn Féin had 1.25 quotas in that election.


Francie Brolly

Francie has been a political activist for over 30 years, as well as being a renowned musician who, with his wife Ann, has played across Ireland and beyond. He was a prominent member of the civil rights movement and was present on Bloody Sunday. Francie was elected to Limavady Borough Council in 2001 and to the Assembly in 2003.





Billy Leonard

Billy Leonard became the first ever Sinn Féin councillor in Coleraine in January 2004. He then successfully fought a council election in 2005 and was also the party’s candidate for East Derry in that year’s Westminster election. Billy is already very well-known and respected as a hard-working representative and a campaigner on many local and national issues.





• North Down

Sinn Féin first preferences and %

2001 Westminster        313      0.8%

2003 Assembly            264      0.9%

2005 Westminster        205      0.6%

Deaglan Page

Originally from Derry, Deaglan Page is at 27 one of the youngest Sinn Féin candidates in the forthcoming Assembly election. Having worked in the public sector, he has witnessed at first hand the effects of British direct rule mismanagement.

Deaglan is keen to reach out to and work alongside those from within the unionist community and those of other traditions, and to further build relationships based on equality, mutual respect and understanding across the entire community in North Down.



• South Down

Sinn Féin first preferences and %

1998 Assembly            7,771   15.1%

2001 Westminster        10,278 19.7%

2003 Assembly            12,007 26.5%

2005 Westminster        12,417 25.8%

Sinn Féin took two seats here in 2003, with 1.85 quotas, and with three candidates are still trying to grow the party vote in South Down.


Willie Clarke

A native of Newcastle, Willie Clarke was elected to Down District Council in 2001, topping the poll. He was elected MLA in the 2003 elections.

Willie has held a number of key positions on Down District Council and is the Vice Chair of the Cultural and Economic Development Committee. He was previously Chairperson of Corporate Services.

A committed environmental campaigner, Willie has played an active role in the preservation of the Mournes and the development of the region as part of an all-Ireland tourist destination.



Eamon McConvey

Eamon McConvey was elected to Down District Council in 2001, topping the poll in Downpatrick. Eamon is a veteran republican. He was imprisoned at the age of seventeen and spent nine years as a POW in the H-Blocks, where he participated on the blanket protest. During his time in Long Kesh, he became a fluent Irish speaker and after his release in 1985 he joined Cumann Gaelach Leath Chathail. From 1986 to 1996 he played a leading role in promoting the Irish language in Down.

Eamon was involved in establishing the first naíscoil and bunscoil in Downpatrick. He took an active role in a number of anti-drug campaigns that involved liaising with and educating young people on the dangers of substance abuse.


Caitríona Ruane

Caitríona Ruane was elected as an MLA for South Down in 2003. She is a committed human rights and community activist who worked in Central America, and then full-time for Trócaire, before co-founding the Centre for Research and Documentation, which studied conflict resolution in South Africa and Central America and hosted Nobel Peace Prize winners Rigoberta Menchu (Guatemala) and Jose Ramos Horta (East Timor) on a visit to Ireland. Caitríona was an international observer for the first free and fair elections in South Africa which saw Nelson Mandela become President.

Caitríona was also a member of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, and organised the Belfast Forum on Policing conference in 1994. From 1997 to 2001 she was the Director of Féile an Phobail. In 2000, President Mary McAleese presented Caitríona with the Aisling Person of the Year Award.

Caitríona was chairperson of the “Bring Them Home” campaign, which worked for the release of the Colombia 3.



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