2 July 2009 Edition
CORK: Sinn Féin doubles up on city council
Rebel County rising
CORK was another constituency that performed well in the recent local elections. It was the result of patience and motivation, attributes a long time associated with the county. Whether on the field of sport or more serious battlefields, you have to hand it to Cork.
BY PAUL O’CONNOR & ELLA O’DWYER
SINN FÉIN doubled its representation on Cork City Council, with Henry Cremin and Thomas Gould joining sitting councillors Jonathan O’Brien and Fiona Kerins. Across the city, Sinn Féin received 5,057 first-preferences, or 10.8% of the vote – up on 2004.
First elected was Cllr Jonathan O’Brien, with 1,319 votes and a 21.71% first-preference share. Jonathan’s performance built on his impressive result in 2004, when he achieved 17% of the vote. A long history of campaigning in the area has been reinforced by the high profile of Cllr O’Brien on the ground.
Next across the line was Henry Cremin, standing in his third local election for Sinn Féin. In 2004, Henry just missed out on taking a seat – after the local radio station had reported him as the winner! – and there was jubilation among Sinn Féin activists when his victory was formally announced this time for real. Henry’s impressive tally of 1,098 votes represented a further increase on his vote in 2004.
Reflecting on the result, he said:
“The longer the wait, the sweeter the victory in the end. I am delighted not just for myself but for my team of supporters who have put everything into this campaign.”
And the secret of success?
“I think it was starting in January and being constantly on the doors for nearly six months – taking time to talk to people and really listen to what they had to say, rather than just flying through areas in the few weeks of an election campaign.”
Like Henry, Cllr Fiona Kerins just missed taking a seat in 2004 before being co-opted to the council two years ago on the death of Independent Councillor Con O’Connell. On this occasion, she increased her share of the vote by nearly 2% to take the fifth seat in the South Central ward.
With Fiona’s victory, Sinn Féin had won two seats in a constituency – Cork South Central – where it had no city council representation in 2004.
The last Sinn Féin councillor to be elected was Thomas Gould, who was running for the first time and engaged in a battle royal in the most competitive ward in Cork City. The challenge for Thomas was to knock out a sitting councillor while competing in a strong left-wing field that included two former Sinn Féin representatives who had left the party in the past 12 months.
In the event, Thomas kept ahead of his rivals and gathered enough transfers to take the seat after a marathon count. Speaking later he said:
“I’m looking forward to going in to shake things up in City Hall and break the cosy cartel the Establishment parties have going. I want to improve the quality of life for people in Cork, pursuing issues like housing provision, the need for decent health services on the city’s Northside and initiatives to involve young people more in the community.”
Overall, it was a breakthrough election for Sinn Féin in Cork City that saw four councillors returning to the historic chamber where Terence MacSwiney and Tomás Mac Curtain were lord mayors.
Across County Cork, Sinn Féin also increased its share of the vote, receiving 11,142 first-preferences (6.4%). Willie O’Regan in Mallow, Des O’Grady in Macroom, and Donie Kelleher in Kanturk all contested local authority wards where Sinn Féin had not run candidates before and garnered impressive votes. The party also took town council seats in Bandon, Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Kinsale, Passage, Cobh, Mallow, Fermoy, Midleton, and Youghal, where Sandra McLellan topped the poll in the town and secured a county council seat.
Sandra McLellan was first elected to Youghal Town Council in 2004 and she stood again for the 2007 general election. She didn’t make the seat but did well, increasing the Sinn Féin vote. In these local elections, Sandra topped the poll in Youghal, becoming mayor of the town when she was nominated by party colleague Michelle Hennessy and seconded and supported by councillors from Labour, Fianna Fáil and the Greens. Sandra also retained the Cork County Council seat formerly held by Sinn Féin stalwart Martin Hallinan, who served on both Youghal town and county councils for many years before deciding not to run again.
Sandra’s sister in-law, Sinn Féin’s Michelle Hennessy, who was co-opted onto Youghal Town Council over two years ago, was elected in her own right and Michelle is deputy mayor of Youghal. It was through Michelle’s husband, Sandra’s brother Tony, that Sandra got involved in the Republican Movement. “Tony set up the Youghal Republican Flute Band and my children played for the band so I ended up going to commemorations. Gradually I got more and more involved in republicanism. But I’d always believed in a united Ireland and I’m a socialist.”
Sandra McLellan has been heavily involved in the trade union movement over the years.
“I worked as a shop steward for SIPTU for 16 years so, for me, it was a kind of natural progression to join Sinn Féin.”
Her priority for Youghal is jobs. “Youghal has been badly hit with job losses over the last five years. Youghal Carpets is gone; Artesyn electronic factory is gone; and so has Denison office equipment manufacturers.”
Sandra describes herself as ‘ordinary’. She’s anything but.
“I’m a very ordinary person but very motivated. If I’ve a task in hand I’ll see it through to the end.”
And that’s the attitude with which she dealt with the circumstances she found herself in after the 2007 general election.
“The week after I stood for the general election I was diagnosed with cancer. The election was on a Thursday; the count on Friday; on the Monday I was with the doctor and, two days later, I saw the consultant.
“It was quite urgent at this stage. Then there was an operation and six to eight months of treatment including chemo and therapy. I always believed I’d get better. I tend to be optimistic in temperament. I had a lot of support. We have had a great Sinn Féin team here in Youghal and east Cork over the years,” Sandra says. “We worked hard all along and a huge effort was put into the elections.”
Sandra is married to Liam and they have three children: Graham, Lorna and Kelly. The McLellan home is an open door to Sandra’s constituents.
“Everybody here in Youghal knows me,” the Mayor of Youghal says. “People just call to the house with their problems. My door will always be open.”
SUPPORT TEAM: Henry Cremin pictured beside Gerry Adams with Sinn Féin canvassers in Cork