Top Issue 1-2024

31 August 2023 Edition

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Working for you across Ireland

• Paul Donnelly TD and the Sinn Féin canvas team knocking on doors in Dublin West

Every day and through many evenings and weekends, Sinn Féin’s elected representatives are working in their communities.

An Phoblacht asked four representatives across the island to write about an aspect of their constituency work. Paul Donnelly took us canvassing in Dublin West. Niamh Archibald, Sinn Féin’s first ever Coleraine councillor, highlighted the issues in her area. Mairéad Farrell pinpoints the local challenges from her constituency clinics in Conamara, while Aoife Finnegan writes on the cost of living crisis in South Armagh.

Across all four areas, housing, the cost of living, and failing governments are key issues. In the Six Counties, communities are impacted by over a decade of Tory austerity cuts and the DUP executive blockade. In the 26 Counties, communities must cope with the shocking mismanagement of the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green coalition.

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Working For All Communities

Make sure you run enough candidates next time

By Paul Donnelly

Some people love it and others absolutely dread it, However, for me, canvassing is one of the most important and enjoyable parts of the work of being a political representative and a community activist. Community engagement and political activism, more simply known as ‘knocking on doors’, is one of the most important tools for political activists and political representatives.  

After a short briefing of our canvassers, informing them of possible local issues that may come up, we get set to knock on as many doors as we possibly can within the allocated time we have. 

Every week, we set out a specific target of how many doors we will knock on and where, sometimes it’s a targeted canvass, for example if there’s a current concern regarding anti-social behaviour, planning issues, lack of services or maybe public transport. 

Outside of an election campaign, we knock on doors introduce ourselves and simply ask residents “Is there anything personally or in their community, of concern or that we could possibly help or support them with?” There’s often surprise that you’re at their door and the constituent would open with a comment like “Is there an election?”. There’s a certain amount of cynicism that all political representatives are only out for themselves and only knock on doors when looking for votes. 

Paul Donnelly 2

• Paul Donnelly cleaning up Blanchardstown Village

That can either be a very short conversation with them or it can lead to a substantial conversation. The best part is that you haven’t a clue what they will bring up for discussion. Every estate is different, every house and person within that house is different, so you just never know. That’s one of the enjoyable parts of canvassing.

Much to the amusement, and sometimes frustration, of my fellow canvassers and campaign team, I often throw the basic rules of not getting ‘caught on a door’ out the window and stay talking to a constituent for much longer than usual. 

I thoroughly enjoy the interaction on the doors and totally acknowledge the trust people put in me and our team when they share their personal experiences with us. Some of those can be very difficult for them, sharing their own fears, and frustrations of maybe a lack of mental health services for themselves or a loved one is a difficult conversation to have. The fear of losing their home if they are renting, or worse if they have a notice of termination and they have literally months or weeks or sometimes even days to leave their home and face going into homeless services is terrifying. 

People are fed up with this government and they are deeply frustrated with their inability to deal with the housing crisis, the crisis in health and mental health services, the spiralling costs of the children’s hospital, and the cost of living and energy bills crisis. They want an election now.

The team of dedicated party activists, each one with their own style of canvassing, go door to door, whizzing through an estate, engaging with people, making connections with them, and sometimes meeting old friends or workmates on the doors.  

There are plenty of ‘not in’s’, some negative responses, but a nod of support or a “You’ve got our votes”, “Keep up and the good work”, always puts a bit of a spring in your step.

One of the most regular comments from constituents is “Make sure you run enough candidates next time!” A hangover from the 2020 general election when we left a number of seats behind. That will not happen again I tell them, they can be assured of that. 

• Paul Donnelly is the Sinn Féin TD for Dublin West

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Working For All Communities

Working for all in Coleraine

By Niamh Archibald

Niamh Archibald working 1

• Niamh  Archibald believes that those in elected roles have a responsibility to represent everyone in society

Helping people with the everyday issues that matter most to them is what I strive to do as a newly elected councillor. Having been elected as Sinn Féin’s first ever councillor in Coleraine, I am mindful too that I am perhaps giving people who maybe didn’t see themselves as represented in the Council the chance to be so.

So far, the biggest issues I have been contacted about by constituents are housing and the need for better play facilities.

I believe that people deserve a good quality, safe, secure, comfortable, and affordable home. This means investment, resources, and a planning system that works for communities and families.

We need to build more homes and to invest in maintaining existing homes. It is important that these homes are retrofitted to conserve energy not only to combat climate change but to help families and workers to keep energy bills down.

We all deserve a clean and tidy community. This is a key priority for me. I recently joined with McDonald’s and others in a litter pick along the River Bann in Coleraine to help make this community cleaner and tidier. By looking after our environment locally, we can impact the environment globally and I will work at a local level to prioritise fighting against Climate Change and protecting our planet for future generations. 

Niamh Archibald working 2

• Niamh (right) at the first ever Causeway Pride event

I believe that those in elected roles have a responsibility to represent everyone in society and I was proud to see the first ever Causeway Pride event in the north coast and to play a small part in its organisation. This event was a positive display of how of inclusive and progressive change can come about.

I am passionate about our young people and believe they need adequate services. This is why I am supporting the Heights community in Coleraine in their call for better play facilities in the area. I met with children who attend one of the local primary schools about the playpark and heard first-hand what they want to see in a much needed and updated playpark. I will continue to work through the Council with both the school and the local community to help make this a reality.

I have also met with community, sporting, and youth organisations across the area to hear about their vision for making Coleraine better for everyone in our community.

I am proud to be part of the Sinn Féin team in Causeway Coast and Glens Council and I will work to do my best for everyone in Coleraine and across Causeway Coast and Glens to make the area an even better place to live. 

• Niamh Archibald is a Sinn Féin councillor for Coleraine on the Causeway Coast and Glens Council

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Working For All Communities

It’s the housing crisis – stupid!

By Mairéad Farrell

I hadn’t realised quite how many people go on their holidays to Clifden until my clinic poster was propped up outside Vaughan’s bar in the centre of the town. A simple poster outlining when, where, and what time my monthly clinic is on at. Suddenly, there was a flurry of WhatsApp photos of the poster being sent to me with various people posing in front of that poster. 

It reached international levels when my parents’ Swiss house swap partners sent a photo of the poster. Confused, I queried with my mother how they knew it was me and she quickly reminded me that I have the woman tortured with posters of me all over her house – that was me told anyway!

Mairéad Farrell working

• Mairéad Farrell

I use those clinic posters not just in Clifden, but across Conamara and the islands and then I also hold my weekly clinic in the office in Bohermore. All of these clinics, be they in the centre of an urban area or the most remote parts of rural Conamara are all dominated by the one issue – housing. 

We are all aware of how badly our cities are impacted, Galway as badly as Dublin, but what doesn’t get as much air time is the disastrous effect it has on our rural areas. 

In one heated meeting, a man told me, “You can’t build, you can’t rent, and you can’t buy in Conamara”, and he’s right on that. For many, it is proving impossible to get planning permission at a time when the Government is failing to provide alternative accommodation. Frustration on this particular issue is only growing. When Covid hit and people realised they could work, at least partly from home, many of the most scenic places in Conamara saw the cost of rent increase enormously. With the seasonal nature of much of the work in those areas, it simply priced people out. Similar can be said for houses to buy, holiday homes being snapped up at costs that would astound you. 

In clinics, people are more honest about their worries then they are often to their best friends, families, and neighbours. The key thing I’ve learnt from my clinics though is that if one street in an estate or one rural village came together and told each other what was actually going on in all their lives, everyone would feel far less alone.

• Mairéad Farrell is a Sinn Féin TD for Galway West

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Working For All Communities

Coping with the legacies of Tory austerity and neglect

By Aoife Finnegan

Like all Sinn Féin councillors, much of the work I do is on the ground in my local area. 

Before I was co-opted as a councillor in 2020, I had been working in Conor Murphy’s MLA constituency office, where I still have a role as a welfare and housing advisor, along with my council work.

Working in Conor’s office, I deal with so many people from not only my own local area, but across the whole of South Armagh and the priority is always to do everything we can to deliver for them. 

Most of my work in this role is taken up in welfare advice and support, helping people with forms for various benefits, and working on other similar issues such as housing, health and education issues.

From this frontline role, you can see firsthand the impact that a decade of Tory austerity has had on our welfare system, particularly during the cost of living crisis where prices have continued to rise but the support for the most vulnerable have not matched this. 

Aoife Finnegan

• As a  border county Armagh has a huge number of people applying for Irish passports but Aoife says the system just isn’t fit for purpose, and the Irish Government still refuses to open any passport office in the North

While the current blockade of the Executive by the DUP prevents our ministerial team from taking substantive actions to help workers and families, both Conor Murphy as Finance Minister and Deirdre Hargey as Communities Minister went above and beyond to support ordinary people. Deirdre in particular delivered for those on means tested and sickness benefits.

Another issue that I deal with, as I’m sure many of my comrades do as well, is passports. Living in a border county we have a huge number of people applying for Irish passports but as we’ve seen in recent years the system just isn’t fit for purpose. 

We recently saw that more people from the north had actually applied for Irish passports than those in the South and yet the Irish Government still refuses to open any passport office in the North. 

Beyond the office, I’m also busy every day working on the ground to tackle the issues that local people contact me with. My area consists largely of the communities of Crossmaglen and Culloville and there’s always plenty of work to do.

All across South Armagh, we have roads that are in a crumbling state, damaging cars and posing a real risk to all who travel on them, particularly in winter months. 

We also have families and businesses who either have a broadband connection that is nowhere near fit for purpose or no signal at all.

Tackling these issues have been key priorities for myself and our whole Sinn Féin team locally, and we’ve had some great results; securing the resurfacing of Malachy Conlon Park and other roads in the area, as well as advancing projects to get phone signal to areas of South Armagh that have never had it before. 

Another issue locally is the former barracks on the square in Crossmaglen, where the land was stolen from the community by the British Government and a huge British military fortification erected on the site.

Thankfully, the South Armagh Police Review, which Sinn Féin pushed for, has recommended the closure of the barracks and we’re working to make sure this is delivered, and the land fully returned for the use of the community.

Like the legacy of the barracks, the infrastructure issues impacting South Armagh are also the result of political decisions by the Tory government that have seen us with a backlog of over £1bn to bring the roads across the North up to spec. 

However, these are the issues that Sinn Féin is determined to tackle, and it is this determination to tackle the problems that matter to ordinary people which I feel contributed to the historic result where Sinn Féin became the largest party in local government in the North, following up our achievement in last year’s Assembly election where we also became the largest party. 

These results are driven by the hard work of our councillors North and South and it is these results that continue to fuel the momentum on our drive towards holding and winning a referendum on Irish Unity.

Aoife Finnegan is a Sinn Féin councillor for Slieve Gullion on Newry and Mourne Council

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An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
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Ireland