Continuing on with our series of reports from elections in the Irish Republic, Sinn Fein candidate for Ballincollig Carrigaline in Cork, Donnchadh ó Laoghaire, writes for Slugger about Sinn Fein’s performance…
The first person I ever voted for was Henry Cremin in the 2007 General election. I didn’t really know him, though I might have met him once or twice. Mostly I knew him by reputation. Henry wasn’t a councillor at the time, but was known in my own neighbourhood in Togher, and the surrounding area, as the local Sinn Féin guy.
The general perception you got was of a sound, gregarious, on the ground worker, with time for everyone, and who everyone had time for. He didn’t fit the media image of the sinister Shinner. Just an ordinary working class guy doing his bit for his community.
That perception of the local SF guy probably informed my decision to vote Sinn Féin, and to join Sinn Féin when I started in UCC a month or two later, though there were plenty of other factors too.
That General Election wasn’t an ideal result for Sinn Féin, though Henry polled a pretty respectable vote. One of the first events I went to was a review following the elections, above in the Glen Resource Centre.
The result didn’t take a whole pile out of Henry. He’d been around the block a few times, long time activist, a small set back, what odds, the long run was the main thing, greater challenges than this had been surmounted.
I often wonder what people like Henry, who can remember when Sinn Féin would have been very marginal to politics in Cork, would have thought 10, 15 or more years ago, if you had told him where the party would be in 2014.
The response we are getting on the doors, is better than anything I can remember. That’s the fairly standard, boilerplate thing you expect anyone from any party to say, but look, I’m pretty sure it’s true. Every Sinn Féin candidate running has got a shot at being elected, and I’m one of two candidates in my own area.
There are new opportunities, and new challenges. From my perspective, more and more people are hearing our message, and coming around to our way of thinking. They are identifying the considerable inequalities in Irish society, and they view the way the deficit is being closed, even leaving aside the manifest injustice of paying debts not our own, as unfair. And especially in working class areas, the biggest issue of all for many, is the housing crisis. Overcrowding, poor maintenance by Councils, people on housing lists for years on end. It has created homelessness and squalor for many, but frustration, anger and disenchantment among practically all on lower incomes.
And since you ask, the few nights since Gerry Adams’ arrest, the only context in which it comes up, is usually to tell us how cynical they thought it was, and that they won’t be changing their mind. And wasn’t that Mary Lou fabulous in the PAC…
But there are also the voters who just hardly see the point anymore. After turning their fury on Fianna Fáil in 2011, they see now a Government that, they feel, has just been about more of the same. Sometimes I manage to persuade them that they need to vote, and that’s how things change, and how to keep politicians in check.
But sometimes, they just won’t be persuaded. They have lost hope in Irish politics. I often feel that the biggest challenge which faces Sinn Féin, and perhaps politics generally, is to give people hope. That this isn’t just about voting in some Shinners to provide a robust opposition, but that things can change, that a better way is possible. I’m sure that may sound idealistic and you may roll your eyes to your hears content, but I wouldn’t be spending my time knocking on doors if I didn’t believe it.
Convincing other people of that is sometimes more challenging, but the disenchantment with the whole political system is something we all need to take note of, and try to halt it.
There’s less than three weeks to go. Sinn Féin candidates all over the country will be out and knocking on doors, there has never been a better time to be knocking on doors for Sinn Féin, and we fully intend to make the most of that. More and more people are considering putting their trust in us. For my part, I hope they take that step, and that we get the chance to deliver for people, and that’s the real test.
There’s people saying Henry Cremin could top the poll. I don’t know, part of me thinks that might be other parties putting the word around to make the case to give their candidate the number 1 instead of the number 2. We’ll see in a few weeks what will happen.
But no man deserves it more, and if it does come to pass, it would be the perfect illustration of how Sinn Féin is now a serious player in every part of this island, that won’t be going away anytime soon.