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3 June 1999 Edition

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Vote Sinn Féin

As we enter the last week of campaigning before the nationwide European elections on 10 and 11 June and the 26-County local elections on 11 June, Sinn Féin activists can be justifiably optimistic.

Throughout the island, Sinn Féin has the real chance of making gains, increasing the overall republican vote and winning extra seats in the process. This optimism is based on a record of hard work and strong campaigning over many years.

In the European elections, major strides will be made, with Mitchel McLaughlin holding the best chance of picking up a second nationalist seat in the Six Counties. The crisis in the peace process and the apparent desire of Bertie Ahern to drag the 26 Counties into the Partnership for Peace without so much as a referendum on the issue have dominated the European campaign.

Sinn Féin has stood on its principles with regard to both issues, the same principled stand that is reflected in the party's work in local areas on vital issues like the drugs crisis, service charges, housing, and transport.

Sinn Féin is different because its candidates seek to make change, not gravy or glory. That is why it makes sense to put Sinn Féin first on the ballot paper.

Sadly, this election is being played out against the background of the search of eight families for the bodies of relatives executed by the IRA in the 1970s. Sections of the media have attempted to use the genuine grief of the families to score political points. This is unfortunate. At a difficult time, when the IRA's gestures should be seen in the context of a painful process of conflict resolution, some elements seem more concerned with driving wedges and increasing bitterness than with building a real peace.


Photofinish in the Six Counties


The Six Counties produced the highest turnout of the five Irish EU constituencies in 1994. 49% of the Six-County electorate turned out to vote in an election that only went to two counts. Ian Paisley topped the poll for the fourth consecutive time, with the SDLP's John Hume running him close.

Sinn Féin ran three candidates in the 1994 election. Tom Hartley, Dodie McGuinness and Francie Molloy got just under 10% of the total poll for the party.

Since 1994, the Sinn Féin vote has grown consistently. In last year's Assembly election the party won a record vote, polling 17.6% of the total poll. Sinn Féin also recorded the largest gain in vote share of any party in the election.

There will be considerably more interest in the EU election this time around to see in particular the state of play in the unionist electorate. Unionist voters in the Six Counties have in the past floated between the parties depending on the election being contested. The UUP have always performed significantlty better than the DUP in Westminster elections. The DUP have consistently outpolled the UUP in EU elections.

In 1994 and previous EU elections the UUP candidate has been elected on transfers from Ian Paisley's surplus. This time around it might not be as clear cut. UK Unionist Robert MacCartney is running and could pull votes from both the UUP's Jim Nicholson and Ian Paisley. The PUP's David Ervine is also a candidate and this too could dilute the unionist vote.

Seán Neeson is the Alliance candidate in their first post-Alderdice election campaign. It will be interesting to see if their vote declines or grows.

Sinn Féin's Mitchel MacLaughlin is the Sinn Féin candidate this time around, and the party is working to surpass its 1998 vote share in an election which could be a crucial in terms of the peace process.

What is more interesting is that a split in the unionist camp opens the door to the third EU seat. The Six-County EU constituency was deliberately constructed to give two seats to unionism with one for nationalists.

The elections since 1979 have been fairly predictable, with tactical voting in evidence. In 1999 there could be a new template for EU voting patterns. A growing Sinn Féin vote with a divided unionist vote opens up serious possibilities of a second nationalst seat in this election.

Final Prediction. This will be close, a photo finish with Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the UUP and the DUP neck and and neck for the three seats.

Leinster Lottery


Only the Dublin constituency had a lower turnout than Leinster in the 1994 EU elections. Turnout was a meagre 43.1%. This did not stop the election count producing perhaps one of the most unpredictable outcomes of the elections. Three of the four successful candidates were elected without reaching the quota. This was after a recount called by the Labour Party's Michael Bell.

Leinster is a four-seater constituency. In 1994, Fianna Fáil won just over one third of first preferences. This was, however, enough to win the party half of the seats. Jim Fitzimons and Liam Hyland were elected for FF.

Fine Gael's two candidates won 27.7% of the vote but only clocked up one seat. The Green Party's Nuala Ahern took the last seat, even though she had only won 11.8% of first preferences. Labour's Micheal Bell and Seamus Pattison clocked up over 15% of the first preferences but Labour still went away empty handed in 1994. In 1989, Labour had missed out on the last seat by just 125 votes.

Michael Bell's problems began with the elimination of running mate Seamus Pattison. Pattison's transfers were well spread. Bell only got just over half of the 18,953 votes that had originally gone to Pattison. The rest of the transfers were spread across the five remaining candidates, leaving Bell stymied by Labour's voting-splitting strategy. He was eliminated on the sixth count. Bell's transfers elected the successful four candidates.

The knives will be out for the Greens this time around. Nuala Ahern hasn't managed to achieve the same public profile as her fellow MEP in Dublin has and this could make it more difficult for her to retain the seat.

Sinn Féin polled 6,523 votes in Leinster in 1994, 2.5% of the total poll. Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan is the candidate this time around. Morgan is tipped by all sides to take a council seat in Louth with Sinn Féin expected to capitalise on the gains made throughout the 26 Counties in the 1997 Leinster House election. Meath has been another growth area for the party and increased votes here and in the other council areas the party is running in should increase the party's vote share significantly.

Final prediction: Labour are not the force they were in 1994. Michael Bell was decisively beaten for the Labour nomination by Sean Butler at the party's selection convention. Fianna Fáil could well hold onto their two seats. Former IFA president Alan Gillis seems likely to hold onto his seat despite the failure of Fine Gael to deal with collapsing farm incomes when in government during the period 1994 to `97. He is under pressuere in the polls, however, from Acril Doyle, whose campaign is gaining momentum. The last seat will be a dogfight. Consenting adults only.

Leadership tour rolls on


There could have been a sense that interest would gently fade as the canvass for the Six Counties European election intensified. Across the North however these last weeks the response has exceeded all expectations and the suspense is rising as the 10 June elections approach.

On Saturday, the arrival of European candidate and party chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin and Sinn Féin's freshly-appointed honorary vice-president Joe Cahill woke the quite Antrim coast.

In Ballycastle, the response was warm as they strode by the shops of Ballycastle, accompanied by local activists.

In Cushendall the pubs were packed with Belfast Celtic fans enjoying a few quiet moments before the kick-off. Photo sessions were followed by discussions on the current stalemate of the peace process.

The next stop took the two senior figures to Waterfoot and Toome where the response on the doorsteps was as welcoming as the scenery.

In Glengormley, Mitchel McLaughlin and Joe Cahill teamed up with Saoirse chairman Martin Meehan and a mighty team of canvassers. The importance of using the first preference to ensure the election of a second nationalist was lengthily explained.

The hike across North and South Antrim, where Sinn Féin is taking steps to maximise the vote, gave a good taste of the potential in this election.

Electors were very receptive to the message that this poll is a unique opportunity to return a second nationalist MEP. Mitchel McLaughlin assured them that, provided nationalists used their vote sensibly, there was a solid chance of swaying a unionist seat and guaranteeing a republican voice in the influential European institution.

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