Sinn Féin seeking to boost political strength
North Belfast: Gerry Kelly and Martina McIlkenny
Of all the nicknames given to North Belfast, ``patchwork quilt'',
rings the most true amongst the area's nationalists.
The North Belfast constituency has been one of the most affected
by the past 30 years of war. ``One in five deaths have occurred in
North Belfast,'' pointed out Martina McIlkenny, SF's Belfast
``There is a great feeling of fear and apprehension as a result of
the tension at the interfaces and because of our geographical
position,'' notes community activist Anthony Barnes, who is chair
of the Concerned Residents Against Sectarianism. ``People have
developed a ghetto mentality. How else can they react if they are
forced to keep within the North's limits to socialise?''
Thirteen out of sixteen of the peace lines that scar Belfast are
located in one square mile in North Belfast. Most see the walls
as a desperate sectarian attempt by loyalists to mark their
territory and prevent the expansion of the booming nationalist
The latest peace line, at Whitewell, was built despite
nationalist objections and calls for negotiations, an initiative
actively backed by Sinn Fein. ``The wall has not helped to end the
attacks and the fear,'' explains community activist Paul
McKiernan. Properties are losing value and the trouble has only
been displaced''. Cars are continually damaged, bricks come flying
though windows. When challenged, only Sinn Fein has shown any
commitment to the residents. SDLP former Lord Mayor Alban
McGuinness has twice repeated that ``nothing can be done'' for the
The tension rises as the bigoted Tour of the North draws closer.
Republican calls for dialogue have stalled against Orange
intransigence and sectarianism. And the consequences of the
provocative march may be more serious than ever. 140 people were
intimidated and burnt out of their houses during the 1996
Drumcree stand-off and were given shelter in various community
It also has been recognised that North Belfast has some of the
most concentrated deprivation in the Six Counties. The most
abandoned wards, such as New Lodge, Ardoyne and Ligoniel, contain
the most highly affected pockets of disadvantage, inheriting
social problems such as drug abuse, drink-related problems and
Drugs are a major problem. The RUC and crown forces are
accomplices of drug dealers who operate under the spy posts and
cameras in the Water Works. ``It has come to the point where they
move closer to the barracks when they feel threatened,'' says
Raymond Glover, member of the Community Response to Sectarianism
The lack of leisure facilities has become one of the top
priorities of the republican activists who point out that the
three leisure centres in North Belfast are located in the
Shankill, Ballysillon and Grove, making it impossible for the
children from the nationalist areas to attend them.
But the tight knit and vibrant community of North Belfast is also
booming with dynamism. It has one of the most effective
constituency networks with four SF councillors Bobby Lavery, Mick
Conlon, Gerard Brophy and Danny Lavery, who was elected
councillor for the Castle Ward area in June 1997, working
effectively at grass-roots.
The ongoing crown forces harassment has not changed, despite the
``Since the agreement was brokered, harassment has only
increased,'' explains Martina. Proof of this harassment came last
Friday as two houses were raided in the New Lodge, and one in
Ardoyne during which SF councillor Gerard Brophy was injured in
As polling day approaches the residents of North Belfast are more
determined than ever to transform their patchwork quilt into a
patchwork of success. Terry O'Neill, community activist in the
Star neighbourhood centre in New Lodge explains, ``we know how to
eradicate the problems rooted in our community. We only need the
tools that we never have had. And the major tool is proper
Gerry Kelly and Martina McIlkenny hope to be given an even
stronger mandate to defend nationalist rights in the new
Assembly. The choice of a brighter future and effective change
lies in the hands of the North Belfast voters. Is e do rogha fein
South Belfast: Sean Hayes
Sean was elected councillor for South Belfast - which includes
the Markets and Ormeau Road areas - in 1997, and has sat on the
Cultural Diversity, Economic Development and Contract Services
committees. He also kept his 1997 election pledge of opening a
Sean is a native of the Markets area. He was on remand for almost
a year in a supergrass trial in 1984, before charges were
Sean has been active within the party since 1983, when he was
Director of Elections and electoral agent for Sean McKnight. He
was also Chair of Sinn Fein in Belfast in 1988.
Sean was a founding member of Scoil an Dhroichid, in Cooke
Street, leas Caothaoirleach of Glor na nGael when they
successfully challenged then British home secretary Douglas
Hurd's axing of funds, and is a member of Conradh na Gaelige.
Urging nationalists ``to ensure the benefits achieved by Sinn Fein
for northern nationalists are not reneged on by the British
government and unionists, due to their instinctive
intransigence'', Sean is calling for a strong nationalist vote in
what was traditionally a unionist stronghold.
``This area is changing and we need that reflected in our vote'',
he told An Phoblacht.
North Antrim: James McCarry and Joe Cahill
Councillor James McCarry is a native of the Glens, having been
born in Carey in 1950. A self-employed carpenter, he has been a
SF Councillor on Moyle District Council since 1989, where he
served on the Moyle District Partnership Board which allocates
Peace and Reconciliation funds.
James has a long track record of political and community
activism, having first sought election for Sinn Fein on Dublin
Corporation in 1974, narrowly missing election by a small margin.
James has campaigned on issues of real concern for North Antrim
residents, including housing, the right of people to live in the
countryside, employment, emigration, healthcare and education.
The North Antrim constituency takes in towns like Ballycastle,
Cushendall, Dunloy, Rasharkin and Loughguile.
Director of Elections Dodie McGuinness, speaking about the
party's decision to run SF Treasurer and veteran republican Joe
Cahill, said, ``it is important for North Antrim to have a figure
like Joe Cahill as a representative. He has played a crucial role
over the years in supporting the present leadership and
furthering the peace process.''
Joe's record as a republican activist is well-known, having been
active in the republican movement for over 60 years. He was among
six IRA Volunteers sentenced to hang in 1942, including Tom
Williams. Joe was one of the five whose sentences were commuted
to life imprisonment. His selection emphasises a determination to
maximise the Sinn Fein vote in the constituency.
South Antrim: Martin Meehan
Martin Meehan is currently chairperson of Saoirse in the Six
Counties, co-ordinating and organising publicity, pickets and
delegations on behalf of political prisoners.
Martin has been involved in the republican movement for over 35
years, over 20 of which were spent in prison. He was first
arrested in Derry's Duke Street in 1968, escaped from Crumlin
Road prison in 1971, was the last internee released on 5 December
1975, and spent 66 days on hunger-strike in 1980.
He witnessed his son being imprisoned for republican activism in
1989. They ended up in adjoining cells in the H Blocks. Martin's
own father was imprisoned for his activism in the 1940s.
Martin confirmed that his early canvassing had brought evidence
that the Sinn Fein agenda on equality and nationalist rights was
meeting a positive response. Referring to the recent news that
many complaints lodged against British government bodies in the
north came from nationalists in County Antrim, Martin reiterated
his determination to properly represent nationalist rights. ``We
must make sure unionists are confronted at every opportunity in
the Assembly on nationalist rights, injustice and RUC
A cavalcade of 25 cars going to Randalstown as part of Martin's
campaign was stopped by the RUC who demanded Tricolours being
flown from the cars be removed, on the basis that ``nationalists
haven't moved that far up around here yet!'' The election team was
allowed to proceed, but only after the RUC threatened to arrest
Martin said:'' This discredited force has no further role to play
and should be disbanded and replaced with an accountable,
democratic and unarmed community policing service.''
Upper Bann: Dara O'Hagan and Francie Murray
Dara O'Hagan is standing against Unionist leader David Trimble as
Sinn Fein's number 1 candidate, while councillor Francie Murray
is the number 2. It is a head-to-head contest Dara confidently
described as ``very exciting.''
Dara, from Lurgan, is a member of SF's Policy Review and
Development Department, which has been instrumental in developing
Sinn Fein policy, providing valuable research and backup to the
Stormont talks team, research skills and experience which will
make her an invaluable Assembly member.
She has completed a PhD in Politics at Queen's University in
Belfast, and has worked for years on economic equality and
Dara comes from a strong republican background. Her parents have
a long history of involvement in representing and championing
nationalist rights. Her father JB O'Hagan was first imprisoned
for his activism as far back as 1942, just days after Tom
Williams was hanged in Crumlin Road, while her mother stood for
Sinn Fein in the 1997 Westminister elections.
``This constituency is a microcosm of the whole situation,'' Dara
said, ``with the parades issue on the Garvaghy Road, and other
issues prominent in mid-Ulster, like the long record of RUC
harassment, or the Robert Hamill campaign. Such issues point up
the terrible nature of the state, and the RUC's latest actions on
Garvaghy show what constituents are up against.
``Republicans have often been marginalised, kept outside the
structures of power. We are entering those structures to change
that. We don't have any illusions, it will be a long struggle in
terms of delivering change through the Assembly. Sinn Fein will
work that system to achieve fundamental equality, pushing forward
the republican agenda. I want to be the conduit for constituents,
facilitating their viewpoints, and fighting their corner on those
issues which are so central to people on local and broader
issues,'' she said.