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19 July 2007 Edition

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Interview : Councillor Fiona Kerins

Playing her part

Sinn Féin gained a third seat in Cork City Council on Monday 9 July with the co-option of Fiona Kerins. From Ballyphenhane Cork City, the 22 year old is the youngest member of Cork City Council having been co-opted to fill the vacancy left on the death of Independent Councillor Con O’Connell.  Fiona is a lively, cheerful young woman with a candid manner and a real commitment to the republican project. Here she talks to Ella O’Dwyer about her respect for the late Councillor O’Connell, growing up in rebel Cork and her desire to ‘play her part’.

Tell me about growing up in Cork.
I love Cork. I was born in Ballyphehane in Cork City.  I went to the Presentation Secondary School. We’re eight in family, my parents, four brothers, a sister and myself. I wasn’t very keen on school but I went on to do a Diploma in Legal and Business Studies at Coláiste Stiofán Naofa.  Now I work in administration in the Radiotherapy Unit at Cork University Hospital.

On your co-option you paid tribute to the late Con O’Connell. What did you think of the late councillor?
He was a neighbour and friend of ours and a very hard-working political representative. His niece and I are best friends – Áine Murphy – she’s in the same Sinn Féin cumann as myself. Con had a stroke about four years ago and had been ill over recent years but he still worked up to two weeks before he passed away. Everyone in the community knew who he was and had great respect for him. During the 2004 elections he was sick in hospital but he topped the poll.  He’d been elected early and I was at the count in City Hall at 1am in the morning and he rang to wish me luck. “Count every single vote and hopefully I’ll be working along side you”, he said. But unfortunately it wasn’t to happen. I lost by just 34 votes. I knew him since I was small. I’ve very good shoes to fill.

How exactly did it come about that you ended up taking the seat left vacant by Con’s death?
I stood in 2004 local elections and was sixth in a five-seat ward, only missing the seat by 34 votes as I said. I was the candidate polling the next highest vote in the 2004 election after the five elected councillors which is what made me entitled to the co-option. In this ward we’ve a very strong cumann, the Traolach MacSuibne Cumann, in Cork South and that was probably the main reason why we did so well at the local elections. I was 18 years old when I was nominated. At that time I had the basics of what is involved but I didn’t really know all that much about elections and the like. I learned as I went along. But I never joined the party to have a career in politics. Back then I didn’t really know what being a councillor meant. If I hadn’t been asked to stand for elections I’d be still working away with the party.

How did you get interested in republicanism?
I joined the movement in 2002. I used to always go to the commemorations – the Easter one in Cork City. I was about 16 when I went to the first one with my dad Brendan. He was originally from Kerry and my mum Pauline is from here. There were commemorations for Crowley and Ahern and for Terence MacSwiney. My dad’s family were republican minded and my family are republican supporters. I remember going to Kilmainham Jail when we were on holidays in Dublin. I remember too that the 20th anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strike had a big impact on me.  There were a lot of commemorations going on at the time and the whole story of the Hunger Strike touched me. But I was always interested in history and the politics of the Six Counties. I never had an interest on Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. I’d have watched Hearts and Minds and Questions and Answers rather than Prime Time.

You come from rebel Cork. There’s rich republican history in your county.
Yes. There are many Cork people who really impressed me. People like Terence MacSwiney and Tomás Mac Curtáin – former Lord Mayors of Cork.  Tomás Mac Curtáin was shot in his bed by the RIC in his home in Cork city in 1920 and Terence MacSwiney died on hunger strike in Brixton prison. Great people. Tomás Mac Curtáin was only Lord Mayor only for a short time before he was killed and then Terence MacSwiney took over as Lord Mayor of Cork. Actually the Republican Plot where I went to my first Easter commemoration is where Tomás Mac Curtáin was buried and when he died Terence MacSwiney bought the plot. So Tomás was the first to be buried in the Republican Plot there in St Finbars and Terence MacSwiney is buried on his right hand side. Then of course there was the Fenain Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa from West Cork who went through a very tough time in jail in England. I fully supported the armed struggle while it went on and see the connection through all these people down through the generations.

What do you think of Michael Collins?
While some people are split on the issue I think a lot of Cork people are very proud of him. I wouldn’t say a word against anyone who went out and fought for their country. I’ve great admiration for people who stand up for what is right even if it costs them their life. You have to admire people who believe in something so much that they’d give their life for it.

What do you hope to bring to Cork City Council?
As a young woman, I believe that I can bring a new and vibrant perspective to City Hall.  I will be campaigning and lobbying for more investment in youth facilities in the South City and increased financial support for local sports clubs and community groups. I will also be prioritising social and affordable housing and in particular I want to see a transparent points allocation system so that people know exactly where they are on the housing list and on what basis housing allocations are made.

What’s your passion?
I love the Irish language and Irish culture. Tá alán suim agam sa teanga. I like socialising and having fun too.

And your life’s ambition?
I just want to play my part even if it’s just to make a small difference.

If you’d one wish what would it be?
To see a United Ireland where we use the Proclamation as our template for running a fair and inclusive society.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1