11 June 1998 Edition
Sinn Féin seeking to boost political strength
North Belfast: Gerry Kelly and Martina McIlkenny
Of all the nicknames given to North Belfast, ``patchwork quilt'', rings the most true amongst the area's nationalists.
The North Belfast constituency has been one of the most affected by the past 30 years of war. ``One in five deaths have occurred in North Belfast,'' pointed out Martina McIlkenny, SF's Belfast chair.
``There is a great feeling of fear and apprehension as a result of the tension at the interfaces and because of our geographical position,'' notes community activist Anthony Barnes, who is chair of the Concerned Residents Against Sectarianism. ``People have developed a ghetto mentality. How else can they react if they are forced to keep within the North's limits to socialise?''
Thirteen out of sixteen of the peace lines that scar Belfast are located in one square mile in North Belfast. Most see the walls as a desperate sectarian attempt by loyalists to mark their territory and prevent the expansion of the booming nationalist community.
The latest peace line, at Whitewell, was built despite nationalist objections and calls for negotiations, an initiative actively backed by Sinn Fein. ``The wall has not helped to end the attacks and the fear,'' explains community activist Paul McKiernan. Properties are losing value and the trouble has only been displaced''. Cars are continually damaged, bricks come flying though windows. When challenged, only Sinn Fein has shown any commitment to the residents. SDLP former Lord Mayor Alban McGuinness has twice repeated that ``nothing can be done'' for the area.
The tension rises as the bigoted Tour of the North draws closer. Republican calls for dialogue have stalled against Orange intransigence and sectarianism. And the consequences of the provocative march may be more serious than ever. 140 people were intimidated and burnt out of their houses during the 1996 Drumcree stand-off and were given shelter in various community centres.
It also has been recognised that North Belfast has some of the most concentrated deprivation in the Six Counties. The most abandoned wards, such as New Lodge, Ardoyne and Ligoniel, contain the most highly affected pockets of disadvantage, inheriting social problems such as drug abuse, drink-related problems and anti-social behaviour.
Drugs are a major problem. The RUC and crown forces are accomplices of drug dealers who operate under the spy posts and cameras in the Water Works. ``It has come to the point where they move closer to the barracks when they feel threatened,'' says Raymond Glover, member of the Community Response to Sectarianism Group.
The lack of leisure facilities has become one of the top priorities of the republican activists who point out that the three leisure centres in North Belfast are located in the Shankill, Ballysillon and Grove, making it impossible for the children from the nationalist areas to attend them.
But the tight knit and vibrant community of North Belfast is also booming with dynamism. It has one of the most effective constituency networks with four SF councillors Bobby Lavery, Mick Conlon, Gerard Brophy and Danny Lavery, who was elected councillor for the Castle Ward area in June 1997, working effectively at grass-roots.
The ongoing crown forces harassment has not changed, despite the IRA ceasefire.
``Since the agreement was brokered, harassment has only increased,'' explains Martina. Proof of this harassment came last Friday as two houses were raided in the New Lodge, and one in Ardoyne during which SF councillor Gerard Brophy was injured in the stomach.
As polling day approaches the residents of North Belfast are more determined than ever to transform their patchwork quilt into a patchwork of success. Terry O'Neill, community activist in the Star neighbourhood centre in New Lodge explains, ``we know how to eradicate the problems rooted in our community. We only need the tools that we never have had. And the major tool is proper political representation''.
Gerry Kelly and Martina McIlkenny hope to be given an even stronger mandate to defend nationalist rights in the new Assembly. The choice of a brighter future and effective change lies in the hands of the North Belfast voters. Is e do rogha fein e.
South Belfast: Sean Hayes
Sean was elected councillor for South Belfast - which includes the Markets and Ormeau Road areas - in 1997, and has sat on the Cultural Diversity, Economic Development and Contract Services committees. He also kept his 1997 election pledge of opening a constituency office.
Sean is a native of the Markets area. He was on remand for almost a year in a supergrass trial in 1984, before charges were dropped.
Sean has been active within the party since 1983, when he was Director of Elections and electoral agent for Sean McKnight. He was also Chair of Sinn Fein in Belfast in 1988.
Sean was a founding member of Scoil an Dhroichid, in Cooke Street, leas Caothaoirleach of Glor na nGael when they successfully challenged then British home secretary Douglas Hurd's axing of funds, and is a member of Conradh na Gaelige.
Urging nationalists ``to ensure the benefits achieved by Sinn Fein for northern nationalists are not reneged on by the British government and unionists, due to their instinctive intransigence'', Sean is calling for a strong nationalist vote in what was traditionally a unionist stronghold.
``This area is changing and we need that reflected in our vote'', he told An Phoblacht.
North Antrim: James McCarry and Joe Cahill
Councillor James McCarry is a native of the Glens, having been born in Carey in 1950. A self-employed carpenter, he has been a SF Councillor on Moyle District Council since 1989, where he served on the Moyle District Partnership Board which allocates Peace and Reconciliation funds.
James has a long track record of political and community activism, having first sought election for Sinn Fein on Dublin Corporation in 1974, narrowly missing election by a small margin.
James has campaigned on issues of real concern for North Antrim residents, including housing, the right of people to live in the countryside, employment, emigration, healthcare and education.
The North Antrim constituency takes in towns like Ballycastle, Cushendall, Dunloy, Rasharkin and Loughguile.
Director of Elections Dodie McGuinness, speaking about the party's decision to run SF Treasurer and veteran republican Joe Cahill, said, ``it is important for North Antrim to have a figure like Joe Cahill as a representative. He has played a crucial role over the years in supporting the present leadership and furthering the peace process.''
Joe's record as a republican activist is well-known, having been active in the republican movement for over 60 years. He was among six IRA Volunteers sentenced to hang in 1942, including Tom Williams. Joe was one of the five whose sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. His selection emphasises a determination to maximise the Sinn Fein vote in the constituency.
South Antrim: Martin Meehan
Martin Meehan is currently chairperson of Saoirse in the Six Counties, co-ordinating and organising publicity, pickets and delegations on behalf of political prisoners.
Martin has been involved in the republican movement for over 35 years, over 20 of which were spent in prison. He was first arrested in Derry's Duke Street in 1968, escaped from Crumlin Road prison in 1971, was the last internee released on 5 December 1975, and spent 66 days on hunger-strike in 1980.
He witnessed his son being imprisoned for republican activism in 1989. They ended up in adjoining cells in the H Blocks. Martin's own father was imprisoned for his activism in the 1940s.
Martin confirmed that his early canvassing had brought evidence that the Sinn Fein agenda on equality and nationalist rights was meeting a positive response. Referring to the recent news that many complaints lodged against British government bodies in the north came from nationalists in County Antrim, Martin reiterated his determination to properly represent nationalist rights. ``We must make sure unionists are confronted at every opportunity in the Assembly on nationalist rights, injustice and RUC disbandment.''
A cavalcade of 25 cars going to Randalstown as part of Martin's campaign was stopped by the RUC who demanded Tricolours being flown from the cars be removed, on the basis that ``nationalists haven't moved that far up around here yet!'' The election team was allowed to proceed, but only after the RUC threatened to arrest all involved.
Martin said:'' This discredited force has no further role to play and should be disbanded and replaced with an accountable, democratic and unarmed community policing service.''
Upper Bann: Dara O'Hagan and Francie Murray
Dara O'Hagan is standing against Unionist leader David Trimble as Sinn Fein's number 1 candidate, while councillor Francie Murray is the number 2. It is a head-to-head contest Dara confidently described as ``very exciting.''
Dara, from Lurgan, is a member of SF's Policy Review and Development Department, which has been instrumental in developing Sinn Fein policy, providing valuable research and backup to the Stormont talks team, research skills and experience which will make her an invaluable Assembly member.
She has completed a PhD in Politics at Queen's University in Belfast, and has worked for years on economic equality and justice issues.
Dara comes from a strong republican background. Her parents have a long history of involvement in representing and championing nationalist rights. Her father JB O'Hagan was first imprisoned for his activism as far back as 1942, just days after Tom Williams was hanged in Crumlin Road, while her mother stood for Sinn Fein in the 1997 Westminister elections.
``This constituency is a microcosm of the whole situation,'' Dara said, ``with the parades issue on the Garvaghy Road, and other issues prominent in mid-Ulster, like the long record of RUC harassment, or the Robert Hamill campaign. Such issues point up the terrible nature of the state, and the RUC's latest actions on Garvaghy show what constituents are up against.
``Republicans have often been marginalised, kept outside the structures of power. We are entering those structures to change that. We don't have any illusions, it will be a long struggle in terms of delivering change through the Assembly. Sinn Fein will work that system to achieve fundamental equality, pushing forward the republican agenda. I want to be the conduit for constituents, facilitating their viewpoints, and fighting their corner on those issues which are so central to people on local and broader issues,'' she said.
The youthful option
Sinn Fein is the fastest going political party on the island, it has a rapidly increasing mandate and for the first time, apathetic and first time voters are now coming out in their thousands to vote for Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein also has the fastest growing youth movement on the island. Sinn Fein Youth is an active and vibrant organisation with an increasing membership of intelligent, articulate and imaginative young people throughout the 32 counties. It is these and many other young people who have come to realise that the best way to create a safe and peaceful future as equals is by supporting Sinn Fein. A number of young people told An Phoblacht why they would be voting SF on 25 June. Niall O Murcha, 22, West Belfast, ``In the referendum, an overwhelming majority of people voted for a new future of equality, justice and real change, I believe Sinn Fein is the only party who can deliver this.''
Clare Smith, 18, South Armagh, ``Sinn Fein are the only party who recognise the need for a new police force, one that is democratic, unarmed with a clear all Ireland dimension with a view to creating a single Irish police service.''
Carl Feehan, 24, South Armagh, ``I believe partition is the root cause of conflict on this island. Sinn fein is the only All Ireland party contesting this election. It is the only party actively seeking an end to partition and to bring about unity and independence.