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7 November 2002 Edition

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From the Balkans to Barrytown


No one could ever refer to the political scene in this country as 'youthful'. It's 80 years since the state was established, and many of the politicians sitting in Leinster House look as though they were the ones who helped establish it. Voter apathy, though infiltrating all age groups, is most noticeable in those under 35, and the Daíl, with the exception of a few, just doesn't seem to appeal to those who still possess their own teeth. So when young people come forward to commit themselves to politics, it's a promising sign.

Killian Forde is 32 years old and comes from North Dublin. He will be standing as a Sinn Féin candidate for the Donaghmede ward in the local elections in 2004.

Middle-class, and educated to a high level, Killian doesn't appear to fit the establishment stereotype of a Sinn Féin candidate. His father, an author and amateur historian, provided a good life for his family. The fact that his family is, in his words, anti-republican, ("Somewhere along my family lineage, someone's house was burnt down as a result of being a member of the RIC," he informs me) is also at odds with the choice he's made.

So what made him decide to enter the cut-throat world of politics, and why did he choose Sinn Féin?

He explains that his republicanism stems from the 1981 Hunger Strike. "I remember being off school, sick, when Francis Hughes died," he says. "It had a profound effect on me, even though I was only 11 at the time. I just remember a feeling of sadness that this man had to die for what he believed in."

This is when Killian started to recognise his republicanism. But it would be a good few years yet before he started to actively involve himself in politics, and Sinn Féin. Those years were far from empty.

Killian left school at 16, with what he calls a 'crap' Leaving Certificate. Following this he went 'to sea', where he worked on coasters for six months. He went on to work in the music industry, first for a pirate radio station, then for a record company managing a band, where he committed his first act of rebellion.

"At that time, contraception was forbidden for under 18s, and one of our members was under 18," he says. "We decided to bring out our own brand of condoms for younger people, to challenge this law that pretended nobody under the age of 18 was having sex." The band was excluded from a number of venues for this overt challenge to the law.

Around this time Killian began to develop an interest in the wider world, and in particular the suffering being experienced in some parts of that world.

In 1992, he went to work in a Romanian orphanage for nine months. During this period he decided he wanted to further his education. He returned to Ireland and entered the University of Ulster in Derry to take Peace Studies. After a year as a mature student there, he transferred to Kimmage Manor in Dublin and took Development Studies. When he was satisfied with his qualifications, he decided to return to volunteer work and ended up in the Balkans working for mainly American NGOs and then the UN.

In his three years in the Balkans, Killian came face to face with war and death. It also meant an element of personal risk, which occasionally developed into something more serious.

"I was coming across the border from Albania to Yugoslavia one night when I was stopped at a checkpoint," he remembers. "I had this book on me called 'Portrait of a Tyrant' about Milosevic and I also had a NATO map that I had downloaded from the Internet because of its quality. When the guards discovered these on me, I was arrested and held for 18 hours before the UN realised I was missing and located me.

"During that time I was handcuffed to a chair and beaten. They broke two of my ribs and split my lip and eye. The Six-County police force entered my head at that time. These police where using tactics that the RUC have used for years, and I'd never realised the seriousness of it. Here was a force meant to protect, and instead they were abusing their position, just like the RUC. It reaffirmed my republican ideas."

Killian met his wife, Teuta, in the Balkans, and decided to return to Ireland. He began a Masters degree at Trinity College in Racial and Integration Studies, and joined the university's Wolfe Tone cumann. He went on to become a member of the Cole/Colley cumann in Dublin North-East.

"I felt that I had something to offer Sinn Féin at that time," he says. "I'd seen first hand the devastating effects of civil war, and I realised that if a peace couldn't be reached on this island, we could be heading towards the type of war that had ravaged the Balkans."

It wasn't long before Killian was nominated as a candidate by his fellow Sinn Féin members.

He views the current political set-up in the 26 Counties with reproach. "The people in this state are lacking in leadership. There is an unbelievable lack of honest representation, and an infuriating culture of populism.

"I have a personal political agenda for my own area," he says. "I live in Baldoyle, just down the road from an area infested with drugs and suffering from poverty (Kilbarrack). I want to see an end to that. Sinn Féin, as a political party, happens to represent my republican and social interests, so it is perfect for me.

"I want to see a united Ireland," he says. "I think it can happen. I don't think it's just a romantic notion in my head. I don't know when it will happen, but I think that if Britain were to make a clear statement of withdrawal, the process would speed up."

With the disappearance of the border, he hopes racism, sectarianism, discrimination and prejudice will also go.

Killian works in Pavée Point, an organisation concerned with the Travelling community.

"My work involves enabling Travellers to position their cultural identity in an island where they have been discriminated against for decades," he says. This reflects the approach he wants to take into politics, that of helping to establish Sinn Féin's idea of an Ireland of equals. "I've worked first hand with refugees, Travellers and other discriminated against groups. The most important thing I feel I can bring to Sinn Féin and to politics as a whole is that valuable experience with ethnic minorities.

"I'm just an actor for Sinn Féin," he says. "The people I work with in Sinn Féin all share the same ideals as I do, and I've just been chosen to represent that, if I can, at a higher level.

"There are a load of people there at the moment who are only paying lip-service to society's ills," Killian says.

"I think that there is definitely room for Sinn Féin and younger candidates in politics. We offer something different, and after the next five years, if it even goes that long, people are going to want something different."

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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