Intense election campaigning has begun in the 26 Counties after the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s early morning visit to the Presidential residence, Aras an Uachtarain, to finally dissolve the Dublin parliament on Sunday.
Mr Ahern received stinging criticism in the Irish media over the unorthodox manner of his dawn trip to gain the necessary signature of the President, Mary McAleese.
Heralded only by late night text messages to a bleary-eyed and ungrateful media, Ahern’s sudden start to the long-awaited election campaign appeared to have left even his own party on the hop. Reporters speculated that Ahern had acted at the last minute to head off the re-opening of the Mahon tribunal into political corruption on Monday.
Although the tribunal subsequently confirmed that it would not hold hearings during the election campaign, Ahern has since been dogged by media questions over payments made to his former partner Celia Larkin.
It was revealed in the Sunday newspapers that thirty thousand pounds sterling was given to Ms Larkin by businessman Michael Wall, who was the landlord of a home being rented by Mr Ahern and Celia Larkin.
Manchester-based Wall has featured in previous aspects of the ‘Bertiegate’ controversy, as one of a circle of business figures who presented Ahern with a large cash sum and later ‘sold’ Ahern the rented house for a reputed knock-down price.
The Taoiseach has said the money was used to refurbish the house and for “stamp duty [tax] issues”, but has refused to answer further questions.
Green party leader Trevor Sargent accused the Taoiseach of hiding behind the tribunal and called on him to make a public statement about his financial affairs ahead of the election.
He said Mr Ahern had “many questions to answer” about his finances and said the adjournment of the Mahon tribunal on Monday “does not mean the Taoiseach is off the hook”.
Mr Sargent said Mr Ahern owed it to the people “not to hide behind the tribunal” and said the public was “entitled to know what they are voting for”.
“The peculiar nature of Bertie Ahern’s financial arrangements demands an effort to clarify matters before the public cast their votes. That’s the way a democracy should work,” he said.
Sinn Féin added their voice to the chorus as Dublin Central candidate Mary Lou McDonald said the electorate had the right to know about all money accepted by the Taoiseach or his former partner and also called on Mr Ahern to make a public statement.
Meanwhile, there has been strong criticism of the Taoiseach for calling an election on a Thursday, a day when most students and many working people are unable to attend their local polling station. The widely was widely predicted, as it traditionally favours Fianna Fail by reducing the anti-establishment vote.
Trevor Sargent described the decision to hold a Thursday election as “a deliberate attempt to exclude young people from voting”. It was opposed by all of the youth wings of the political parties as well as the student unions.
“The Taoiseach has been unable to justify his decision to call a Thursday election, rather than a weekend one,” said Sargent. “Make no mistake; this is a cynical ploy to exclude young people from voting. What is the Taoiseach afraid of?”
Voters disenfranchised by the Thursday poll may still re-register at their weekday locations. Saturday is the last day for voters to get on the supplementary register. This can be done through an RFA2 supplementary register form, and/or an RFA3 change of address form, which are available in post and council offices, as well as online at www.checktheregister.ie
SF EN ROUTE
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has announced details of a major constituency tour by the party’s leadership which will see visits to 29 constituencies over the next six days.
Over the next six days Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and other members of the Sinn Féin leadership will visit 29 constituencies in Dublin, Leinster, Connaught/Ulster and Munster. Bairbre de Brun MEP is currently on a tour of Gaeltacht regions across the state.
In its campaign, Sinn Féin is stressing its record in the peace process and its work on the ground for communities across Ireland.
Mary Lou McDonald said “Sinn Féin is seeking a mandate to be in government to deliver a strong and equal economy, strong public services and advance the peace process.”
Today the party launch of its transport policy, Dublin South-West TD Sean Crowe said Sinn Féin would prioritise proper planning and accessible, safe and affordable public transport.
“A high quality public transport system and roads network is essential both to continued economic growth and to improve peoples quality of life and we will make it a priority in government,” Mr Crowe said.
If elected, the party aims to deliver 500 additional buses for Dublin Bus and to prioritise the construction of rail-metro links to Dublin Airport and the development of the Heuston-Connolly rail link.
Sinn Féin has also proposed the lifting of toll barriers, fast-tracking of road-works and extra investment in public transport to ease the current traffic congestion on the M50.
Across the country the party promises to abolish motorway and other road tolls as well as the expansion of an all-Ireland rail network.
Mr Crowe also said the Sinn Féin would reverse the break-up of Aer Rianta, and return Aer Lingus and Irish Ferries to public ownership or establish new companies in public ownership.
The following is a complete list of Sinn Féin’s general election candidates.
Dublin Central - Mary Lou McDonald MEP
Dublin North Central - Peter Lawlor
Dublin North East - Larry O’Toole
Dublin North West - Dessie Ellis
Dublin North - Matt McCormack
Dublin West - Felix Gallagher
Dublin Mid West - Joanne Spain
Dublin South West - Sean Crowe TD
Dublin South - Shaun Tracey & Sorcha Nic Cormaic
Dun Laoghaire - Eoin O Broin
Dublin South Central - Aengus O Snodaigh TD
Dublin South East - Daithi Doolan
Cavan Monaghan - Caoimhghin O Caolain TD
Roscommon/Sth Leitrim - Martin Kenny
Sligo/North Leitrim - Sean MacManus
Donegal North East - Padraig MacLochlainn
Donegal South West - Pearse Doherty
Galway West - Ann Marie Carroll
Galway East - Jason Devlin Mayo - Gerry Murray
Kerry North - Martin Ferris TD
Kerry South - Lynn Ni Bhaoigheallain
Clare - Anna Prior
Limerick East - Maurice Quinlivan
Cork South West - Cionnaith O Suilleabhain
Cork North Central - Jonathan O’Brien
Cork South Central - Henry Cremin
Cork East - Sandra McLellan
Waterford - David Cullinane
Tipperary South - Liam Browne
Tipperary North - Seamus Morris
Louth - Arthur Morgan TD
Meath West - Joe Reilly
Meath East - Joanne Finnegan
Longford Westmeath - Paul Hogan
Laois Offaly - Brian Stanley
Kildare North - Cristin McCauley
Wicklow - John Brady
Carlow Kilkenny - Kathleen Funchion
Wexford - John Dwyer