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22 May 1997 Edition

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Sham fights and real battles

MICHEAL MacDONNCHA profiles the Sinn Féin candidates and constituencies in Dublin, Meath and Louth

By general agreement Dublin is where the election will be won and lost. It has more seats and more marginal seats than any other region and the Dublin performance of the coalition-makers - Labour and the Progressive Democrats - will determine the shape of the new government.

The region is also vital for Sinn Féin. Five candidates are standing for the party in the capital and their constituencies reflect both the diversity of the city and the common problems of its people. In the communities where Sinn Féin is strongest one problem looms over all - drugs. As reported in this paper over the past 18 months by Rita O'Reilly, this has been a period of intense activity as communities fight back against the drugs scourge. That fight spurred the Coalition government into belated but inadequate action, as they tried desperately to be seen to make up for years of neglect. What the gardai and Democratic Left Minister Pat Rabbite wanted most was to defuse community protest. But the campaign goes on.

Last week in Coolock another community got mobilised. Hundreds of people rallied to launch the Fairfield/Macroom/Glin Against Drugs Group. At the meeting they heard that three local addicts had overdosed that very day. With tragic irony drugs are now being sold to kids in the nearby Stardust Park which is a memorial to the 48 young people killed in the Artane fire of 1981. ``Kids in working-class areas think it's normal to see heroin being sold on the streets. People in middle-class areas think it's normal for kids to go to university.'' These sentiments of local anti-drugs activist Norman Duff apply to the whole of Dublin. And as elsewhere, the only politician present at the march and meeting was a Sinn Féiner - Dublin North East candidate Larry O'Toole.

In Dublin West the same story can be told. Sinn Féin candidate John McCann is a member of the Clondalkin Drugs Task Force and helped set up the Clondalkin Addiction Support Program. He has actively supported Blanchardstown Against Drugs. His constituency contains some of the newest, most sprawling and most neglected local authority housing estates in the country. There has been much hype about new developments promising jobs in the area, including the massive Quarryvale project with 4000 promised. Communities have heard such promises before but areas worst effected by unemployment have often been by-passed. That's why McCann is campaigning for jobs to go to local people and for the developers to build a community centre. In last year's Dublin West by-election John McCann almost doubled the Sinn Féin vote on its 1992 level. Party activists are working for a similar improvement here and elsewhere in Dublin this time.

The neighbouring constituency of Dublin South West has seen some of the most consistent and best organised anti-drugs campaigns. Candidate Seán Crowe, a party activist since his early youth, served as the secretary to Sinn Féin's delegation on the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. Crowe is well known in Tallaght and a thriving cumann has brought out a regular newsletter reaching 20,000 homes. This candidate is tipped to do very well on 6 June.

Moving into the city from the suburbs we encounter the bewildering boundaries of Dublin Central. Once in Dublin West, Ballyfermot and Inchicore on the southside were shifted into Dublin Central to join the North Inner City and Cabra. Sinn Féin Councillor Christy Burke is fighting a determined campaign with twelve years of experience as a councillor behind him. Don't rule him out in the final shake-up for the fourth and last seat. One of the reasons sitting Fine Gael TD Jim Mitchell was asked to come back out of `retirement' was because a Fine Gael poll showed Christy Burke performing very well and the Fine Gael seat in peril.

Drugs again are the key issue in both Dublin Central and Dublin South Central where Martina Kenna is the Sinn Féin standard-bearer. She is chairperson of the Crumlin Community Development Group and is also involved in drug treatment projects. She helped this year to expose the involvement of a cab company in Dolphin's Barn in facilitating the drugs trade. Like Dublin Central her constituency has inner city areas which have been ravaged by drugs for longer than anywhere else in the city. Kenna increased the Sinn Féin vote when she stood in the 1994 by-election and looks set to do well again.

Northwards to Louth we come to the only constituency where Sinn Féin is fielding two candidates, Owen Hanratty from Dundalk and Maeve Healy from Drogheda. Paddy Agnew won a H-Block seat here in 1981 and the strong republican vote plus the hard work of two very community-based candidates will ensure a strong republican challenge. Local party workers say they are getting a very good response and speak of the best election campaign since `81.

This was echoed by Councillor Joe Reilly, in the neighbouring Meath constituency where is running against John Bruton, amongst others. Reilly has a strong base in Navan where the party will open a new and bigger office next week, with Gerry Adams doing the honours at 3.30pm on Wednesday 28 May. Earlier this month a caller to RTE radio queried where Sinn Féin was getting the money to open such offices. Joe Reilly was on the Pat Kenny Show the next day to give an exact account of the extensive fundraising which Meath Sinn Féin has done. It was an indication of the strength of the organisation in the county, particularly in Navan itself.

``We're getting a great reception on the doorstep'' says Reilly. ``People are turned off by the big parties. They see no difference between them.'' He likened the `debates' between the big parties to the annual Sham Fight at Garvagh where Orangemen dress up as King Billy and King James and slog it out with the same result every year.

The real fight of course is for a new direction in Irish politics and in this election Sinn Féin is to the fore in that battle.


Next week - Cavan-Monaghan, Donegal North East, Sligo-Leitrim, Cork North Central, Cork East and Kerry North.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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