29 May 1997 Edition
A dynamic for change
This week Sinn Féin launched its election manifesto. Neil Forde summarises the main points which shows that the party is committed to real social economic and political change.
Empowering Communities - the fight against drugs
Sinn Féin has a track record of campaigning against drug abuse. In October 1996 Sinn Féin launched a comprehensive set of recommendations to tackle the drugs problem. They include:
Immediate treatment for addicts. Locally based treatment facilities established in consultation with the community are essential.
Community drug teams, involving local GPs, social workers, voluntary and community agencies should be established.
A co-ordinated approach by all the relevant state agencies is needed to target the major drug dealers and seize their assets.
Local communities have a central role to play in tackling the drugs problem
Local authorities should evict drug dealers and local people must be given a greater say in how their estates are managed
An end to Garda harassment of anti-drug activists. The Gardaí must be made accountable to the community.
The establishment of a national forum with statutory funding to draw up a comprehensive response to the drugs crisis
Putting People First
Sinn Féin's overall objectives for economic policy in Ireland are to provide sustainable and dignified livelihoods for all its citizens; to develop economic resources, human and material, to their fullest; and to create an economic base which reflects the social and cultural values of all the Irish people and which fulfils their material needs and aspirations.
Sinn Féin's policies:
A minimum wage should be introduced.
The current levels of social welfare need to be increased.
Reform of the tax system to ensure that the present inequitable burden carried by PAYE workers particularly the low paid is removed.
To assist local development the 10% cut in Forbairt's funding should be reversed and more economic resources directed to local and community led enterprise.
The creation of an all-Ireland economy.
The elimination of the economic distortions created by partition particularly in the border counties.
Full parity of esteem and equality of treatment for all sections of the community.
Since the inception of this form of double taxation Sinn Féin has consistently opposed these charges at Council and community level.
Sinn Féin calls for:
An amnesty for nonpayers and tax exemptions given to those who have already paid this form of double tax.
Enhancing the role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in relation to water quality.
Sinn Féin believes that the objective for rural areas should be a healthy and diverse economic and social environment where quality of life is enhanced by equality of opportunity.
Sinn Féin proposes:
An integrated strategy for rural development in terms of partnerships between government, development agencies, private business and, in particular, local communities so that full participation and accountability takes place.
A rural investment bank, offering low-interest loans and technical advice to small farmers and local areas starting community enterprises, should be developed.
Agricultural policy must be directed towards keeping the maximum number of active farmers in rural Ireland.
Low interest loans to be made available to assist small farmers.
Aggressive overseas marketing to overcome the BSE scare.
All farmers convicted of Angel Dust use in beef production or of using BSE infected animals to maximise herd depopulation compensation to be banned from livestock production.
Cases of farm families in financial difficulties to be resolved by negotiation not by eviction.
The history of Irish fisheries is not a story of success. Ireland possesses 16% of EU fishing waters yet has just .3% of the EU tonnage and 2.5% of the EU fleet
Sinn Féin proposes:
An end to overfishing or illegal fishing by other EU countries
Rejection of attempts to create a non commercial three mile fishing zone
increased funding for the modernisation of the Irish fishing fleet
A coherent policy to protect the ``Continental Shelf'', Ireland's main fish spawning ground
An early and fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy ahead of the planned review in 2002
Properly controlled forestry development can be achieved by:
Supporting public ownership and control of forestry.
Maximising the involvement and employment of local communities in the developing forestry industry.
Adopting a balanced approach to forestry with incentives to plant native broad-leaved trees wherever appropriate.
Encouraging small industries which produce recycled paper products.
Sinn Féin will campaign for a better environment by:
Opposing the building of a national incinerator.
Continuing to support local communities in the campaign against nuclear dumping in the Irish sea and for the closure of Sellafield.
Supporting incentives to minimise the production of waste and encourage recycling.
Supporting the use of an eco tax to deter companies from over packaging their products.
Reducing the use of non bio-degradable plastic.
Encouraging the development of organic farming and ban genetically engineered food.
Making the control of water pollution in coastal waters and in rivers a priority.
To achieve real equality for women Sinn Féin is advocating:
Measures to achieve equality of representation both in political life and in appointments to all public bodies. Women must be involved in making the laws that affect their lives.
The setting of time scales to achieve equality of outcome in employment structures, education and training.
The provision of child care facilities and subsidies for childcare must be a priority.
Real jobs and quality education and training should be provided for young people. They should not be forced into dead end schemes.
Sinn Féin will oppose any diminishing of a young persons social welfare entitlements.
Funding for youth services and recreation facilities should be increased.
Sinn Féin proposes:
Priority funding of pre-schools in disadvantaged areas
The full funding of all primary and secondary schools.
Funding for Irish language schools.
A change in funding priorities so that a larger percentage of the education budget goes to primary schools.
Decreases in class sizes.
Introduction of a realistic maintenance subsidy for third level students.
Increased grants for young people from disadvantaged areas to go on to third level.
Teilifís na Gaeilge despite its detractors, has proved that Irish is a living and vibrant language.To build on this Sinn Féin proposes:
Immediate recognition and funding for Irish language schools an all-Irish university.
A bill of rights ensuring equality of treatment for Gaeilgeoirí.
All TV and radio stations to transmit not less than 12.5% of programmes through Irish
Momentum builds in Cavan-Monaghan
MICHEAL MacDONNCHA on the campaign trail with Caoimhghin O Caoláin. Sinn Féin's front-runner for Leinster House
``This is not a recent surge of support. It's not a flash in the pan. This is a result of 16 years of hard work. We've had this team together since the hunger-strikes in 1981.''
Caoimhghin O Caoláin emphasised this to me before we parted on the main street of Castleblayney, County Monaghan. He pointed to Jackie Crowe, one of that core group of key Sinn Féin workers who have been together since Kieran Doherty was elected as a TD. Kieran died on hunger-strike a few agonising weeks later. Caoimhghin was director of elections in that campaign. He is now heading a team of nine Sinn Féin councillors, including Jackie Crowe, holding ten local authority seats in the constituency. Caoimhghin and his team are fighting the hardest election campaign of their lives and they feel they are on the verge of an historic breakthrough.
They are confident of once more increasing their record-breaking vote in County Monaghan. They need to do this and to win many new votes in County Cavan to send the first Sinn Féin TD to Leinster House. If the dozens of new election workers who have rallied to Sinn Féin in Cavan is anything to go by then their target is more than achievable.
One problem they do have is about posters. They noticed that the large posters of Gerry Adams kept disappearing. Jackie Crowe spotted a young man putting one in the boot of his car and when challenged the embarrassed Sinn Féin supporter said he wanted it as a souvenir. Now souvenir-hunters are cordially requested to wait until the election is over.
``I never voted Sinn Féin but I wish five or six of you were standing,'' one woman told Jackie Crowe. In the Bree housing estate in Castleblayney there were many such expressions of support. ``Best of luck.''
``We always vote for you.''
``You don't need to ask.''
``No problem, you know us.''
This is one of the areas where years of hard work at council level has won the support of the electorate. Caoimhghin is anxious to make clear that he will carry that momentum on to Leisnter House. ``I'll live up to expectations,'' he assures people on the doorsteps.
Transfers will be crucial if Caoimhghin is to get one of the five seats. He says he expects many more transfers than ever before. Fine Gael Justice Minister Nora Owen said on Monday that voters in Cavan-Monaghan should give preferences to any candidates other than Sinn Féin. One of the explanations for this is that because of the respect for Caoimhghin's work he can expect transfers from across the spectrum, including Fine Gael voters, a horrendous thought for the Fine Gael leadership. It is also of course a scare tactic by Owen, whose remarks have caused much resentment in the constituency.
``Disgraceful'' is how Caoimhghin describes it and he says he's confident that voters in Cavan-Monaghan will give the same answer to Owen as those in the Six Counties gave to John Bruton. ``You did well down our country,'' said an Armagh man we met on the canvass in Castleblayney. Among the election workers was James Cunningham whose brother Brian topped the poll for Sinn Féin in Keady on 21 May. Success breeds success and the strong showing in the Six Counties provides another vital boost in the Cavan-Monaghan campaign.
As we left `Blayney on Saturday the candidate and his team were heading off to another round of canvassing. They had 13 days more of this before D-Day 6 June. Then in the count centre in Cootehill, County Cavan on Saturday evening 7 June it will be all over bar the shouting. No need to ask who we'll be shouting for.
A visit from an old friend
MICHEAL MacDONNCHA accompanied Gerry Adams on his Dublin election tour
For a generation of Sinn Féin activists the first election campaign they fought was in 1983, when Christy Burke shocked the establishment by beating the Labour Party into fifth place in a Leinster House by-election. I remember standing outside a polling station in Sherriff Street in the pouring rain beside Michael D. Higgins on a dark November polling night. The changes in Sherriff Street have matched the changes in Dublin city and in the fortunes of Irish politics since then.
Most of the old flats in Sherriff Street have been pulled down and many people have had to move out to suburbs. New Corporation houses have been built and much of the old community has held together, because they had the determination to defend their right to stay. But the biggest change is the nearby Custom House Docks and Financial Services Centre. Hyped as a boon to the area it has provided no jobs for Sherriff Street. But the community is still fighting. Against government neglect. Against Corpo bureaucracy. Against the drug pushers.
His profile on the world stage means that people forget that visits by Gerry Adams to communities like this are nothing new. He was coming here before the glare of publicity was on him, in 1983 and long before then. He identifies instinctively with people like those in Sherriff Street, Killinarden, Crumlin, Neilstown, Darndale. That was the theme of his visit to Dublin on Monday 26 May.
More than once he described it as ``an uplifting experience''. He commended people's efforts to reclaim their areas from drugs and official indifference. You could see that after the initial novelty of `stardom' had waned his words struck a chord that other politicians do not touch. It wasn't about what Sinn Féin could do for them. It was about what they have done and can do in the future for themselves. Several times he pointed to children in the crowd and said they had a right to expect that these kids should have a third level education, could be doctors or teachers or anything to which they aspired.
In Darndale hundreds of people turned out to hear him at an anti-drugs rally. When he finished speaking a woman stepped forward, shook his hand and said: ``Fair play to you Gerry, you stuck by us for years while those lazy bastards did nothing.''
In Buckingham Street after he heard an anti-drugs song he left them with words of encouragement. ``Reclaim your areas. Keep organising yourselves. And keep singing.''
Sinn Féin dominates election debate on North
BY MICHEAL MacDONNCHA
Repeatedly Labour has thrown a lifeline to Fine Gael who would never be able to clamber on board the ship of state without them.
Never before in the present era of Irish politics has the national question figured so largely in a general election campaign in the 26 Counties. The crossfire on the issue has exposed the differences between the parties. It has also highlighted the dilemma facing voters as the two contrived sets of coalition partners seek mandates.
The revelation that in 1995 John Bruton told a reporter in Cork that he was ``sick of answering questions about the fucking peace process'' provided an insight into the thinking of the man. The further revelation on Radio Ireland this week that he made the remark a second time later that year was further confirmation of his attitude to the issue. Bruton tried to dismiss the recording of himself saying that he was glad not to have to talk about the ``fucking peace process'' as a joke against himself. But only a few months earlier in opposition Bruton had made clear his hostility to the Hume-Adams dialogue. He had also criticised the lifting of Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act which banned Sinn Féin from the airwaves.
In those days censorship meant that Bruton and his Justice Minister Nora Owen were free to go unchallenged in statements such as she made on Monday 26 May when she called for people to vote for anybody but Sinn Féin. This echoed Bruton's statement that a vote for Sinn Féin was a vote for violence and his appeal to people in the Six Counties not to to vote Sinn Féin on 1 May and on 21 May. On both occassions he was answered in the most resounding way by tens of thousands of new republican voters.
Contrast these Fine Gael statements with Dick Spring's assertion also on Monday that a vote for Sinn Féin was a vote for peace. ``I would believe that it is a vote for peace. It's a vote for the direction that the majority of people on this island want to go in.''
Responding to criticism of this rift in the Coalition Democratic Left leader Proinsias De Rossa defended previous remarks by himself and Bruton that a vote for Sinn Féin was a vote for the IRA. (De Rossa's linking of himself and Bruton was significant. They are personally and ideologically close as pro-unionists.) With twisted logic he then tried to square those statements with Spring's. He said the context had changed since Bruton and himself had spoken. Sinn Féin now had two MPs and an increased local election mandate. One somehow doubts that this mandate will give De Rossa a new democratic attitude to Sinn Féin voters, once the election-time need to mend the obvious rift in the coalition has passed.
The farcical position of the Progressive Democrats was also starkly obvious. Mary Harney would like to go even further than Bruton and De Rossa in sticking the boot in on republican voters. But since her prospective Coalition partners in Fianna Fáil were highly critical of the Rainbow rift, she had to keep her comments low-key. For the moment all major differences are being submerged but let there be no doubt - the prospect of the PDs in government is not good for either the peace process or the social and economic well being of people in the 26 Counties. Harney's cynical vote-grabbing and prejudice-stirring swipe at lone parents last week illustrates the latter point.
When last December John Major rejected the Hume/Adams proposals to revive the peace process one party was out of step with the rest of nationalist Ireland - the Progressive Democrats.
Their spokesperson on the the Six Counties, Dessie O'Malley said that John Major's statement was ``reasonable'':
``The British government, in the circumstances, has gone as far as its perilous parliamentary situation allowed it to go in trying to encourage a positive response.''
Contrast that with Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern's reaction. He said that Major appeared to have issued a ``studied rebuff to John Hume's peace initiative''. The British had ``tried to pre-empt further discussion and negotiation''.
How can Fianna Fáil and the PDs be compatible in government with such diverse attitudes?
Voters are thus presented with a dilemma. People anxious to be rid of John Bruton for the sake of the peace process are faced with the prospect of the PDs in the Cabinet. For this much of the blame must go to Dick Spring.
By ruling out coalition with Fianna Fáil Dick Spring has pushed Fianna Fáil and the PDs together. His only motive for this is his desire to maximise Labour's power in government at all costs. Labour has more power in a three-party coalition than in a two-party coalition.
In fact Labour needs the PDs. Only the justifiable fear of Mary Harney and Michael McDowell in the Cabinet can now save Labour from major electoral losses. Public service workers who voted Labour last time and were thinking of switching to Fianna Fáil this time may well be having second thoughts after Mary Harney's threat to cut 25,000 jobs in the public service. Labour's commitment to the Maastricht criteria may mean that many of these jobs go eventually, but the threat from the PDs is more immediate.
Spring took a huge gamble when he staked his leadership on his commitment to the Labour Party conference not to go into coalition with Fianna Fáil after this election. This was aimed at voters who supported Labour last time on the basis of Spring's strong criticism of the outgoing Reynolds government. Then Spring went in with Fianna Fáil. But he was equally critical of Fine Gael and then went into government with Bruton whom he had denounced in very strong terms.
If Spring's gamble does not pay off the PDs are likely to be in government. If Fianna Fáil gets a strong vote the PDs' leverage will be much less. Long forgotten by Spring of course is the old Labour aim of a realignment of Irish politics. That could only happen if a stronger Fianna Fáil eclipsed Fine Gael and faced a left opposition in Leinster House. But repeatedly Labour has thrown a lifeline to Fine Gael who would never be able to clamber on board the ship of state without them.
And the way out of the dilemma? Elect Sinn Féin TDs on 6 June and give the power-brokers something to think about.
North, South and West
BY MICHEAL MacDONNCHA
Sinn Féin Vice-President Pat Doherty is in the unique position of having gone directly from fighting a Westminster election (and almost winning a seat in West Tyrone) to fighting a Leinster House election. It's hard work proving you're an all-Ireland party.
In the Westminster election Pat Doherty garnered 14,280 votes in West Tyrone. Last year in the Donegal North East by-election he trebled the Sinn Féin vote and the party is aiming to do better again this time out. Pat headed the Sinn Féin delegation at the Forum in Dublin Castle and he is one of the party's main negotiators, being centrally involved in dialogue with the Dublin government.
For the past few weeks however Pat has been negotiating the hundreds of miles of mountainy roads in his sprawling constituency. This is the real North of Ireland, including the most northerly point, Malin Head on the Inishowen peninsula. ``We're getting a huge response on the doorsteps'' says Pat.
From Malin Head south to Ben Bulben in Sligo where Alderman Seán MacManus is the Sligo-Leitrim candidate. A strong vote is expected in Sligo town where Seán is getting a very good response and throughout the constituency a significant rise in the Sinn Féin vote is on the cards.
In Galway West the new climate of goodwill towards Sinn Féin is also being reflected. In Galway City candidate Mike Egan is getting a warm reception. A rejuvenated and reorganised Sinn Féin here is attracting younger voters and building for local elections.
A revival of Sinn Féin in the traditionally republican North Kerry constituency has also taken place and was boosted with the release from Portlaoise Prison in 1994 of Martin Ferris. Highly respected in the community he has galvanised the organisation and as candidate is leading the best campaign in the area since 1981. In this constituency of Dick Spring the Labour leader and other parties are looking with concern at the growth of Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin General Secretary Lucilita Bhreatnach visited Cork on Wednesday to campaign with Don O'Leary (Cork North Central) and Kieran McCarthy (Cork East). In the urban constituency of Cork North Central inequality in education is a big issue, with Don O'Leary supporting the campaign for extension of EU grants to deprived Northside schools. He has also been active in the community campaign on the issue of joy-riding which has recently claimed young lives in the area. Cobh Councillor Kieran McCarthy expects a strong vote in that town and will also be harnessing support in areas like Youghal where Martin Hallinan is a Sinn Féin councillor.