6 July 2000 Edition
Sinn Féin celebrate council successes
Victory for politics of inclusiveness
Seán MacManus became the first Sinn Féin mayor anywhere in the 26 Counties since 1967 on Monday, 3 July, when he was elected to serve as mayor of Sligo. That same evening, Sinn Féin's Brian McKenna was elected as chairperson of Monaghan County Council. Further, Michael Colreavy is expected to be elected chairperson of Leitrim County Council next week. These advances for Sinn Féin follow the election in June of Sinn Féin Councillor Cathal Crumley as mayor of Derry, the first Sinn Fein mayor in the Six Counties since partition.
These elections are a very significant development in local government on both sides of the Border, not least because Sinn Féin does not hold an overall majority on any of these councils.
``Our election to these positions is a measure of our strength, and reflects the fact that other parties can no longer exclude Sinn Féin, as they did in the past,'' said Brian McKenna. ``When Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and I were just two councillors, the cosy consensus of political parties succeeded in excluding us from committees and from all positions of influence where we could vindicate the rights of our electorate. They can't do this now with our six elected Sinn Féin County Councillors.''
It is the politics of the Peace Process reflected on a smaller, though very important, canvas. You don't have to become the majority force to effect political change, nor do you have to submerge the politics of republicanism into the swill of corruption, secrecy and abuse of power that has been the cosy consensus politics passing for local government in the 26 Counties.
``The way forward,'' as McKenna said in his acceptance speech to Monaghan County Council, ``is through co-operation and inclusiveness.'' Brian McKenna received the unanimous support of Monaghan County Council in his election on Monday.
In Sligo, Seán MacManus set the agenda: ``As a Sinn Féin mayor, the people of Sligo will have a working man representing the ordinary people of Sligo, providing the dynamic for change and increased openness in local government. This mayoral term will be distinguished by its republican and labour character and the fact that it will be a mayorality of and for the ordinary worker and local communities in Sligo.
``Twenty percent of the Sligo electorate supported Sinn Féin. During the next 12 months it is my job, as mayor, to represent one hundred per cent of the people.''
Sean MacManus undertook to advance the interests of Sligo as capital city of the North West and to build a united effort to achieve `Gateway' designation and consequent growth in commerce and in the community. ``Sinn Féin wants to see young people, local communities and ordinary men and women, workers like myself, having a real input in Sligo Corporation and the decisions that are taken.''
He underlined his determination to spearhead the fight to resist 26-County Environment minister Noel Dempsey's proposal to downgrade the Borough status of Sligo. He plans meetings with representatives from the four other Borough Councils - Kilkenny, Clonmel, Drogheda and Wexford - that face similar downgrading, in order to agree a common platform.
Brian McKenna also outlined what he believed should be council priorities for the coming year, including ``working with our NEHB representatives and others to ensure the speedy delivery of promised resources not only to maintain but to upgrade the Monaghan General Hospital''. He also pledges to work ``to resolve the difficulties of proposed developments at Lough Muckno, which have caused deep divisions in the Castleblaney area and stymied the potential of this great natural resource''.
On roads, he undertook ``to forward the commencement of works on the three promised by-passes at Carrickmacross, Castleblaney and Monaghan, and the long overdue works on sections of the N54, and to continue to seek increased funding for roads in the county''.
Crucially, he added: ``As a border county authority, it is my earnest hope as chairperson that we will see significant progress on cross-border co-operation, a critical element in delivering on the promise of the Good Friday Agreement.''
Dublin Council retains cosy consensus
Other mayoral contests were not as successful in breaking the mould of the cosy consensus, or embarking on the politics of ``co-operation and inclusiveness''. In Dublin, several councillors complained bitterly of the voting pact between Labour and Fianna Fáil, which has allowed council meetings to become a ritual farce, little more than a talking shop for the benefit of media coverage.
Nevertheless, the party pact went on to elect Bertie Ahern's brother, Maurice, to the position of chairperson of the council, and mayor. Despite the inevitability of the outcome, Sinn Féin's Nicky Kehoe, who was nominated for the position, pressed home the party's aim ``to bring real change to the whole face of local government and the role of mayor, and to break the cycle of corruption that has discredited local politics''.
``This election undoubtedly represents a lost opportunity to put energy back into the job of First Citizen,'' said Nicky Kehoe for the Sinn Féin grouping on Dublin City Council after the meeting. ``It is exciting times in local government. The position of mayor is changing rapidly with the changes in local government, including the new Strategic Policy Committees (SPCs) and the City Development Board, which the mayor chairs.
``The position brings with it the power to set a stamp on development in Dublin over the next ten years, and to initiate major political development. The fact that councillors did not have the courage to break out of the mould of cartel politics is a major setback for democratic politics in the city, and a great disappointment to all of us.''
Signs of the times
The recent successes on councils for Sinn Féin undoubtedly represents an important step in the development of the republican political programme for democracy. This comes at a time of major changes in local government and of real potential, as never before, for cross border development.
As Sean MacManus says: ``It is up to all of us to try to rebuild people's confidence in local government in particular and politics in general through a more open, transparent and democratically accountable political system that listens to, consults with and works for the people it is supposed to represent.''
Dublin City's cosy consensus, the naked unaccountable power of majority rule, does none of these things, and most especially, it doesn't work. Above all though, these successes for Sinn Féin in border counties, more than an indication of growing strength, also mark a significant first step towards the democratic republic for which the Good Friday Agreement offers the potential - via the politics of inclusiveness, of co-operation and of equality.