27 May 2004 Edition
Neglected North West
BY JOANNE CORCORAN
The Hanly Report, a lack of infrastructure, unemployment and unfulfilled promises — these are just some of the issues Sinn Féin local election candidates throughout the Northwest are hearing on the doorsteps as polling day draws closer. Fianna Fáil may be expecting losses throughout the entire 26 Counties in this election, but even they might not be prepared for the anger on the ground in the nine counties that make up Pearse Doherty's EU constituency.
This week An Phoblacht spoke with some of the Sinn Féin local election candidates in Donegal, Galway, Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim, Clare, Monaghan and Cavan, and their message was a positive one. They expect to make massive gains. The people in the North West are tired of being neglected and they are going use this election to bring about change.
Councillor Matt Carthy was one of the youngest candidates in the country to take a seat in the last local elections and will be hoping to capitalise on his hard work since then by retaining his seat on Carrickmacross Town Council and getting elected to the county council.
At 26, Matt is still one of the youngest candidates in Monaghan, with just Eamonn Conlon (24) younger. The party currently has 15 sitting councillors in the county, where it won its first Dáil seat (Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin for Cavan/Monaghan), and is contesting 25 seats this time around.
"It will be a challenge for us to get more of a vote than we already have," Matt told us. "We already have about 30%. But there is a lot of anger out there at the moment over the hospital issue, which may add up to extra seats for us."
On Wednesday, the Irish Times predicted that Sinn Féin could emerge as the largest single party on Monaghan County Council, which would be another historic first for this groundbreaking constituency.
Cavan is expecting to make good gains, according to sitting councillor Pauline McCauley. Health is once again a major issue, with services at Cavan General Hospital being seriously cut back.
"Along with that, pollution is a major issue in my area," Pauline said. "There are two compost yards where I'm running, and there are also several lakes being polluted." Pauline added that there was a good response on the doors to the eleven Sinn Féin candidates, and the party hopes to take four extra seats in two weeks time.
According to Councillor Martin Kenny, the issue riling voters in Leitrim is the splitting up of their county into two separate general election constituencies, joined with Sligo and Galway. The move may mean that Leitrim won't have a chance of getting a TD in 2007.
"In addition to that, there are the usual health problems, cutbacks and so on, and the primary schools in the area are in poor condition," Kenny said. "We have two sitting councillors at the moment, but we're running four and we're hoping to take a third seat."
Success in Galway in two weeks time may come in the shape of the party taking a seat on the city council. With three strong candidates, Daniel Callinan (East Ward), Anne Marie Carroll (West Ward) and Conan Campbell (South Ward), that is looking more likely.
Dermot Connolly, who is running in Ballinasloe, told us about the issues in Galway.
"Our general hospital, Portiuncula, is being seriously downgraded by Hanly, and that is a huge issue," he said. "And unemployment is crippling the area. We keep seeing factories going and 300 jobs were just lost recently. There is no industry of any significance coming to this region."
This isn't Connolly's first election, but he reckons this will be the one that sees him elected.
"Fianna Fáil is going to take a bashing here, and the PDs haven't even dared stand anyone in Ballinasloe," he added. Galway Sinn Féin is running eleven candidates altogether
Sinn Féin is currently the second-largest party in Sligo Town, according to sitting Councillor Chris MacManus.
"We have two seats on Sligo Town Council and one on the county council, but we hope to increase that number," MacManus said. "I suppose the biggest issues facing us here in Sligo is the lack of affordable housing for young people and anti-social behaviour. In the more rural areas, there is a real lack of infrastructure.
Dessie Skeffington, who's running in the Drumcliff County Council Ward, added that one of the main problems is the lack of local participation in the planning stages on new developments.
"There are little or no green areas being built in new developments, and as a result, there are very few play areas for children," he said. This is Dessie's first time to run for election, and he is joined by five other candidates in Sligo.
Mayo Sinn Féin is running five candidates in this election and all are in strong positions. Rose Conway Walsh, who is running in the Belmullet County Council ward, is making history on a number of counts.
She is the only woman to ever to put her name on the ballot paper for the Belmullet electoral area and she is the first Sinn Féin candidate to ever run in the area.
"The feedback on the ground is very positive," she said this week. "We have a huge area to canvass. Erris alone is the size of county Louth and we have to add in Mulranny and Achill to that."
According to Rose, the main issues of concern for voters in Mayo include: the state of the roads; lack of health facilities, particularly for women; cuts in dairy quotas and cuts in REPS for hill farmers; the failure of Mayo County Council to make safe the Pullathomas area after the landslides; the lack of a sewerage scheme in Belmullet; and poor water quality, particularly in Ballycroy.
People are more than willing to talk to the Sinn Féin candidates in Roscommon, according to Michael Mulligan, who is running in the county alongside Pat Cartin and John Reynolds.
"The hostility towards the government here is unreal," Michael told us. "90% of the doors we're going to, people are delighted to talk to us, and Pearse Doherty is making a big impact. The usual issues are coming up — lack of infrastructure, roads, and the Hanly report."
Roscommon hasn't had a Sinn Féin councillor since the '70s but Michael believes that this could be the election to reverse that trend.
The loss of the A&E at Ennis County Hospital, planning issues, and Shannon Airport are the issues on voters' lips in Clare. Gerry Malone, originally from Dublin but now living in the county, is running in Kilrush. He told us that Clare is adjusting to being moved from one European constituency to another (it had been in the old Munster constituency), but that Pearse Doherty's name is being mentioned on the doorsteps.
"The party has been rebuilding in Clare, so this election will just be testing the water for us, but we think we'll do well," Malone said.
Clare Sinn Féin is running four candidates for six seats.
With Pearse Doherty running for the European elections on their doorstep, Donegal Sinn Féin believe that the profile of their local elections candidates has been raised considerably. The party is running ten candidates for eleven seats, with the youngest candidate — Donal Cullen — just 23 years of age.
"Lack of infrastructure is a massive problem in Donegal, but this is outstripped by unemployment," Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who is running in Inishowen and Buncrana, told us. "The county has the highest unemployment statistics of the 26 Counties and lack of investment means this figure is growing."
Doing the double
Voters in the West of Ireland have the opportunity to make history in the local elections by selecting Sinn Féin twins Noel and Conan Campbell to represent them as councillors in Mayo and Galway. The 26-year-old twins are running in Castlebar and Galway, respectively.
From Castlebar originally, the twins have been involved in Sinn Féin since they set up a cumann in UCG almost seven years ago. Although not identical in looks, the brothers certainly share identical politics. Speaking to An Phoblacht, Noel said that he reckoned their chances of "doing the double" were pretty good. "I'm almost sure that we are the only twins running for election throughout Ireland in this election, and possibly ever," he said.
"We haven't been running our campaigns together, because we are based in different counties, so not many people know that there are twins up for election. But we have attended each other's functions, and the reaction to both our campaigns has been excellent. I think we have a real chance of doing the double."