[Sinn Fein]

1st February 2002

Address by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Cavan/Monaghan Re-Election Campaign Launch
Hillgrove Hotel, Monaghan
Friday 1st February 2002

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur romhaibh uile chun an ócáid speisialta seo agus muid ag seoladh ár bhfeachtas toghcháin i gCabhán/Muineachán.

I extend a special welcome to everybody to this launch of our general election campaign here in the constituency of Cavan/Monaghan. I want to first of all acknowledge and thank all the very many people who by their hard work and support over the past five years have assisted this TD in what has been a very challenging role as the sole representative of Sinn Fein in Leinster House.

We made history in this constituency in 1997 when we won the first Sinn Fein seat in Leinster House in decades. That same year Sinn Fein won two seats in the Westminster Parliament when Martin McGuinness in Mid-Ulster joined Gerry Adams in West Belfast. But, as we said at the time, one TD and two MPs was only the beginning of the story. Since then we have elected four MPs - two of whom, Michelle Gildernew and Pat Doherty, are with us here tonight.

I believe that in this year 2002 we are going to match that achievement in the 26 Counties and that we will have four TDs to join our four MPs. That goal is achievable.

It has been an honour for me to represent Sinn Fein in Leinster House for the past five years. It has been a great honour also to represent the people of Counties Cavan and Monaghan. When I stood for election in 1997 I pledged that I would work with my colleagues to create a new opportunity for peace. The peace process and the IRA cessation had broken down at that time and we all faced a very onerous task to put the pieces together again. But we did so and it was a source of pride to me and to our organisation in this constituency and throughout the land that our party again played the pivotal role in rebuilding the peace process and leading on to the negotiations which produced the Good Friday Agreement.

The Agreement was a step forward and represented real progress towards equality and lasting peace for all who share this island. Nonetheless from a republican point of view it is a flawed Agreement and has caused genuine difficulties for many sincere republicans. But our unity of purpose has sustained us through this peace process as it has sustained us throughout our struggle. I salute the republicans of Counties Cavan and Monaghan whose unity, discipline and common purpose has seen us through difficult days and successful days and will surely carry us to even greater successes in the time ahead.

The retention of the Dáil seat here in Cavan/Monaghan and the election of a team of Sinn Fein TDs in Leinster House will provide a necessary boost to the peace process. As the only truly national party, our increased electoral mandate in the 26 Counties and growing political strength on both sides of the Border will help to ensure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, in particular the All-Ireland aspects. That political strength will be the catalyst for further progressive change on the basis of the equality agenda and it will bring us closer to our ultimate goal of Irish unity and national sovereignty.

It has been my privilege to work as Teachta Dála for the people of Counties Cavan and Monaghan. The election of a Sinn Fein TD in 1997 put these counties on the political map. From my very first day in the Dáil I have highlighted the damaging legacy and continuing effects of Partition on this Border region and the scandalous neglect of these counties by successive Dublin governments. We have been starved of inward investment and employment; we lack proper infrastructure; we have the lowest level of participation in third-level education in the country. That this is still the case after a decade of economic prosperity and after five years of the current government is a scandal and a disgrace to the Fianna Fáil party and their PD partners.

In my term as TD I have not just pointed up the failures of successive governments with regard to this region. I have also put forward constructive and workable solutions. I promised to work with the people of County Cavan to press for increased investment in the appalling non-national roads network in that county. I fulfilled that promise and in my first year as TD I produced a detailed report which played a key role in successfully pressing the government for greatly increased funding.

No party and no TD can rival Sinn Fein's record on the waste management issue. As well as pointing up the inadequacy of government plans we produced a comprehensive and detailed regional alternative which rejects incineration and provides solutions based on the unique needs of our regional economy. The government's answer to that has been to remove all local democratic input into waste management.

My absolute priority issue for this constituency is and will continue to be our health services and especially services for mothers and children. I have spared no effort as a TD, Health Board member and County Councillor in defence of those services.

The disgraceful withdrawal of the Maternity Unit at Monaghan General Hospital was a blow to the health infrastructure in this entire region and I and my elected Sinn Fein colleagues fought tooth and nail to defend that service and resist its withdrawal. We have continued the battle as efforts are made to remove further services from our hospital. I have devoted countless hours of effort to the defence of the health services in this region and to pressing for their development and expansion.

There has been speculation recently that a so-called hospital candidate might enter the electoral race in this constituency. Everyone has a right to put their name forward but make no mistake - there is a hospital candidate in Cavan/Monaghan and it is Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. No-one has worked harder on this issue and I will be seeking my mandate from the people on that basis - a mandate that is required if I and this party are to carry on the fight at every level.

I am also seeking a renewal of my mandate to campaign for greatly improved infrastructure and employment in this region. We are still a neglected region in terms of road development, lack of telecommunications such as links to the broadband network, lack of public transport and a total absence of major inward investment. It is quite disgraceful that we have had no major industry located here during the term of this government.

This re-election launch signals our determination in Sinn Fein to not only retain this seat but to increase our mandate. I am seeking an endorsement for almost five years of work on behalf of the people of Counties Cavan and Monaghan, both individually and collectively. At all times I and the Sinn Fein elected team have acted responsibly in the interests of our constituents.

This will be a very exciting election for Sinn Fein. I believe that the rise of Sinn Fein will be the main talking point of the general election.

Our political opponents and certain sections of the media have sensed the danger to their cosy positions. They have reverted to the days of demonisation and vilification of republicans in order to thwart our progress and scare the public from supporting our candidates. Let them rant and rave. Let the O'Reilly newspapers print their lies and slanders. We will stand on our record of tireless work and on our progressive republican policies and the people will give their answer.

The people will give their answer as they gave it with my election in 1997, as they gave their answer with the achievement of 23 seats for Sinn Fein in the local elections in Counties Cavan and Monaghan in 1999, as they gave their answer last year with the defeat of the Nice referendum. And when this long-awaited election is finally called the people will give their answer again and they will endorse Sinn Fein and this TD.

I have no doubt but that we are going to send a strong team of TDs through the gates of Leinster House after the general election. We will make an impact there as never before.

The only growing force and the only All-Ireland party in Irish politics is Sinn Fein. It is vital for the people of Cavan/Monaghan to be represented on that new team, a republican team that is set to shake the cobwebs out of Leinster House.

We have an enormous amount of work ahead of us. We need everyone to lend a hand in this election campaign and beyond. Because, make no mistake, there is no limit to our aspirations. We intend to retain this seat, the first time since the 1920s that our party in this State has done so, and we intend to move on in the following general election to take two seats in Cavan/Monaghan.

We in this constituency have never allowed our expectations to be lowered and we never will. We are working for the very best for the people of this region. Together we will go forward to an Ireland of Equals, to our goal of lasting peace with justice, Irish unity and freedom for all the Irish people.

Ar aghaidh linn le chéile.

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