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Long shot McCann

Jim Dee, reprinted from the Irish Times



Monday, June 7, 2004


BELFAST, Northern Ireland - He knows he's a long shot. But Eamonn McCann is determined to campaign down to the wire in the hope of scoring an upset victory in Northern Ireland's elections to the European parliament Thursday.


``It's highly unlikely that I'll get enough votes to win,'' said McCann of the Socialist Environmental Alliance, who's after one of the North's three seats in the 788-member European parliament in Strasbourg, France.


``But I felt very strongly that somebody should try to elbow the way into the argument between the communal parties with a very different message,'' he said.


McCann has always opposed 1998's Good Friday peace agreement because he believes it institutionalizes sectarian divisions between pro-British unionists and pro-Irish nationalists instead of softening them.


Despite never having held public office, he's been prominent in politics here since the 1960s, when he emerged as a socialist campaigner for Catholic civil rights. He's now a journalist who appears regularly on BBC Ulster and writes a weekly column in the Belfast Telegraph.


Most pundits believe McCann faces a Herculean task in wooing voters away from traditional voting patterns along pro-British unionist and pro-Irish nationalist lines.


And with the British and Irish governments vowing to make another push to break the 20-month-old stalemate in the peace process after the election, parties will be out to maximize their vote to bolster their negotiating muscle.



Two of the North's incumbent European parliamentarians aren't running this time.


Both Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and John Hume of the nationalist Social Democratic Labor Party have been members of the European parliament since 1979. Paisley has topped the poll in the past five elections.


But whereas the DUP's new candidate, Jim Allister, is expected to win a seat, Hume's successor, Martin Morgan, isn't a sure bet. Despite Hume's having campaigned for Morgan across the North, there is a strong chance the SDLP will lose its seat to Sinn Fein's Bairbre de Brun.


Such a loss for the SDLP would compound the bad news from last November's Northern Ireland assembly elections. Sinn Fein swept past the SDLP in that balloting to become the largest nationalist party, taking 24 seats to the SDLP's 18 - reversing their respective totals in the 1998 assembly election.


November's assembly poll, which also saw Paisley's DUP become top dog within unionism, dampened the prospects of breaking the deadlock that has existed since Britain iced the assembly in October 2002 during an IRA espionage scandal.


And Eamonn McCann believes the predicted Sinn Fein and DUP victories in the European poll this week won't make things any easier.


Because while he believes both parties are desperate to get their hands on power, McCann said the paths by which they strengthen their political bases - by stressing their resolve to defend their own communities' interests - can only perpetuate divisions here.


``Here we are 10 years after the (first peace process) cease-fires and the walls of sectarianism are rising higher, not coming down,'' he insisted. ``And I see the agreement as having fueled that. They are building the peace on the basis of consolidation two separate camps.


``As long as people are corralled into communal politics, the potential for a new flare-up will always be there,'' McCann added.

 

June 2004

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