Meehan makes debut Antrim challenge
Long-standing Ardoyne republican Martin Meehan will carry the
Sinn Féin torch in this month's Westminster by-election in South
Antrim. The election, to be held on 21 September, is for the seat
left vacant by the death of Ulster Unionist stalwart Clifford
Forsythe earlier this year.
Meehan, who handed in his nomination papers on Monday of this
week, told An Phoblacht that he was ``determined to maximise the
Sinn Féin vote in the constituency''. This is the first time that
Sinn Féin has stood a candidate in for a seat that has a strong
unionist majority. Traditionally a bastion of hard line unionism
this was reflected in Forsythe's stance on the Good Friday
Agreement. He was a `No man'.
That the constituency is seen as a hot bed of traditional
unionism is also highlighted by the main unionist contenders in
the by-election. DUP man Willie McCrea, who was ousted by Martin
McGuinness from the Mid-Ulster seat that he held for years, sees
rich pickings in South Antrim and has thrown his hat in the ring
while David Burnside won the nomination for the Ulster Unionist
Burnside, who has won himself the reputation of being an astute
media performer was initially said to be a staunch Trimble backer
but is now seen as a `No Man'. His hard line pro-RUC motion,
which was accepted at a crucial Ulster Unionist Council meeting
earlier in the year, was seen as a stab in the back for Trimble
and a demonstration of Burnside's naked political ambition.
It is against this background that Meehan is fighting his
campaign, although the showing of the party in recent
by-elections has given him encouragement.
``Pauline Davey-Kennedy's by-election win earlier in the year was
brilliant because Sinn Féin held onto a seat we were expected to
lose,'' said Meehan. ``The SDLP refused to support a co-option
because they believed they would take the seat from us. That
result shows that Sinn Féin can also take votes from the SDLP and
strengthen our position in the constituency.''
Roisin McGurk and Aíne Gribben also contested by-elections in the
Antrim and Newtownabbey parts of the constituency and polled
``Sectarianism is a big issue in this constituency,'' Meehan told
An Phoblacht, ``and so Sinn Féin is determined to fight to improve
the position of nationalists. In the past year, loyalist
paramilitary groups have been involved in a concerted campaign of
intimidation and have bombed, petrol bombed and beaten
nationalists. In Randalstown, dozens of Catholic families have
been driven out of the Neilsbrook estate by loyalists. People
have the right to live safely in their own homes, free from
intimidation and discrimination.''
Meehan arrested in Scotland
Martin Meehan was held by Scottish police as he travelled to Glasgow to speak at a Tom Williams commemoration.
Meehan and his wife Briege were held for almost an hour last Saturday at Glasgow airport. Both were questioned about their movements and travel arrangements.
Meehan says he will now be writing to Scottish First Minister Donald Dewar to complain of his treatment and to raise the issue of harassment of republicans travelling to and from Scotland. ``I am hearing reports of people being continually stopped and questioned as they travel to and from Scotland,'' he said. He reported that the Glasgow commemoration was highly successful and attracted a large crowd.