Sinn Féin’s 26-County TDs today said that they are preparing for the election of a significant number of colleagues in the forthcoming General Election - with the aim of the party being in government north and south of the border.

The ballot could see the current coalition government of Fianna Fail, led by Bertie Ahern and the small Progressive Democrats, led by Michael McDowell, lose their grip on power in Dublin after ten years in office.

Despite strong economic growth in recent years, an opposition grouping comprised of Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael and Pat Rabbitte’s Labour Party is running level with or ahead of the current government in the polls. The failure of the current government to deliver acceptable public services is the main factor in the mood for change.

The polls indicate that either the Sinn Féin or the Green Party could find themselves in the position of king-maker following the election. A date for the poll has still to be set, although an announcement is expected within a week.

Speaking at the launch of Sinn Féin’s priorities, the party’s leader in the Dublin parliament, Caoimhghin O Caolain, said Sinn Féin will see who’s offering the best deal.

“If the circumstances are right, if we have the numbers, if the configuration opens up the opportunity, if whatever other party or parties are interested in being involved with Sinn Féin, that their specific programme - what they’re prepared to do - meets our requirements and our demands, it will be Sinn Féin who will make that decision and Sinn Féin alone.”

The party had said its priority is “the provision of premium public services - especially in health and housing”. It called for “real engagement and debate” during the election campaign.

“Sinn Féin’s team of TDs has been honoured to serve our constituents over the past five years and we are seeking a renewed mandate in the forthcoming General Election,” said Mr O Caolain.

“We are confident of receiving that renewed and strengthened mandate and are preparing for the election of a significant number of additional Sinn Féin TDs.

“Our aim is for our party to be in Government North and South and ultimately for Sinn Féin to be part of an all-Ireland government. This is about changing Ireland; it is not about political careers.

“Our priority going into the General Election and in the next Dail is the provision of premium public services on the basis of fair and equal access for all. This is especially needed in healthcare and housing where the Fianna Fail/PD government has, for the past decade, failed miserably to use economic prosperity to ensure that all our people have access to the best healthcare and to decent housing. Instead they have left housing provision to the developer-driven market and are in the process of privatising our health services.”

Mr O Caolain blasted what he called “farcical auction politics”, particularly in respect of stamp tax on house purchases.

“It is time that housing policy was changed radically from one driven by developers and speculators and by the unbridled market, to one led by the needs of the people for social and affordable housing,” he said.

Mr O Caolain pointed out that so-called “affordable” housing scheme has seen houses offered to low income families in Dublin at the price of 345,000 Euros ($470,0000).

“Significantly increasing the number of local authority houses built is the best way to provide affordable homes while maintaining employment in the construction industry,” he said.

“Similarly in Health we would reverse the privatisation drive of this Government, including the private for-profit hospital co-location scheme.

“As a campaigning party we have a proven determination to bring about real reform in healthcare, ensuring equal access for all based on need alone. Our campaign has struck a chord with people throughout the country and we are determined to see our policies implemented.”

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