Republican News · Thursday 07 September 2000

[An Phoblacht]

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 Party.

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 really well.

``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.

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