23 October 2003 Edition

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Poised for breakthrough in the Rebel City

BY Paul O'Connor

Pictured with Gerry Adams are Dermot O'Mahony, Jackie Connolly, Henry Cremin, Fiona Kerins and Jonathan O'Brien

Pictured with Gerry Adams are Dermot O'Mahony, Jackie Connolly, Henry Cremin, Fiona Kerins and Jonathan O'Brien

Gerry Adams was in Cork last week to meet Sinn Féin's candidates for the local elections next June. For the first time, the party will be contesting every ward in the city. The Sinn Féin president predicted that there would be significant gains, and that the party would have a strong presence on the next city council.

At a press conference afterwards, the party's existing councillor, Jonathan O'Brien, said: "For the past number of years, as the lone Sinn Féin councillor in City Hall, I have tried to question the politics of the establishment and provide a republican voice in the council chamber. I look forward to building on this work after the local elections as part of a team of Sinn Féin councillors. There are many issues - the erosion of local democracy, the imposition of service charges, the delay in implementation of the RAPID programmes, the neglect of working-class communities around Cork - which the establishment parties have comprehensively ignored and which Sinn Féin will continue to campaign on from the platform of the council."

Jackie Connolly, Sinn Féin candidate for the North Central Ward, raised the issue of refuse charges, pointing out that after 17 November, Cork City Council will be refusing to collect refuse from those who have not paid the charges. Restating Sinn Féin's absolute opposition to refuse charges, she slammed the government argument that the charges are an environmentally progressive tax. "If the government were serious about implementing the principle of the polluter pays, they would tax the manufacturers and retailers who wrap their products in layers of unnecessary packaging, rather than the consumer who is left to dispose of it," she said. "They would also provide proper recycling facilities. The provision of free, accessible, well-maintained facilities for disposing of the main categories of recyclable waste at a local level will be a priority for Sinn Féin on the City Council."

At 19, Fiona Kerins, standing in the South Central Ward, is the youngest declared candidate in the election. She insisted that her age should be seen as an advantage. "I believe it gives me a special understanding of the issues that affect youth in the city," she said. "People are always talking about young people and their needs, especially around issues like youth facilities, drug and alcohol abuse, and anti-social behaviour, but rarely do they give young people an opportunity to voice their own opinions and concerns. I also hope that my election to the council would help reconnect young people to politics - that it would encourage them to see politics as being about issues that affect them in their everyday lives, and not just the concern of middle-aged men in suits doing deals behind closed doors."

Fiona outlined Sinn Féin's youth policy for the city, which includes:

o A dedicated youth officer to be employed by the city council.

o A co-ordinated youth strategy to be drawn up in consultation with youth groups, sporting organisations, schools, the churches, parents groups and other interested parties, which would cover, among other issues, ways of tackling drug and alcohol abuse among young people.

o Greater investment in facilities for young people, targeted especially at disadvantaged areas.

o An audit of existing facilities, such as school halls, community centres, etc, which are at present underutilised.

o Tackling the issue of insurance by cost sharing among groups and through sponsorship of events by local businesses.

Dermot O'Mahony (Southeast) made the link between the lack of youth facilities, drug and alcohol abuse and anti-social behaviour, issues on which he has campaigned in Mahon and Blackrock. "It costs €200,000 to keep somebody in prison for a year; money spent on providing facilities for young people should be seen as an investment to keep them away from crime." Dermot also raised the issue of road safety and called on the council to provide "Go Slow" and "Children at Play" signs free of charge to communities that ask for them. He noted that when Sinn Féin in Mahon erected road safety signs at the behest of local residents last April, after the council had failed to do so, they were removed by council workers responding to political pressure from Fianna Fáil. "The council seems more concerned about the bruised egos of Fianna Fáil politicians than the needs of local residents," he said. "This is something that Sinn Féin will work to change." He also suggested that weight and time restrictions be placed on the passage of heavy vehicles through residential areas.

Sinn Féin's candidate for the Southwest Council Ward, Henry Cremin, slammed the recent cutbacks in Home Help hours by the Southern Health Board and pledged the Home Helps the party's continuing support in their campaign to have the cuts reversed. "While this is not an issue that comes directly under the jurisdiction of the council," he said, "myself and my Sinn Féin colleagues, if elected, will use our position on the council as a platform from which to campaign on this and other issues affecting the people of Cork."

Henry went on to rehearse the broader theme of Sinn Féin's local election campaign. "Sinn Féin on the council will open up a closed political system to ordinary communities and the issues that concern them. We want to take politics out of the world of back rooms and brown envelopes and give it back to the people. As a community activist, I have had plenty of experience of how difficult it can be to get a response from the local authority. The Sinn Féin team on the council will act as a conduit between the communities where we live and work and the city administration, bringing the concerns of citizens to their attention and pressuring them to act."

The party's candidates are:

o Jonathan O'Brien (Northwest). A member of Cork City Council since 2000, Jonathan has gained a reputation as one of the most active and high-profile councillors in the city. Born and bred on Cork's northside, he has campaigned for improved road safety in the area and for the implementation of the RAPID programme to revitalise some of Cork's most deprived communities. At 31, he is one of the youngest members of the council.

o Jackie Connolly (North Central). A resident of Gurranabraher, Jackie is married with four children and works at the St Vincent's Centre for people with intellectual disabilities. She is a member of the National Women's Council of Ireland and one of the founders of Mná le Chéile, a Cork group which meets to discuss and campaign about issues that affect women.

o Henry Cremin (Southwest). An active campaigner on community issues for many years, Henry is a resident of Bishopstown on Cork's southside. He has long fought for improved youth facilities in the area, and helped found the local branch of the youth club Foróige and a fishing club for local teenagers. Henry is married with four children.

o Fiona Kerins (South Central). The youngest candidate in the local elections in Cork, Fiona was born and brought up in Ballyphehane. An enthusiastic follower of Gaelic games, she is currently studying for a Diploma in Legal and Business Studies at Coláiste Stiofán Naofa in Cork.

o Dermot O'Mahony (Southeast). A resident of Mahon, Dermot has worked with Abode, a hostel and day centre for disabled young adults, for the past 15 years. Aged 35, he is married with one child. He is a leading member in the campaign against the development of Buckley's field in Mahon, and has worked in the community on issues including youth facilities, road safety and anti-social behaviour.

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