Sinn Fein Deputy Matt Carthy and MP Michelle Gildernew.

Sinn Féin targets second seat in North West Constituency

Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew is to seek the party nomination to run for a seat in the European Parliament for the Midlands/North-West Constituency alongside sitting MEP Chris McManus.

In the newly expanded five-seater constituency, the party is bidding to win a second seat. Sinn Féin won 13% of the first preference vote here last time but, if opinion poll trends ring true at the ballot boxes, the party could win far more support in the summer elections.

Ms Gildernew has been the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone since 2017 and previously held the seat from 2001 to 2015.

A native of Co Tyrone, she is a former Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development (2007-2011) and was the first female candidate elected from her party to the House of Commons since Constance Markievicz in 1918. Ms Gildernew’s political career has spanned the best part of 28 years during which she has seen an end to The Troubles; the signing of the Good Friday Agreement; and the growth of a generation in Northern Ireland that is the first to live in peace since the 1960s.

She says her political background started before she was born. “In 1968 my parents and grandparents were campaigning for equality in housing in Northern Ireland – at the time Protestants were allocated housing while Catholics were not,” she told The Anglo-Celt while visitng Cavan on Monday.

“I grew up around that sense of justice and injustice; fairness and equality – that was all very much to the fore because there was such discrimination all around us.”

It was from her community activism that “a natural transition” into political life developed. “It seemed like a natural transition for me; I was a Sinn Féin activist for a long time before I was asked to run.”

In 2000 an opportunity to run as a candidate for the Fermanagh/South Tyrone seat in Westminster presented itself. Ms Gildernew says she experienced “real heart” while campaigning across the constituency. “I received the most warm welcome. When I went to the doors, I felt the people of Fermanagh took me into their hearts. People said to me that they hadn’t voted since Bobby Sands but would vote for me. That gave me real heart and I canvassed day and night. I managed to take the seat by just 53 votes,” she added.

Meanwhile, farming and rural life was to the fore of her mind and, when the ministerial position became available in 2007, she asked if she could take on the role. “I really wanted to do that job and I asked for it,” Ms Gildernew continued.

“I was adamant that farming and rural Northern Ireland needed a strong voice. Within a few weeks, there was a foot and mouth breakout in the UK and, because of decisions that I took on that weekend as Minister, we kept it out of Northern Ireland and protected the whole of Ireland from the disease. We also managed to eliminate Tuberculosis and that was an issue that I started the ball rolling on.”

The Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP won’t be contesting her seat in the next election but she is keen to highlight her role as chairwoman of Northern Ireland’s Health Committee. It’s the combined experience of farming, rural affairs and health that has prompted her to throw her hat into the EU Elections’ political arena.

“All of my experience to date places me in a position where I can represent the people of the Midlands and North-West on the issues that matter to them in the EU Parliament,” she contendrd before pointing out that there was only ever going to be one political party for her and that was Sinn Féin.

“At that time, I saw the other Nationalist Party as weak and ineffective. I had great admiration for people like John Hume but far more admiration for Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. There was never any question about what political party I would join. When my mother was canvassing for Bobby Sands in 1981, I realised the importance of Fermanagh/South Tyrone to Republicans and I am proud of the fact that, when I was 10 years’ old, my parents were out canvassing for Bobby Sands who then became out MP.

“All of this brings with it the long-held belief that there is only one course of action that can be taken and that is unity. It is the only thing that will ever work on the island of Ireland. It is that, that gets me out of bed in the morning; that is what drives me.”

New challenge

Ms Gildernew believes “a new challenge” now awaits her. “I want to bring all the experience and skills that I have gained to the people of the Midlands-North-West Constituency now. I’m seeking a nomination to do that. I am also looking forward to working alongside Chris McManus who has been a brilliant MEP for this area. There is a lot that I can do; we also recognise the importance of the EU in terms of unity on the island of Ireland and the role of the EU in Brexit has ensured there is no hard Border on the island.

“I see the future of Ireland as one that is united within the European Union. Having a strong voice in Europe is critical and I am the voice that is needed.”

She is being supported in her endeavour by Cavan Monaghan TD Matt Carthy who accompanied Ms Gildernew on her Cavan visit.

Deputy Matt Carthy added: “As far as I’m concerned Michelle is the Cavan/Monaghan candidate in this European Election and she has an in-depth knowledge of the two counties that no other EU candidate has. She was a very important source of advice and guidance when I was selected as an MEP myself.

“The next EU Parliament is going to be critical because a new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will be formed. If it is not done right spell the end of the Irish family farm. At the moment Irish farmers are being asked to do more for less money and we need a strong voice in Europe to sort all this out.”

June elections

The Midlands-North West constituency for the European Parliament elections in June will have an extra seat.

The transfer of Laois and Offaly from the South Constituency will make it a five-seater. The territory also includes Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal, Galway, Kildare, Leitrim, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Roscommon, Sligo and Westmeath.

Along with Chris McManus for Sinn Féin, sitting MEPs Maria Walsh (FG) and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan (Ind) have signalled their intentions to run. Current EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness (FG) has already ruled herself out.

It’s set to be a hotly-contested constituency with names such as Barry Cowen (Fianna Fáil) and senators Lisa Chambers and Niall Blaney among names already in the mix. Other names in the fray include Roscommon TD Maurice FitzMaurice (Ind) and Galway based Senator Pauline O’Reilly for the Green Party.