THE green army is recruiting. For the first time in three years, Sinn Fein’s vice-president was in Newbridge, Johnson’s to be precise, rallying the troops in preparation for the Local Elections and European Elections 2014.
Wearing shiny dark green anoraks, Kildare Sinn Fein were out in full display. Fresh from the Dail recess, TD Mary Lou McDonald was on the streets, with the clear aim of recruiting party members.
“The last time I was in Newbridge was three years ago and here I am again. We are doing a series of meetings right across the country and there are two parts. The first part is a political discussion with our members on the year that we have had and particularly looking at next December’s budget and the politics of that. And also we have our eye on the 2014 local and European elections. We are making a big effort in terms of recruitment,” Deputy McDonald explained matter-of-factly.
“We are looking for people to join Sinn Fein, not just to support us or vote for us but to actually get involved in the party. We want more young people, more women, more members full stop. We are making a big effort over the next year or so to build the party right across the State,” she added as she took another sip of her black coffee.
The rise in popularity of Sinn Fein should not be under-estimated, due some say to Ireland’s poor economic conditions, austerity and our multi-billion euro debt. Indeed in the last general election, Sinn Fein achieved 5.7 per cent first preferences in Kildare North, and 6 per cent in Kildare South. And support is continuing to grow. According to the latest MRBI poll, the party is now attracting more than twice as many voters as the Labour Party.
So is this all a protest vote? Deputy McDonald said it’s a mixed bag.
“In truth it is a mixture of the two, a protest vote and a Sinn Fein policy vote. Very often when people come to analyse us as a political party the easy thing to do is to write us off as a party of protest.
“Now there is now doubt when economic conditions are tough and the Government and previous parties make the wrong choices that hurt low and middle-income families, there will be an element of protest in the voting pattern. However, I think it is increasingly clear in the last number of years that Sinn Fein is setting out an alternative politics, in particular an alternative approach to economic policy.
“People will realise Sinn Fein is not an angry vote choice but a vote for something positive and different.”
Indeed time will tell.
Currently Sinn Fein Kildare have four branches, its Athy stronghold, Maynooth and more recently Monastervin and Rathangan. More branches are planned.
“We want to establish our local cumann branch structure literally parish by parish and this is an ongoing piece of work, this is not a flash in the pain. We have set our sights on doing that. Our activists are very conscious that we are a year and a half away from local elections. We now have 17 members in the Oireachtas, 14 TDs and 3 senators.
“It is the highest we have ever had but it is still a small number. in order for us to be an even stronger Opposition, to have a bigger impact you simply need more numbers in there and Kildare is part of that and this is happening in every part of the country. And it starts with gearing up for the local elections.”
Recently there was a disagreement of sorts in Sinn Fein’s Newbridge branch. Former general election candidate Jason Turner left the fold citing “personal reasons”.
He has since joined a new political party Tus Nua. “People come and go from political parties and the come and go for all reasons, just as we want people to join the party, people of course are free to leave. Jason has made his decision and the political development of the party in Kildare does not rely on any individual,” Deputy McDonald assured.
There is no denying Sinn Fein want Irish unity. It’s in their blood. But in these current times, what is the priority, economic recovery or a united Ireland?
“In the here and now economic recovery, but we don’t see the two things as divorced from each other. So for instance if you want to maximise your capacity to get inward investment, we believe the smart way to do that is on an all-Ireland basis. At the moment you have the IDA and Invest Northern Ireland competing with each other - it’s farcical in a sense.
“If you harmonise that approach for inward investment, tourism, for agriculture, for all the big sectors you would actually get a better win.”
And so with that the Leader left the vp and her party faithful as a photocall on Newbridge’s Strand with Mary Lou feeding some wild swans got under way.
- Lisa Deeney