Martina Anderson can become the first Sinn Fein MP for Derry in more than 80 years, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has said.
The West Belfast MP made the comment at a public election meeting in the Tower Hotel, Derry, on Tuesday night.
“We can win it,” he said. “Martina Anderson is the Sinn Fein candidate and all I can say is ‘may the best woman win,’” he added.
Mr Adams appealed to Sinn Fein members in Derry to get as many people as possible to vote for Ms Anderson in the Foyle constituency.
“The phase of struggle coming up now will end on May 6. Everyone can find their place in this election. One way is to go out knocking on doors but that is not for everybody. If people can get ten people they know that aren’t Sinn Fein supporters to vote for Martina Anderson that is the most important thing they can do. Just start asking people you know - all they can say is no,” he said.
Mr Adams also told Sinn Fein activists to make every effort during the campaign. “If we fight an election and lose, I can live with that. It is not losing that is difficult. It is losing when you know that you could have won it that is difficult,” he said.
Anderson spent 13 years in prison, ten of them in English jails, as a result of the armed struggle. She is currently a member of the Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle, the Stormont Assembly and the Policing Board.
Speaking at her party’s Easter commemoration, Ms Anderson appealed to voters to turn out in numbers.
“There is plenty of work to be done and room for everyone to play their part. You deserve better than what has gone before. For too long, Derry has been represented by a brand of nationalism that was content to take the crumbs from the table - happy to sit at the back of the bus.
“It’s time to show that those days are gone. We are no longer second-class citizens and we all have an opportunity to demonstrate that at the May 6th elections,” she said.
The new Westminster election candidate also spoke of the need to ‘republicanise’ communities in Derry.
“1916 saw the coming together of Nationalists, Republicans, language activists, Trade Unionists and the Women’s movement in the cause of Irish freedom. This is a template for republicans today. Derry has a key role to play in that. Our struggle demands that we maximise our vote in this city. The challenge is to ensure the largest vote ever recorded by Sinn Fein in Derry,” she said.
In 2005 the Sinn Fein vote was up 6.6 per cent, while the SDLP vote was down 3.9 per cent. Mitchel McLaughlin, now a Sinn Fein Assembly member for South Antrim, polled 15,162 votes, or 33.2 per cent, while Durkan’s share was 21,119 votes, or 46.3 per cent.
In this overwhelmingly Catholic/nationalist constituency, both the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Ulster Unionists are fielding candidates, while the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) is not. Some Unionists note Durkan has been vocal on the failed Presbyterian Mutual Society issue, and suggest this may be an attempt to encourage tactical voting.
Veteran nationalist campaigner Eamonn McCann is also entering the fray in the Foyle constituency. In his manifesto he states that his organisation ‘People before Profit’ stands for the interests of “the working class, the marginalised and oppressed”.
“We believe that it is through organising in communities, workplaces and colleges that we can best advance,” he said. “We will use the platform of a Westminster seat to support and speak up for grass-roots organisation.
“We go beyond Orange versus Green to speak for the common interests of all who have been left behind by the peace process. We are united with People Before Profit in the South. Campaigning for progressive change across the island is the all-Ireland dimension we believe in.”
Last time out, McCann received almost 1,650 votes, or 3.6 per cent, as a Socialist Environmental Alliance candidate.
“I’m confident because of the work that we have done,” Anderson said this week.
Of Durkan, she says: “He’s resigned as leader of the party and I think he sees himself as on the way out.”