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26 April 2007 Edition

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Dáil General Election Profile : Brian Stanley, Laois/Offaly

Brian Stanley

Brian Stanley

Brian Stanley could spring surprise again

Mayor of Portlaoise, BRIAN STANLEY is the Sinn Féin candidate for Laois/Offaly in the 26 County general elections. Here, he talks to ADAM HAUGHTON about his own background, the range of issues concerning the people of Laois and Offaly in the run up to the general election and the growth of support for Sinn Féin in the constituency in recent years.

What caused you to become involved in Irish republicanism?
There were a number of things that would have influenced my decision to get involved in republicanism. For example, I can remember as a child watching the civil rights movement being beatan off the streets of Derry and Belfast, and the brutality of the B-Specials and RUC, much of which was filmed as Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, had yet to be brought into law. That, and of course Bloody Sunday had an impact on me.
Throughout the early ‘70s as a teenager I would have gone through a number of years of confusion as to what was happening in the Six Counties, due in no small part to the propaganda war being waged against republicans by the British Government and the establishment here in the 26 counties, who employed the services of RTE, the newspapers, and the education system to propagate the view that the real problem was militant republicanism and not British occupation and the sectarian state that was in place.
Alongside my growing awareness of what was happening in the Six Counties was my active involvement in a protest campaign against unfair taxation of PAYE workers. On reflection I believe it was these two things that re-awakened my interest in the North and in politics generally. The two hunger strikes in the early eighties also crystalised for me the whole issue of the national question and I saw the republican movement as the only people driving this issue forward so I decided to join Sinn Féin.

You have contested a number of elections for Sinn Féin. Tell us about your electoral experiences.  
My first electoral intervention for Sinn Féin was in 1994 when I ran after some persuasion from the party for a Town Council seat here in Portlaoise. To the surprise of the other political parties, and indeed to ourselves, we almost took a seat. From that moment on we resolved ourselves to take the seat the next time round and this we achieved in the 1999 Town Council Election.
Our next election contest was the general election campaign of 2004 and we polled a respectable 2,600 votes with very little organisation in the constituency.
The big breakthrough for the party came in the 2004 town council & county council elections when I topped the poll for the Town Council seat by receiving 773 votes – two quotas, and I was elected on the first count to the County Council. Since then I have been elected as Mayor of Portlaoise and I am the only full-time representative in the constituency.

How did you feel about being elected Mayor of Portlaoise?
“It’s an honour not for me alone but for the people who voted for me and for the people who campaigned for me and its an honour for those people in the local communities here in Portlaoise who co-operate and work with me on a daily basis”.

How do you cope with such a workload and what do you do by way of relaxation?
Well, coping with my normal workload can be trying at times as I work up to 80 hours a week. With the general election campaign well underway the demands on my time are even greater, so at the moment it’s difficult to find time to relax.
I am also a parent and grandparent and I enjoy playing and talking with my granddaughter Leah as I find this helps me relax and wind down. I also go swimming or walking once or twice a week with my partner Caroline who is also very active in Sinn Féin. The support I receive from Caroline, and my children Mark and Laura is the one thing that helps me cope with the pressure that is part of a public representative’s life.

What are the issues for people in Laois/Offaly in the run-up to the general election?    
For some people the issue is the national question, they see the need to make further progress on all-Ireland integration and there is a feel-good factor on the doorsteps in terms of the leadership of the Republican Movement and Sinn Féin in relation to this issue.
The issue of health and the need for equality of access to a proper health service is also a big concern. The delays in getting the new A&E unit and CT scanner up and running in Portlaoise Hospital which I campaigned for over the past eight years is also a source of frustration for people in this constituency. The need for a new maternity unit is also a pressing issue. The fact that women from Laois and Offaly have to use the present facility means the staff is constantly under pressure. This issue needs to be addressed and I have been out supporting the nurses and midwives on the picket line in recent months demanding a new unit.
In Tullamore Hospital there is a big issue as the government are pushing their co-location plan to build a private hospital beside the HSE hospital and the fear is that services here will continue to be under funded and neglected. The Fianna Fáil/PD government has given away millions of euros of public money in tax breaks to developers to build these private hospitals, money that should have been used to upgrade and develop a more efficient health system.
Employment and childcare are some of the other major issues that will continue to impact on people’s lives unless we begin to create jobs locally for the huge number of people that have set up home in Laois and Offaly from other counties in recent years. Many of these people have very high childcare costs and have to commute long distances every day to work.
And finally education, the issue of new schools and reduced class sizes is of great concern to parents. We have a Gaelscoil in Portlaoise that is still housed in prefabs. We have classes of 35 and 36 in some of our primary schools. This is totally unacceptable.

How is your campaign going?
Very well. In the last general election in 2004 we polled 4.1%. According to a poll conducted by Red-C for one of the local papers recently we are now standing at 9%. This puts me ahead of the main Laois FG contender Charlie Flanagan. I am level at with a government Minister and PD candidate Tom Parlon, and ahead of a sitting TD, Sean Fleming.
I know this is just one opinion poll but it is consistent with other opinion polls and the feedback we are receiving at the doors. It shows that this can be done, that Sinn Féin is in there fighting for the 4th or 5th seat. That’s a major leap forward and has created an air of confidence in the party across the constituency that Laois/Offaly could elect our first TD since 1923. This would be of major significance for the party in the Midlands.

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