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29 October 1998 Edition

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Sinn Fein doubles vote in Cork by-election

BY ROISIN DE ROSSA

``It was a good result. We're all very pleased.'' Henry Cremin, a first time candidate, running for Sinn Fein in last Friday's by-election in Cork South Central, got 1,158 first preference votes which is more than double the vote the party got the last time it stood in this area, when Liam Burke got 568 votes in 1992.

``What is more a breakdown of the figures shows a real chance of a Corporation seat in the South West area in local elections scheduled for June next year'' said Don O'Leary, Sinn Fein organiser. ``It would be a great breakthrough for Sinn Fein, after all that we have suffered in ostracism and exclusion in this town which has so many problems and so much poverty.''

But what really excited the media about the result was that Sinn Fein polled above the P.D.s 971 1st preference votes. They are clamouring with the question, as to whether it is the final nail in the Progressive Democrats coffin. But some are asking is the swing to Sinn Fein, which many believed evident at last year's election, continuing.

``Well of course the Peace Process has been important and the dropping of Section 31 censorship has certainly made a powerful difference. At last people have had a chance, amidst the sound bytes, to hear what Sinn Fein says about some things anyway.

``We found at the doors a lot of young people are drawn to Sinn Fein. And then we had a great campaign- over three weeks of campaigning. There was never less than 24 out on the canvass and sometimes as many as 36,'' Finbarr Walsh, one of the election team said.

``The media proclaimed that there weren't any issues in the election, except the drugs issue which Sinn Fein raised! Simon Coveney, who won his father's seat, for Fine Gael, discovered that his party had a drugs policy after all which was a new one on us'' said Don O'Leary.

``Of course there were issues, its just that not all the candidates care very much about them. We got support especially in working class estates like Togher, Mahon, Ballyphehane, for the consistent work we've always done on the drugs issue. And then we've campaigned on many issues like housing, unemployment, prisoner release with Saoirse, and recently on the question of the payment of home helps.

In the case of the home helps for instance, after a well supported march and meeting, the Southern Health Board agreed to an increase of 30p per hour for all the home helps, which brought their wage to £2 an hour. ``Many of the election candidates thought this was great. Sinead Behan, the Fianna Fail candidate claimed it as a great advance by the Government'. They really don't care.

``Its probably best summed up by Sinead Behan, who at a press conference anounced that she `hadn't come here to talk about politics, but to talk about herself.' The media, behind the scenes refered to Sinead and Simon as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. You'd be left guessing how to differentiate between them.

Another issue raised in the campaign was that of student grants. The day before the poll, over 10,000 students from the UCC student union, USI., Cork RTC, College of Commerce, and colleges in Limerick and Waterford, marched from the UCC campus to the city centre. Henry Cremin was the only candidate who bothered to support the students' protest.

Student grants, many of which still hadn't arrived 3 weeks into the term, annualise out at a `living wage' of £45 a week, which is to include rent, ESB and heat which eats up at least £40 a week. Students are left with £5 upon which to live!

This situation penalises the students who come from poorer backgrounds, who do not have parents who can support them. It is very unfair. The poorer student has to take on poorly paid evening jobs, on top of their study, to be able to afford to stay in college. Inevitably they cannot do as well as their richer peers.

Accomodation is hard to find. Some of the accomodation is disgraceful and dangerous - still the local authorities will not implement the law requiring inspection of rented accomodation. Unscrupulous landlords continue to rent out substandard accomodation. No one cries halt. UCC itself, beautiful college buildings beside the river, founded in the year of the famine, has insufficient halls to cater for all lectures and classes. UCC hired the local Kino cinema, but lectures then got cancelled when the Film Festival took over. The college is threatening to cancel some lecture courses altogether. It is a crazy situation.

``Its not that perhaps any of these students themselves had a vote in the Cork South Central election'', says Don, ``its that there is firm evidence that people in Sinn Fein are concerned about issues, even when other people would like to believe there weren't any. I think that's why the swing to Sinn Fein is continuing - not just a once off phenomenon coming out of the peace process and the dropping of Section 31.''
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