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21 September 2000 Edition

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Meehan set to increase Sinn Féin vote

As the clock ran down on electioneering for the South Antrim by-election, which takes place today, 21 September, the Sinn Féin candidate Martin Meehan told party workers that there was no doubt that ``Sinn Féin will do extremely well''.

Meehan was speaking after a hugely successful canvass in Antrim town on Monday 18 September, when he was accompanied by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

The Sinn Féin pair visited some of the town's most deprived estates, including Rathenraw.

``Sectarianism is a big issue for nationalists in this area,'' said Meehan. ``Rathenraw suffers from deprivation caused by unemployment but its problems have been compounded by the fact that loyalist gangs are so involved in criminal activity and in drug dealing.'' He explained that over the years loyalists had established themselves in the area ``and are now intent on running Catholics out of Antrim''.

Meehan was at pains to stress that while Sinn Féin had been weak in the South Antrim area over the years, a new clutch of party activists who have been active in the area have built up the party's profile in recent elections. ``However, we are very concerned that the rights of the people living here are respected. We are arguing for long term investment in the area and we want these estates cleared of the drug dealers and criminals that the RUC have ignored for years.''

There is no doubt that Sinn Féin's role has been a positive one. The party has been involved in ongoing campaigns against drug dealers and as one resident who spoke to An Phoblacht said, ``the people of this estate have a lot of confidence now because they have taken on the druggies and put them under pressure''.

Meehan and Adams visited a community centre in Rathenraw run by the Sisters of Mercy and there they witnessed the positive work carried out by people who are determined not to allow the problems they face get them down.

Concluded Meehan, ``Our objectives in this area are long term. The people of this area, particularly the nationalist people, have suffered discrimination and deprivation for too long. Politically, they have never been truly represented by the main political parties and the SDLP has been more inclined to rubber stamp unionist policies than promote ones based on the interests of working class people. Sinn Féin will oppose this status quo''.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin party chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has demanded the release of a Sinn Féin activist arrested by the RUC in Randalstown.

The man, who was held in Gough Barracks in Armagh, was arrested under the Emergency Provisions Act after the RUC raided his home and removed electoral material. Up to ten heavily armed RUC personnel raided the house, where the man lives with his elderly mother, on Wednesday 13 September.

``As the debate on policing moves on, this is a timely reminder of the sectarian contribution of the RUC,'' said Mitchel McLaughlin. ``They still believe that they can bully and intimidate people through the use of out-dated legislation which should have been removed from the statute books years ago.''

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