31 May 2001 Edition
Election workers face harassment and attack
As the tension mounted in the last few days of campaigning before the elections, Sinn Féin candidates and election workers faced harassment from the RUC, loyalist intimidation and a smear campaign by the SDLP.
Sinn Féin has written to the Police Ombudsman and the Chief Electoral Officer detailing instances of RUC harassment of the party's election workers in the Newry area. On four separate occasions between Sunday 20 May and Thursday 24 May the RUC detained Sinn Féin election workers, including candidates and election agents.
Sinn Féin also continues to be targeted by loyalists, who have attacked candidates, intimidated election workers and vandalised election material. Last week, Sinn Féin candidate Kevin Vernon, standing in Newtownabbey, was attacked by loyalists armed with sticks and hatchets while putting up posters in Glengormley, North Belfast.
Sinn Féin Westminster candidate for South Antrim, Martin Meehan, has been repeatedly told by the RUC that his life has been threatened by loyalists. Meehan and his family have been the focus of a number of recent loyalist threats and attacks. In one ten-day period earlier this year, the family was targeted seven times by loyalists.
Last Saturday night, a Sinn Féin election worker in Ballycastle was targeted in a loyalist attack. A car belonging to Thomas Guiney, an election worker for North Antrim's Westminster candidate John Kelly, was set alight and destroyed outside his home. A threatening letter was also pushed through the letter box. In the last two weeks, the election worker has been informed of two threats against his life by the RUC. The family's seven-year-old twins and disabled son were in the house at the time of the attack.
Local candidate John Kelly described the attack as ``part of a concerted campaign of intimidation against Sinn Féin election workers which stretched from Ballyclare to Ballintoy. In Ballymena there is a group called the `Young Defenders' which is allied to the UDA and they are driving around threatening nationalists.'' Meanwhile, East Belfast candidate Joe O'Donnell has said that loyalists taking down his election posters will not stop Sinn Féin from taking a council seat in the area.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has rejected claims that members of Sinn Féin have been involved in threatening or disrupting SDLP election workers. ``This accusation is as disgraceful as it is untrue,'' said McLaughlin. ``It is disappointing that the SDLP have resorted to smear tactics.''
Pat Doherty to win West Tyrone
As the race for the West Tyrone seat intensifies, Sinn Féin's opponents and their sympathetic allies in the media have attempted various tactics to divert attention from the only issue that matters: the very real prospect of Pat Doherty becoming the third Sinn Féin MP in the Six Counties.
Election results since the 1997 Westminster elections clearly show that Sinn Féin is in pole position to take West Tyrone. CAÍTLIN DOHERTY looks at howSinn Féin's Pat Doherty is on the verge of ending years of unionist misrepresentation
But the smear tactics do not wash, not least with the electorate. In the past days the enthusiastic reception canvassers have received on doorsteps, including in staunch SDLP strongholds, have confirmed that Doherty's support has never been so strong.
The race between Pat Doherty, Bríd Rodgers (SDLP) and Willie Thompson (UUP) leaves the electorate with a clear choice: they can vote for Doherty or renew a mandate for unionist discrimination and misrepresentation.
``This is a clear cut race between myself and Willie Thompson'', says Pat Doherty. ``I have studied the canvass returns and it is clear to me that other parties cannot catch up with the lead I have.''
The turnout is expected to be one of the highest ever in this overwhelmingly nationalist constituency, with voters intent on ejecting Thompson and restoring a sense of democracy.
``This constituency is overwhelmingly nationalist and it is nothing short of a disgrace that a unionist politician opposed to the peace process was elected last time,'' says Pat Doherty. ``Now is the time for the nationalist people of West Tyrone to rally around a party and a politician who will lead from the front to strengthen the peace process and effectively represent all the people of this constituency on the issues that matter the most, which include inward investment, transport infrastructure and demilitarisation.''
Sinn Féin's West Tyrone vote is a sweeping tide that has grown in every election since 1997. In the 1997 local government elections, Sinn Féin scored a total of 13,388 votes, outpolling the SDLP by 3,800 and the UUP by 4,618.
In the 1998 Assembly elections, Sinn Féin was again the leading party, polling 15,665 votes and beating the combined unionist vote of 15,252. It also confirmed an astronomical lead of nearly 4,000 votes over the SDLP, which scored 11,815.
Recent by-elections in Mid-Tyrone, where Sinn Féin beat the SDLP by 3,000 votes and the combined unionist vote by 2,200 and in West Tyrone, where Sinn Féin had a lead of nearly 1,000 on unionists and 2,300 on the SDLP, further confirm this rise.
Another major consideration is the choice of young people and first time voters. Sinn Féin is seen by this proportion of the electorate as the only nationalist party committed to negotiating further concessions on issues like policing and demilitarisation.
But beyond the figures and the short-term considerations, the battle in West Tyrone is also a symbol of the direction nationalism is taking and the future of the Six Counties. The psychological implications of a Sinn Féin win in West Tyrone would be devastating to the SDLP, not least because it would put both parties on an equal footing, with three MPs each.
The rise of Sinn Féin across the Six Counties will further confirm a trend of recent elections: Sinn Féin is the fastest growing party on the island and is becoming the largest nationalist party in the North.
The choice of an increasing number of voters to back Sinn Féin's leadership in the peace process and the development and implementation of all-Ireland policies are a wake up call to parties whose rhetoric is sounding more and more hollow.
The knee-jerk reaction of the SDLP to stand a candidate who has never worked in the area and is unfamiliar with the constituency's issues is a good indication of the panic within that party. The parachuting in of Bríd Rodgers was a calculated move on behalf of the SDLP to stop Sinn Féin from getting the seat rather than a move aimed at unseating Thompson.
Pat Doherty smiles when asked about the ins and outs of the campaign. He, like the hundreds of activists involved in this campaign, is quietly confident.
``The one thing to remember is that Sinn Féin is a party on the move,'' he concludes. ``We are standing 20 local election candidates across West Tyrone this election, as opposed to the SDLP's 12. That tells the story. We are going to transform the face of local government West of the Bann and work towards delivering real change, economically, socially and culturally. Nothing is going to stop us now.''
Pat Doherty has been actively involved in the West Tyrone constituency since 1997. Placing West Tyrone back on the economic map by securing inward investment, strengthening cross-border cooperation and reversing the consequences of unionist neglect are top of his agenda.
The latest example of concrete efforts to achieve those aims came earlier this month when a West Tyrone Sinn Féin delegation met with the IDB's Chief Executive and his deputy in Belfast. During the meeting, the IDB acknowledged Sinn Féin's strategy of all-Ireland cooperation as the way forward for the North West region. After hearing the republican arguments, they indicated that the intention of the new Single Economic Agency would be to locate a strong regional presence in West Tyrone.
His work to secure inward investment is also well documented and has paved the way for further developments. During recent tours of North America as vice-chairman and chair of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee, Pat has raised the case of West Tyrone with high level and influential industrialists and businessmen.
Earlier this month he led an economic-investment tour by major corporate investment advisor and former President of the Irish Congress Trade Unions Phil Flynn. Doherty believes that Flynn can play a key role in helping West Tyrone to develop economic links with the booming southern economy.
Lobbying for the development of the roads, the creation of a rail infrastructure and an adequate communication network is also underway.
In the Assembly, Pat also tabled a successful motion with collegue Francie Malloy to grand additional aid to businesses affected by Foot and Mouth.
Born to a Donegal family in Glasgow, Scotland, Pat Doherty has been active in Sinn Féin since the early 1970s. In 1996, he led the Sinn Féin delegation into the Forum talks in Dublin. Since 1979, he has been a member of the party's Ard Comhairle and since 1988 has been the party's Vice President
Currently Assembly member for West Tyrone, Pat has also stood in Donegal North East in Dáil elections and in Connaught/Ulster during the European Elections.
He is most known in government for the work he has done on the economics front as Chairperson of the Entreprise, Trade and Investment Committee.
He has also repeatedly lobbyed for special attention to be given to the situation West of the Bann.
A key member of the Sinn Féin negotiating team in the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement, Pat Doherty continues to actively challenge the British government to secure the implementation of all aspects of the accord, including demilitarisation and the creation of a new, accountable and acceptable police force.
Elections 2001... Elections 2001...
Every vote can make a difference
ROBBIE MacGABHANN profiles the election prospects across the 18 Westminster constituencies
Next week's Westminster election marks a watershed for Sinn Féin for a range of reasons. First off it is the first Westminster election where all 18 constituencies are being contested by the party. Secondly, it promises to be the fifth consecutive Six-County constituency based election where the party has increased its overall vote share, which has risen from 12.5% in 1993 to 17.63% in 1998.
Finally, there is a real prospect of Sinn Féin not just holding the two seats won by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in 1997 but adding a third and a fourth - a tangible deliverable prospect.
It was obvious from the 1993 district council elections that the electoral alignments in North Belfast were shifting and that given the right conditions a four-way battle for this seat was a very real prospect. The political reality on the ground had been clouded as a result of the 1987 UUP/DUP electoral pact. At a Westminster level this constituency became the property of the UUP's Cecil Walker.
The 1996 Forum elections provided the first real sign of the political reality. With five seats and a PR list system being used, all the unionist parties entered the fray. The end result saw a photo finish. The DUP topped the poll with 19.24%, followed by Sinn Féin on 19%, the SDLP on 18.54% and the UUP on 17.6%. There were less than 900 votes separating the first four parties.
In 1997, Cecil Walker was given a clear run, as the thought of the seat falling into nationalist or worse still, Sinn Féin hands was too much to contemplate. Walker won 51.81% of the vote, with the SDLP taking 20.39%, followed by Gerry Kelly, 79 votes behind the SDLP.
Sinn Féin had the highest number of first preferences in this constituency in 1998, winning 8,775 votes, 21.34% of the total poll. In fact, the DUP and SDLP also reached the 21% mark, showing that the constituency was still on a knife edge. More important was the collapse of the UUP vote, with the party taking just under 11% of the first preferences.
This time around Nigel `Homer' Dodds has thrown his hat into the ring. For an each way bet, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly is well worth the money as a battle between the ageing Walker and Dodds could leave the door open for the stronger nationalist candidate. This is the most likely constituency to have a recount.
The Sinn Féin vote in this constituency has hovered at the 2% plus mark for the last three elections and this time around it falls to Joe O'Donnell to contest this most difficult of constituencies.
Peter Robinson seems a shoe-in here, but the 42% plus vote won by the DUP in 1997 will not be repeated again. The result is much more likely to mirror the 1998 Assembly result, where the DUP took just under 31% of the vote compared to 24% for the UUP and 18% for the Alliance Party.
Sinn Féin's vote share in this constituency reached just over 6% last time out and republican vote watchers will be monitoring this seat closely to see if Alex Maskey, standing here for the first time, can move the party towards the significant double figure mark.
Martin Smyth romped home with 36% of the vote in 1997 and the UUP took only 23% of the vote when six seats were up for grabs in 1998. With so many anti-agreement unionists running this time around, it will be interesting to see how many unionist voters stay away from the polls. Turnout here was 62% in 1997 and 67% in 1998.
Gerry Adams MP
Few of us who stayed up through the night in 1992 have forgotten the bitter taste left from the tactical voting of unionists to unseat Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams in favour of the SDLP's Joe Hendron.
Sinn Féin bounced back in the 1993 local elections but the real surge in this constituency came in 1996, with the party winning just over 53% of first preferences. In 1997, the party beat this record with Adams securing nearly 56% of votes and in 1998 Sinn Féin just missed out on taking 60% of first preferences. This time around the party could break the 60% barrier. Watch this space.
North Antrim, has returned Ian Paisley consistently as an MP. The DUP took 36.97% of the vote in 1996, 46.54% in `97 and 37.6% in 1998. Little change is expected this time around. However this is another constituency where Sinn Féin has been making gains. In 1996, the party won 2,579 votes, 5.8% of the poll here. In `97 this rose to a 6.27% vote share and in the 1998 Assembly elections, Sinn Féin won 8.14% of the vote. This is all the more significant as the SDLP vote has been in an around the 16% mark since 1996. Assembly member John Kelly is the standard bearer this time out.
Roy Beggs holding East Antrim for the UUP has always provoked rancour among the local DUP organisation. Beggs was a narrow winner here in 1983 and held the seat in 1987 because of the UUP/DUP pact and has proved difficult to unseat since. To add salt to the wounds, the Alliance Party pushed the DUP into third place in 1997. In 1998, there was a gap of just 7% of the total poll between the two unionist parties. Sinn Féin took just over 2% of the vote here in 1998 and Jeanette Graffin is bravely contesting the seat this time out.
South Antrim, like South Belfast, is a poll worth watching not for who votes for either of the No unionists but more importantly who stays at home. In last year's Westminster by election here, the DUP's Willie McCrea beat off anti-Agreement UUP candidate David Burnside to take this seat by 822 votes, but this was on a turnout of just 43%. Sinn Féin's vote share has been growing here, from 5.4% in 1996 to 7.33% in 1998 to 8.54% in the 2000 by election. Martin Meehan, who has been very active in the constituency, will be looking to improve those figures.
The SDLP's Eddie McGrady looks fairly comfortable in South Down, a constituency once home to not only Enoch Powell but also Eamon de Valera. However, McGrady won't like local elections being run on the same day as Westminster.
Added to this is the pressure of a growing Sinn Féin vote. The party's 15.13% vote share in 1998 not only gave an Assembly seat to Mick Murphy, it also pushed the UUP into second place in the constituency. Again, Murphy will be looking to increase his vote share.
North Down's battle between unionists is getting a lot of media coverage. The Alliance party have pulled out, leaving the UUP's Sylvia Hermon, wife of RUC Jack, a clear crack at UK Unionist Robert McCartney.
McCartney's party were behind the UUP in the 1998 elections by more than 10% of the total poll. This was a bit of a turn around considering that McCartney had over 35% of the votes in 1997 compared to 31% for the UUP. Sinn Féin did not run here in 1997 or 1998 but Eamon McConvey takes up the challenge this time out.
Newry & Armagh
Seamus Mallon has been the sitting MP here since 1986. However, like McGrady, Mallon's vote will suffer because of the local elections being held on the same day. Sinn Féin's performance in the southern end of this constituency could be the key to closing the gap between Mallon and Conor Murphy. In 1998 the SDLP took 35% of the vote compared to nearly 26% for Sinn Féin. Watch out for Sinn Féin to eat into the SDLP vote.
Home to Jeffrey Donaldson, who inherited one of the most comfortable unionist majorities in the Six Counties. Watch out for the Sinn Féin vote here, which jumped to 4.3% in 1998 from 2.51% in 1997 and is sure to be improved upon by Paul Butler.
This was one of the breakthrough constituencies for Sinn Féin in 1996. The party won 12% of the first preferences in David Trimble's constituency. Dara O'Hagan took an Assembly seat here in 1998 with 14.32% of the first preferences. Pushing the DUP into fourth place this time and increasing vote share would be a nice double for O'Hagan and the local Sinn Féin organisation.
Fermanagh South Tyrone
The retirement of Major Ken has concentrated minds in this constituency. Ken Maginnis had been given a clear run here since 1983, and in 1997 he took 51.48% of the votes. However in 1998, with a PR election and six seats up for grabs, Sinn Féin topped the vote share with just under 27% of first preferences, pushing the UUP into second place, with 24.63% of first preferences. The SDLP ran third, with 21.56% of the vote. A split unionist vote could bring this seat back home for Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew. Watch this space.
This is possibly one of the most critical constituencies in the election. In 1996 the SDLP and Sinn Féin were neck and neck with only 106 votes between the two parties. In 1997 the SDLP pulled ahead of Sinn Féin with 32% of the vote compared to 30.86% for Sinn Féin. The UUP's William Thompson was given a clear run by the other unionist parties and took the seat.
In 1998, Sinn Féin took a decisive lead over the SDLP, topping the poll with 34% of the vote, compared to 25.71% for the SDLP. This election should elect Pat Doherty as a Sinn Féin MP, despite the late introduction by the SDLP of Brid Rogers.
Martin McGuinness MP
Sinn Féin has consistently topped the poll in this constituency since 1996, when the party won just under 30% of the vote. Martin McGuinness built on this in the 1997 Westminster Election, taking 40% of vote, which was maintained in the 1998 Assembly election, which saw Sinn Fein win three of the six seats in the constituency. Like Adams in West Belfast, this is a banker.
Sinn Féin has managed to start closing the gap on the huge personal support for John Hume. This constituency poses the SDLP with its greatest dilemma; the fact is that without Hume running here, there is no plan B.
In 1997, Hume took 52% of the vote compared to just under 24% for Sinn Féin. In the 1998 Assembly elections, Sinn Féin won 26% of the vote compared to 47.84% for the SDLP. The challenge this time around is to see whether Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin has eaten further into Hume's vote.
Sinn Féin has consistently pulled 9% of the vote out of this constituency over the last three elections and Francie Brolly stands this time out. Once again, it will be interesting to see how the unionist vote fares, with two anti-Agreement candidates running. This constituency could throw up a surprise.
This is the end of unionist dinosaur John Taylor, but who will replace him? The DUP have been eating into the UUP vote here consistently. In 1996, the UUP were narrowly ahead, with 31.31% of votes compared to 28.91% for the DUP.
In 1997, Taylor stretched his lead to 44% of votes compared to 30% for the DUP, but in the 1998 Assembly elections, which went to 18 counts, the UUP and DUP were back neck and neck, with 29% of votes for the UUP compared to nearly 28% for the DUP. The better known DUP candidate, Iris Robinson, could snatch this seat for the DUP.
Sinn Féin has been taking just over 1% of the vote here and Liam Johnston will be looking to build on these slim pickings.