13 November 2003 Edition
Meehan and McGuinness on campaign trail
Martin Meehan, accompanied by Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness and a canvass team, launched his campaign to be elected for South Antrim on Monday 10 November at the Fitzwilliam Hotel at Aldergrove Airport.
Meehan was the Sinn Féin candidate in the last Assembly elections. He also polled 4,160 votes in the last Westminster election in 2001.
Meehan told An Phoblacht he was confident the voters in South Antrim will elect him to represent them in the Assembly.
"Sinn Féin have been at the forefront in dealing with all the major issues that confront the people from this area and we are being told that on the doorsteps. I am confident the people of South Antrim will vote for a future where everyone will be entitled to equality in all aspects of life. Sinn Féin is the only all-Ireland party, the largest nationalist party and we look forward to becoming the largest party in terms of seats after this election."
The high-powered Sinn Féin delegation met with senior management of the airport on Monday afternoon. After a boardroom briefing, they were given a behind the scenes tour of parts of the airport normally off limits to the public.
Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside hit out at the airport management for giving the red carpet treatment to the Sinn Féin delegation. "Personally I wouldn't give them a tour around any installation. How can they be considered right and proper people to get this sort of red carpet treatment?" he raged.
Meehan said he was surprised and disappointed at Burnside's attitude.
"He will have to realise that Sinn Féin is the party of here and now. We were welcomed with open arms by the management of the airport and David Burnside will have to accept that times have changed, but unfortunately people like him are stuck in some kind of timewarp. If anything, he should be thankful for Sinn Féin's determination to improve air services at the airport, because it will make it easier for him to fly home to London."
Meanwhile, Meehan has pledged to stand alongside the residents of the County Antrim town of Toomebridge in their fight to get recognition for their town after years of neglect by government bodies and statutory agencies.
"It's an absolute disgrace that a town with a population the size of Toome has no bank, library, community centre, crèche, playground or dentist," he said. "The people are absolutely fed up; they have been neglected by the statutory bodies who are responsible for development. It's not as if the people are asking for much
Shift towards SF in Newry and Armagh
An Phoblacht also caught up with Newry and Armagh candidate Pat O'Rawe, who according to those in the know, "is a candidate to watch".
"We've had a very positive feedback from the canvassers. It's a very rural area and many of the issues which have surfaced on the doorsteps have been local, bread and butter issues," said O'Rawe, the first woman Sinn Féin Mayor of Armagh District Council.
"As for the SDLP, we are getting a sense of some shift towards Sinn Féin. The key factor in the SDLP vote in Newry and Armagh will be the Mallon factor. In the past, Séamus Mallon did attract a sizeable personal vote. In the last election, although Sinn Féin outpolled the SDLP in the local government elections, Séamus Mallon took the Westminster seat. However, in Davy Hyland Sinn Féin has a strong candidate who continually tops the poll in the Newry area.
"But a sizeable percentage of the electorate who voted for Mallon as their first preference used their transfers to support Sinn Féin. Of course, Séamus Mallon isn't standing in this election, so it will be very interesting to see just how that nationalist vote plays itself out.
"I think nationalists in the Newry and Armagh area will be voting in a very focused way and looking for ways to consolidate nationalist strength in the area. Petty sectarian nonsense by local unionists will act as an incentive for nationalists to ensure that their vote counts.
"Objections by the DUP to the flying of GAA football flags during the All-Ireland final irritated the nationalist community and the UUP's refusal to nominate a deputy mayor is another factor which has angered many local people.
"On the other hand, there is definite feedback from the electorate that Sinn Féin's record in office, particularly Martin McGuinness' role as Minister of Education, and their negotiating skills, will be key factors in deciding how people will chose to cast their vote," said O'Rawe.
O'Rawe is one of 12 women Sinn Féin hopefuls in the Assembly election.
Party spokesperson Conor Murphy is the third Sinn Féin candidate for the Newry and Armagh constituency. A long time activist Murphy has been involved in the negotiations with the British and Unionists over the last number of years, which has given him plenty of experience of handling the cut and thrust of political life in the Assembly.