9 July 2009 Edition
LOCAL ELECTIONS: Transfers crucial in Waterford
Sinn Féin gain for the underdog
PAT FITZERALD made a breakthrough for Sinn Féin in Tramore, doubling the party’s representation on Waterford County Council when he took a seat in the local elections.
Pat tells ELLA O’DWYER about some of the factors involved in that success, including upset at the European Union and the Irish Government’s handling of indigenous industries.
PAT FITZGERALD was born and raised just outside Dunmore East, County Waterford. He joined Sinn Féin eight years ago because he saw the party as an alternative political path for the 26 Counties. For Pat, Sinn Féin represents “what politics is supposed to be about – looking after the underdog”.
“This was a first for me”
he says. “I never ran for election before. I joined Sinn Féin eight years ago. I could see back then that things were changing politically. People were thinking about alternative political arrangements and they were starting to view Sinn Féin as an alternative.
“I was always republican/socialist but I never joined a political party until I joined Sinn Féin. The party appealed to me because I always believed that politics was about protecting the underdog – protecting the weak against the strong.”
Waterford now has David Cullinane on the city council and two on Waterford County Council; Pat and Brendan Mansfield and David Clune narrowly missed a seat on Tramore Town Council.
“David had more first-preferences than the people that got elected – he just didn’t get the transfers.”
But, in Pat’s case, transfers did come on board and from an unlikely source – Fianna Fáil. A neighbour of Pat’s, a Fianna Fáil candidate, lost his seat.
“The transfers came to me. I think that was partly to do with the fact that I’ve been very involved in the community here. I’m on the Dunmore East Action Group which works on local issues like pushing for better facilities for young people here. We’re looking for a community centre and primary health services like an upgraded clinic.”
But Pat believes that Sinn Féin’s stance on the Lisbon Treaty was key to his taking a seat. “People here are upset with the Irish Government and the European Union.
“We put a huge campaign into ‘No to Lisbon’. The issues involved touched Waterford very strongly. Look at the fishing industry. The fishermen are being moved off their own ground.”
He says that the Irish Government are every bit as culpable when it comes to the demise of the fishing industry in Ireland. “While the EU was calling for a 40% reduction in eel fishing, the Irish Government closed it down all together. People in the fishing industry have been heavily victimised. Their way of life has been decimated.
“The Fisheries Authority is well equipped to police the fishermen, who can have their equipment confiscated, fishermen put in jail and even ending up with a criminal record. So you’re talking in effect about criminalising communities. The Irish authorities don’t invest that much in catching the drug trafficking through Irish waters.
“Waterford was also a strong farming region with tillage, dairy and beef farming but now you see the farmers on the dole. The Irish Farming Association are complaining that farmers are only getting 19 cents per litre of milk. I believe Arthur Morgan has recently been appointed to make a report on the whole agri-foods sector so maybe that will help highlight the issue.”
The big issue for Waterford, of course, is jobs.
“Waterford Glass is gone and there’s concerns about the future of Bausch & Lomb, a company making eye healthcare products like contact lenses. It was always a good employer but last week the company said it’s looking for 120 voluntary redundancies. That’s 10% of the workforce.”
“We could have a situation in rural villages where there’s nothing – young people hanging around the streets with their hands in their pockets.”
With Pat’s election to Waterford County Council the Sinn Féin team there has been boosted and they formed a Technical Group of eight members (five Fianna Fáil, one Independent and Brendan and Pat for Sinn Féin) on the 23-seat county council.
“That allows us extra speaking time on the council. I’m on the committee dealing with rural transport and the Culture and Heritage Committee. It’s very important to regenerate tourism here in terms of bringing employment back to the area.”
Another part of Sinn Féin’s success in areas like Dunmore East is the backlash against the Government.
“People wanted change. We in Sinn Féin have to stand up and speak out on issues. I’m very happy to have been elected and I’ll do everything I can to meet the expectations of my constituents.”