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10 April 1997 Edition

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Doing the business in Cavan

Mícheál MacDonncha joined Caoimhghin O Caoláin and Gerry Adams on the election trail in Cavan

While the three Coalition leaders were meeting in Dublin on Tuesday morning to decide the date of the general election Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was already on the campaign trail as he joined the party's Cavan/Monaghan candidate Caoimhghin O Caoláin canvassing in County Cavan.

After a long interview on the local radio station, Northern Sound, Adams and O Caoláin went walkabout in Cavan town. There was no evidence on the streets of the hostility some sections of the Dublin media seek to generate towards Sinn Féin. In fact the Sinn Féin team received a warm reception in the spring sunshine which brought lunchtime crowds to the town centre. The Sinn Féiners were put through the mill, though - a real mill. Lifeforce Flour Mill, built originally in 1846, has been fully restored to its working condition, producing stoneground wholemeal flour. Driven by the water of the Kennypottle River the original turbine built by MacAdam of Belfast (any relation?) drives the enormous stone wheels which grind the wheat to make the flour.

Manager Mark McCluskey who guided the Sinn Féin tour of the mill, explained to Gerry Adams that one part of the machinery was christened in less politically correct times. It is known as a damsel ``because it makes a lot of noise''. But outside the mill there was a reminder of how times have changed. A car sticker bore the slogan ``Grow your own dope - plant a man.''

From a food processing success it was on to a factory on the outskirts of Cavan town where the troubles of the food processing industry have been dumped on the workforce. Workers at McCarren's Bacon and Pork Products have been locked out by their employers since August 1996. After initial lay-offs which management claimed were a result of cross-border competition in the pig trade, the workers were given an ultimatum. They would have to accept redundancy and be rehired on contracts where wages would be cut by up to half and overtime, bonus, sick pay and health schemes would go.

SIPTU shop steward Terence Donegan, a member of the union's National Executive, told An Phoblacht that the workers had been protesting outside the gates of the plant since last autumn. ``We're here to stay until we get justice,'' he said, echoing one of the placards. Adams and O Caoláin expressed solidarity with the workers who explained their anger at the refusal of Fine Gael Agriculture Minister Ivan Yates to intervene in the dispute.

Before entering Ballyjamesduff cattle mart there were exortions not to do too much waving lest the canvass team inadvertantly catch the eye of the auctioneer and leave town with an unwanted herd (and they didn't mean the Special Branch). But the man on the podium interrupted the flow of his speel and the bidders' nods and winks to welcome the visitors.

Speaking to An Phoblacht as we rushed on to yet another canvassing rendezvous in the towns of Cavan, Caoimhghin O Caoláin expressed confidence that Sinn Féin can achieve a breakthrough in this election:

``A win here would have enormously positive benefits not only for the people of this constituency but nationally as well. More republican elected representatives on both sides of the border would be an important contribution to the peace process. It would mark the arrival in earnest of the Sinn Féin challenge in Leinster House politics.''

The Sinn Féin electoral performance in Cavan/Monaghan is unrivalled anywhere in the 26 Counties. Caoimhghin O Caoláin's personal role in this, both as organiser and elected representative, is recognised by friend and foe alike. Foes have made every effort to squeeze out Sinn Féin, often adopting isolation tactics in the several council chambers where the party is represented. But such tactics have backfired. ``I have no doubt that they will be pulling out all the stops to maintain the parliamentary status quo in this constituency'' says O Caoláin, ``but this only makes us more determined to make the change happen.''

A very significant increase in the Sinn Féin vote is needed to do the business, particularly in County Cavan. But if the evidence of this day's canvass, both the enthusiasm of the election workers and the public reception for the Sinn Féin message, is anything to go by, then that business is being done.
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