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26 July 2007 Edition

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SEANAD BREAKTHROUGH

Pearse Doherty becomes first Sinn Féin Senator

BY MÍCHEÁL MacDONNCHA

For the first time, a Sinn Féin representative has been elected to the Seanad in Leinster House. The election of Pearse Doherty brings to five the number of Sinn Féin representatives in the Oireachtas and was a significant success in the wake of a disappointing General Election for the party.
Pearse Doherty topped the poll in the Agricultural Panel and was elected on the first count on Monday 23 July. He secured 103 votes, well exceeding the quota of 89. In addition to the 58 votes of Sinn Féin’s councillors and TDs, Pearse received support from Labour Party voters and others.
Following the 2004 local elections, which significantly increased the number of Sinn Féin city and county councillors with Seanad election voting rights, the party began to assess the possibility of electing a member to the ‘upper house’. It was realised that this was possible but only if the support of other parties and individuals could be secured in a verifiable way. The Labour Party was also seeking to increase its presence in the Seanad and so, in the wake of the General Election, serious discussions began.
The result was a vote exchange whereby Sinn Féin members voted for Alex White of the Labour Party on the Cultural and Educational Panel, while Labour Party members voted for Pearse Doherty on the Agricultural Panel. The outcome was that both Doherty and White topped the poll in their respective panels.
The arrangement was not without its critics in the media and in some sections of the Labour Party. It was predictably denounced in the Sunday Independent, while former Labour Mayors of Dublin, Dermot Lacey and Mary Frehill, publicly disassociated themselves from it. However, such critics were marginal and the really significant thing was that the vote held solid, with both parties keeping their side of the agreement. Sinn Féin Dáil whip Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Joan O’Connor of the party’s National Elected Representatives Forum played key roles in the negotiations, as did Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
The Seanad count was held in Leinster House, where Pearse was joined on Monday by his wife Róisín and his parents Mícheál and Gráinne. Pearse recalled the disappointment of the General Election when, despite securing a massive vote in Donegal South West, the party did not manage to take a seat. “On any other day, at any other time we would have won that seat but we are determined to win it and win it we will,” he vowed. Donegal North East candidate Pádraig Mac Lochlainn joined Pearse at the count and spoke of the importance of now having a County Donegal-based Oireachtas member.
Pearse said he was proud to be elected and would “represent the people of Donegal and the people of Ireland as the first Sinn Féin voice in the Seanad”.
Welcoming Pearse as the party’s fifth Oireachtas member, Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:
“I want to congratulate Pearse on his election and to thank all those involved in his campaign. He will play a hugely important role in the Sinn Féin Oireachtas team, in delivering for local communities and in ensuring that the party rebuilds and goes from strength to strength.
“Our job is very clear in the time ahead. We will work hard in the interests of all those communities that we represent. We will hold the government to account every day of the week. We will work with other parties and individuals in the Dáil and Seanad to help end the crisis in the health service, to prioritise investment in primary school education, build affordable housing and encourage job creation. And we will work closely with Sinn Féin Ministers in the north in the interests of everyone on the island.
“Ireland will face a lot of challenges and opportunities in the time ahead and Sinn Féin will play our part in bringing about progressive change for the country.”

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