18 June 1998 Edition
Ready for government
Sinn Féin is ready for government and ready to build a new Ireland for all our people. The strong Yes vote for the Good Friday Agreement demonstrated a huge sense of hope throughout Ireland. The challenge now is to translate that vote into support for those parties committed to delivering real change.
Republicans are at the forefront of changing the Irish political landscape. It was Sinn Féin's peace strategy which created the present opportunity for peace and it will be Sinn Féin's presence in the Assembly, the Executive and the all-Ireland Ministerial Council which will be the surest guarantee of real political change.
Irish unity and independence are the best context within which to tackle the political, social and other inequalities which face the the Irish people. Sinn Féin sees the Good Friday Agreement and the institutions which have emerged from it as part of a transitional process to a national democracy. Sinn Féin is looking beyond the present situation and towards a future based on freedom, justice and peace.
A vote for Sinn Féin is a vote to disband the RUC, for an end to Orange coat-trailing in nationalist areas, for equality of opportunity for all sections of our society, for equal rights and respect for the Irish language and for the release of all political prisoners.
A vote for Sinn Féin is a vote for the continuance of the peace process. Sinn Féin has been the dynamic for change over the past number of years. The best way to ensure that the pace of political progress continues is to go out and vote Sinn Féin on 25 June.
Canvassing points to rise in SF vote
Newry & Armagh
By Mary Maguire
The constituency, described to visitors as ``God's country'', could not bear a more suitable description. And nowhere is the battle for the hearts and minds of nationalists more pronounced. The constituency, whose borders run along the greenest hills and hidden lakes, covers three different areas. The town of Newry and Armagh City - which experience most of the social problems related to a growing economy - and South Armagh where the ongoing military occupation and the recent expansion of bases are a priority concern to all the residents.
The growing success of Sinn Fein in the area has been seen repeatedly in recent years. In last year's general election, as SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon's vote remained static, rising by just 240, Sinn Fein's rose by almost 5000 votes to a total of 11,218. In the Forum elections, Sinn Fein polled 12,500. In the Slieve Gullion ward of South Armagh and in Newry town, the party outpolled the SDLP. And in the local elections, in Newry, SF candidate Davy Hyland, a popular school teacher and sportsman, topped the poll in both the 1993 and 1997 contests.
The most recent development was the election of Brendan Curran on 8 June as chairperson of the Newry and Mourne Council, the first time a SF councillor has held the post.
Sinn Fein's success is no secret. Canvassing is the most organised and professional I've seen. But above all, councillors Pat McNamee and Davy Hyland and former councillor Conor Murphy are the only candidates to have genuinely committed themselves to address the concerns of the residents. For all of them, demilitarisation is the most crucial issue.
According to the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee (SAFRC), since the latest IRA ceasefire, bases have been extended by nearly 40% and intrusive surveillance and patrolling only increased. ``I don't know how patient the residents of this area are going to stay if they see no changes,'' said Declan Fearon, chairman of the Committee.
The group has been vigorously campaigning to have the area demilitarised, and have had meetings with Bertie Ahern, as well as Marjorie Mowlam. But South Armagh seems to be continuing to be the British Army training ground it has been for years. Only two weeks ago, a farmer found a huge quantity of British spy surveillance equipment. Cameras, microphones, infra red sensors, satellite receivers and a large power pack were discovered in the Cornonagh area hidden in grass and moss.
``No one knows how many more are buried in the area,'' said Toni Carragher, secretary of SAFRC. ``What does this say about the whole peace process?''.
The impact of the military occupation is furthermore undermining all efforts to promote tourism. Recently, a Canadian family on holiday in South Armagh expressed their disgust at the helicopter activity.
The family likened the situation to a war zone and recently, an Italian cameraman stressed that even in Bosnia, the level of surveillance had never been so high. Conor Murphy is involved with the District Partnership Board and has promoted Camloch Lake as a tourist amenity. But he stresses that only a total demilitarisation can help tap the tourist potential.
The candidates are also determined to tackle the drugs problem as the RUC is unwilling to take the initiative. One of Newry's main drug outlets is within a two-minute walk of the Ardmore RUC barracks. And the fortress Bessbrook, with all its elaborate surveillance equipment, remains base to an extensive illicit drugs business. Schoolchildren in Armagh have also been issued with mobile phones to help drug barons run a sophisticated drugs delivery service. Until now, SF representatives, in particular Brendan Curran and anti-drugs activist Charlie Casey, are among the very few prepared to stand up to the drug bosses.
They have advised parents and youth and set up education programs aimed at prevention and have organised self-help groups for addicts.
Pat McNamee, a restless republican activist for more than twenty years, is a member of the SF Health Service group and is determined to secure the best possible health services. With candidate Davy Hyland, he was actively involved in the fight against the closure of Daisy Hill hospital in Newry. 10,000 signatures were recently collected to denounce the plans to close down the medical centre.
The people of Newry/Armagh seem more than ever determined to shape their future by electing responsible and open candidates. Pat McNamee, Davy Hyland and Conor Murphy intend to use the northern assembly to build on the peace by advancing demilitarisation. Is é do rogha féin é.
Former Republican POW Malachy O'Kane, a councillor on Limavady council, is confident of victory due to the rising support for Sinn Fein, particularly among young people in the region.
John McIlhinney is a native of Greysteel, and has a long history of interest and involvement in nationalist and cultural issues.
He is particularly aware of the importance of bringing local issues to the fore within the Assembly. ``We need the strongest possible republican representation within the new Assembly, especially for areas that have been ignored. But there are other matters, like the massive unemployment which exists around the north-east of the constituency, which we must confront and overcome. It's for that reason that people should come out again and place their vote for Sinn Féin.''
Partition has a huge negative impact on this vast rural constituency, which borders the southern counties of Monaghan, Leitrim, Cavan and Donegal, and its main urban centres in Enniskillen and Dungannon. The economy, social and community structures, as well as its politics, all reflect this schismatic make-up.
The necessity of complete British demilitarisation, not just of the fortresses and checkpoints but of the British Army foot patrols, which continue to harass nationalists, are seen as a major concern within the region, as well as the pressing need for the disbandment of the RUC, which has wilfully acted as a loyalist occupying force within the heart of this naturally nationalist constituency.
Sinn Fein representatives are committed to addressing the depressed state of agriculture, a direct result of the British government's inept handling of the BSE crisis.
Historical Unionist misrule has been perpetuated by an alliance of unionist councillors working to exclude nationalists from the senior posts on the council. This situation highlights the necessity for Nationalists to confront Unionism effectively within the new Assembly.
By Michael Pierse
For the first time nationalists living in the Lagan Valley constituency on the south west outskirts of West Belfast are faced with the realistic prospect of electoral success.
Paul Butler has centred his campaign on motivating people to vote. He has long challenged the gerrymandered system imposed on people in the area, especially in his role on Lisburn Council. For many years the council has ostracised nationalist representatives from committees and decision-making bodies. Butler asserted that ``a nationalist assembly seat drawn from the area could ensure an end to this continual alienation and deprivation of the community.''
People living in the Black's Road, Lagmore Housing Estate, Lower Dunmurry Lane, Glenavy, Lisburn Town and the Poleglass and Twinbrook Estates, amongst others, have been denied access to funding and amenities. In the Lisburn Council area, which is the second largest council in the Six Counties, there are 29 parks - only one lies in the Twinbrook area. According to ßButler there is ``no real social infrastructure, very little employment prospects'' and generally pervasive ``social deprivation.''
He also conveyed the deep sense of anger at UUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson's approach to the Good Friday Document. His ``undermining'' of the document. Nationalists in the area consider his attitude offensive and begrudging.
Paul Butler, who served a 15 year sentence in Long Kesh and spent four years on the Blanket protest, has been a member of the Republican Movement since he was 17. In his spare time he teaches young people woodcraft skills, gained from a small craft business which he was forced to give up due to his constituency work. He has been involved in various community initiatives such as the very successful Neighbourhood Watch. His keen interest in the Irish language is also a major thrust of his political ideology. Speaking to An Phoblacht he committed himself to every effort to ``hold the British Government to its pledge to take resolute action to enhance the status of the Irish language.''
The constituency includes Newcastle, Ballynahinch, Downpatrick and Warrenpoint. The forthcoming marching season with Orange Order plans to parade through the nationalist town of Downpatrick is of immediate concern. During the last Orange march through the town in 1983 scores of nationalists were attacked and injured by the RUC. Increasing drug-related crime and RUC collusion with drug dealers acting as informers is another major concern which Sinn Féin is determined to tackle.
Garret, a trained counsellor and therapist, highlights the growing issue of drug-related crime in the South Down area, and advocates a long-term community strategy which avoids the unnecessary criminalisation or marginalisation of young people.
Representing South Down on SF's 6 County executive, Garret was the first Sinn Fein candidate to stand in the constituency of Strangford. He is also SF's spokesperson on trade union matters and has a keen interest in the Gaelic language and culture.
Mick, a father of six from the Rostrevor area, describes himself as ``an enthusiast of all things Irish'' and has been prominent in radical politics since the civil rights campaigns of the late 1960s. Representing Sinn Fein in the Forum elections of 1996, Mick secured the highest ever vote for the party in the constituency. He combined his council duties with a role in the Stormont bilateral meetings with Irish and British governments, and the other parties to the talks.
Mick's love of Gaelic games and Irish culture has ensured that he plays an active role in the promotion of both interests, in the media and at ministerial level, as part of Sinn Fein's pledge to force the British government to recognise and legislate on them as part of the Equality agenda.
Within South Down Mick is also recognised for his leading role in helping to develop one of the first examples of cross-border initiatives as promised in the Belfast Agreement, with a local body to coordinate north-south fishing industries around Carlingford Lough.
by Michael Pierse
The political battle in Mid Ulster has been dominated by calls to maximise of the broad nationalist vote. Republicans are determined to attain three seats in the area and by consequence exclude obstinate `No' candidates on the unionist side.
The rolling hills and agricultural tradition of South Derry and parts of Tyrone indicate a relaxed country life but belie the heated political battle throughout the constituency, between the bigotry of unchanged unionism and the agent of transition that is Sinn Féin.
In the forum elections SF was the only party in the constituency to win two seats, relegating Willie McCrea to a last count scraping-in. In the Westminster elections Martin McGuinness's emphatic election liberated nationalists from the long frustration of misrepresentation.
However, now we see sectarianism re-shaping in an effort to diffuse the dynamics of the Good Friday document. Willie McCrea will be campaigning to secure a mandate for maintainance of unionist domination.
A determination to disempower the intolerance of such politicians has driven SF in Mid-Ulster to call for no political transfers to unionist candidates. This is clearly not a sectarian decision. SF has a clear message - the people will not acquiesce with injustice or amalgamate with those who would smirk at the prospect of using nationalist votes against those casting them.
Sinn Féin candidate John Kelly has emphasised the need to ``maximise the strong republican voice in Mid-Ulster'' in order to effect real change on the equality agenda.
Councillor Kelly, the only nationalist candidate from the South Derry area, is possibly one of the most highly profiled `veteran' republicans in Ireland and is part of the dynamic political machine that has made SF the largest party in the constituency.
Commenting on the importance of a decisive republican vote, Kelly emphasised the dangers posed by the prospect of nationalist under-representation and was critical of the SDLP's calls for preference to unionist `Yes' parties. This policy, he commented, is ``adverse to any prospects of maximising the broad nationalist mandate and ensuring real progress on the equality agenda.'' He also explained that whilst the UUP as a party have described themselves as `pro-agrement', unionist candidates in the area are openly hostile towards the Good Friday document and indeed the UUP in recent times have been attempting to re-negotiate a document which has already recieved the broad support of the people of Ireland, and those within their own communities.
Kelly emphasised the vital relevance of a strong nationalist mandate to the development of the cross-border bodies and what he termed as an ``absolute overhaul'' of the civil service, which he conveyed as being utterly unfair and inherently sectarian.
The Councillor condemned the proposed withdrawal of medical services from the Mid-Ulster area and continued that ``this must be taken in conjunction with the whole economic plan, or lack thereof, for areas west of the Bann.'' Referring to a widespread lack of confidence in the funding distribution mechanisms within the civil service, he related that ``the latest document from the Department of the Environment entitled `Shaping our Future', relegated areas like Magherafelt and Maghera as third class areas in relation to economic development west of the Bann.''
As Vice Chairperson of the Sperrin Tourism Partnership, Kelly was particularly wary of developments in the NIO ensuring that nearly all tourism pilot schemes for the future are to be located East of the Bann, especially when considering that the Sperrins region is the largest land mass west of the river and a characteristically scenic area. This region has been ignored despite its obvious capabilities in building a potent tourist industry. Kelly asserted that ``economic and social apartheid'' must be negated and that the only manner in which to effect this change would be to maximise the nationalist mandate and ensure that the dynamic provided for forward movement and unity of the Irish people within the document is allowed to reach its full potential. Kelly was also scathing of the prohibition of any analysis of the employment statistics within the NIO, thus preventing the exposure of a ``blatantly sectarian'' system.
The Six Counties - Europe's electoral laboratory
NEIL FORDE examines the outcome in the latest electoral system to be foisted on the Six Counties
The right to one-person one-vote probably seemed like a simple straightforward demand to the civil rights campaigners of 30 years ago.
Little did they know of the marathon electoral cycle that lay ahead of Six-County voters in 1968.
Now 23 elections later, they have sampled the delights of the first past the post system, PRSTV and a PR List system using the d'Hondt rule. Next Thursday voters face another twist in their electoral saga. This election will use PRSTV electing 108 members through 18 six-seater constituencies based on boundaries used in Westminster
elections. The introduction of six-seater constituencies promises an intensity of electoral competition not seen since the 1920s when PRSTV was first introduced to Ireland as part of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act.
No other European state has participated in such a mix of electoral systems. What is more telling is that with this assembly election the London and Dublin governments are encouraging a level of electoral competition not permissible in their own jurisdictions.
Successive British governments have clung to an undemocratic single seat first past the post. New Labour leader Tony Blair presides over a governing party who won 419 of 659 seats with only 44% of the vote. A proportionate system would have given Blair only 290 seats.
Leinster House elections are more proportionate and representative of votes cast than the British system. There are however some serious anomalies. The original PRSTV electoral system in the 26 Counties included seven and nine seater constituencies. Such a high seat allocation per constituency created the conditions where large parties found elections very difficult to compete in as small groups could secure representation with as little as 11% of the constituency vote.
Over the decades parties in government have reduced the number of seats per constituency. The Six Counties also had seven and nine seater constituencies in the 1920s. The Ulster Unionists dismantled not only multi-seat constituencies but also the whole PR system. The reasoning behind this was not solely to minimise nationalist representation but to stop the unionist vote splintering.
Throughout the 18 constituencies there will be two crucial issues in next week's election. The first is as always maximising your party's vote. The second issue is an added dimension which in the past was really only prevalent in some district council elections. It is the case of vote transfers.
Pacts and transfers
PR elections can produce widely different votes from first past the post systems as voters rank and transfer votes between individuals and parties. 17% of first preference votes will guarantee you a seat in any of the 18 constituencies. Candidates who fall short of the 17% mark will be hanging on subsequent counts to see if their party vote and other transfers will pull them in.
North Belfast is one of the constituencies worth watching. In the 1996 Forum elections the vote was split giving Sinn Féin, the SDLP, DUP and UUP all one seat. Under the d'Hondt formula the DUP took the fifth seat.
With six seats at stake and STV at work, it will be a scrap for the final two seats. Both Sinn Féin and the SDLP increased their vote last time around. They both won over 20% of the poll. There is however an outside chance that with an increased nationalist vote and unionist division that an extra seat could be won here.
Another constituency to watch is Newry Armagh. In 1997 the Sinn Féin vote fell slightly to 21.06% from 25.59% in 1996 as some republican voters opted to secure a nationalist victory for Seamus Mallon. With STV and a growing Sinn Féin vote two of the six seats is well within reach while a third candidate is also being run by the local party in an attempt to maximise the party vote across the constituency.
The SDLP are still smarting in West Belfast from the four out of five seats won by Sinn Féin in 1996. The SDLP played a role in picking the electoral system for the Forum, a ballot that Sinn Féin didn't want. The d'Hondt formula gave the party the four seats with only 53.4% of the poll. In 1997 the Sinn Féin vote grew again to almost 56% and with five candidates the party is aiming to take a definite three seats with an eye on two others.
The SDLP will pull out all the stops to halt Sinn Féin's progress. This is one to watch as the battle for the last two seats could easily swing towards Sinn Féin. The SDLP perfomance in PR in this constituency is considerably weaker than under the first past the post system. In 1996 they only won 26.49% of the vote.
Another constituency worth watching is Upper Bann. A seat here for Sinn Féin is a distinct possibility. The party won over 12% of the vote here in 1997 in the UUP leader David Trimble's home constituency.
Fermanagh/South Tyrone is another key constituency. Looking at the 1997 results it seems as though there are three nationalist seats in this constituency. However it was clearly shown twice in 1981 that there is a nationalist majority here. At least three nationalists seats is a must if voters turn out. Sinn Féin were ahead of the SDLP in 1997 and 1996 in this constituency. This could be crucial in bringing a second seat to Sinn Féin this time around.
The Sinn Féin vote in Mid Ulster surged from almost 30% in 1996 to just over 40% in 1997 when Martin McGuinness took the seat from the DUP's Willie McCrea. A further collapse in the SDLP vote and inter-unionist competition could see increased representation for Sinn Féin.
No matter what the state of play in unionism considerable media focus will be devoted to assessing the Sinn Féin vote. The party's participation has been the focal point of elections in the Six Counties since 1981. So use your vote on 25 June. It was a hard won right.
Women POWs say `Vote SF'
The female republican POWs in Maghaberry have called on the nationalist people of the Six Counties to vote for Sinn Féin next Thursday.
Their statement, in full, reads:
``We, the republican prisoners, Maghaberry, wish to address the nationalist people of the six counties on the importance of voting on 25 June.
``We are aware of the many, often difficult, tasks and challenges awaiting the leadership of Sinn Fein and the nationalist community in the months and perhaps years ahead. Sinn Fein, however, has achieved tremendous political progress and has shown its abilty, strength and dedication to working towards a just and lasting settlement on this island.
``As nationalists, we are all too aware of the political dangers of the uncharted waters into which we are entering. Centuries of distrust, emanating from Britians disingenuous promises on matters relating to Ireland, has resulted in legitimate feelings of doubt and apprehension on the part of nationalists.
``We nevertheless believe that there is a real prospect of changing the undemocratic, unionist dominated statelet established 75 years ago. We believe that such an objective can only be achieved if we have the strength and dedication to hold the British to the positions outlined in the Good Friday Agreement and, indeed, to build upon those positions.
``This can best be done by ensuring that Sinn Fein move forward with a strong unquestionable mandate from the nationalist people.
``As was evident in the final days and hours of the talks leading to the Good Friday Agreement, no other political party will fight the nationalist corner like Sinn Fein. To ensure that nationalist goals are relentlessly pursued we need you to come out and vote for Sinn Fein, giving them a mandate to speak on your behalf.
``The women republican prisoners in Maghaberry are calling upon everyone to vote for Sinn Fein in this crucial election. A strong nationalist turnout is necessary to bring about the much desired changes that we all want to see. justice, equality and freedom can only be achieved through the strategics being pursued by Sinn Fein.
``Give Sinn Fein your vote.''
Manifesto for a vital election
Speaking at the launch of Sinn Féin's manifesto on Wednesday 17 June, Gerry Adams said ``While all elections are important, this one has added significance given the strong endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement and the sense of hope which is evident throughout Ireland. The challenge now is to translate that vote for change into support for those parties who can deliver real change''.
He added: ``Irish Republicans are proud to be at the forefront of the changing political landscape of Irish politics. It was Sinn Fein's peace strategy which created the present opportunity for peace and it will be our presence in the Assembly, in the executive and on the all-Ireland Ministerial Council which will make the difference in delivering real change. Sinn Fein intend to push the Good Friday Agreement to its limit and beyond.
``We intend to maximise the all-Ireland dimension, to pursue the establishment of a new policing service, the release of all political prisoners, equality and funding for the Irish language, a new judiciary and civil service which respects all citizens. This party is ready for government.''
Other priority issues include: A comprehensive programme to tackle the rising drugs problem, environmental strategy which encourages recycling and re-use, a major investment in the health service to modernise our hospitals and upgrade their services, greater resourcing of youth services and provision of proper services and funding for carers.
Talking of the establishment of the Assembly and the all-Ireland ministerial council, Gerry Adams said: ``We want to turn the new institutions into power houses which will shape a new political future''.
Sinn Fein international department director and West Belfast candidate Bairbre de Brun added that Sinn Féin was the party that counted the most women standing for the Assembly elections.