"THERE is no area off limits" said Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire the Sinn Féin TD for Cork South Central as the party aims to increase its representation in both Cork city and county in the next local and general elections.
The next local elections are due to be held in 2024, with the general election if the present coalition government goes the full term not scheduled to be held until 2025.
Sinn Féin currently has 36 TDs, with three of those situated in Cork. Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire in Cork South Central, Thomas Gould in Cork North Central, and Pat Buckley in Cork East. Mr Ó Laoghaire said a ‘big’ aim for the party is to increase their representation in Cork. “A big aim for us is to increase our representation in Cork. Anywhere where we have one seat in Cork, we will be looking to try and pick up a second seat. Anywhere where there is no seat, we will try to pick up one seat. That work has already begun,” he said.
The party enjoyed very strong results in the last general election held in February 2020 as they received the most first-preference votes representing the party's best result since 1923. However, their failure to run more candidates meant they didn’t translate their votes into more seats. Deputy Ó Laoghaire said there is no area ‘off limits’ for Sinn Fein. “We are working to identify candidates and build organisations in areas. A lot of the ard fheis was about promoting new candidates and building the organisation in areas that we haven’t been strong in the past. This is because more and more people are coming to us in those areas.
“You could talk about strongholds in the past but there is no area off limits for Sinn Fein. We are going to challenge everywhere we can,” he added.
Sinn Féin's first full in-person gathering since 2019 was held in the RDS last Saturday and it featured strong debates on housing, a united Ireland, dealing with the cost-of-living crisis, and health. The Cork TD said the 2022 Ard Fheis reflected a party that is ‘vibrant’. “The ard fheis was successful. It reflected a party that is very vibrant and passionate. There were an awful lot of young speakers who outlined the need for change in how we do politics. They spoke about how we deal with housing and the constitutional change towards Irish unity which was very much to the fore.”
“That is just shifting around the deck chairs,” said Deputy Ó Laoghaire in relation to the imminent change of personnel in the role of Taoiseach and the possibility of a cabinet reshuffle. “At the minute you are talking about a change potentially in the Taoiseach and the finance minister. That is not the change that people are interested in. Ultimately what is needed is a change of government. We are looking north and south and the need to transform how the 6-county state works and the need for a new Republic.”
The Sinn Féin TD said that people are telling him that they want to see a change in government when he is out canvassing. “The message from people on the doorsteps is that the appetite for change hasn’t gone away. They want to see a change of government. People understand that not everything can change overnight, but they want to see what we can do.”
“Housing is the fundamental issue,” said Deputy O Laoghaire who said there are very few options available for people with regard to housing. “The party’s housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin has great credibility in terms of housing. If you look at the targets for affordable housing that are there for Cork city for the next four or five years, they are far too low.
“300 or 400 is nowhere near enough. That might scratch the surface in an individual year but stretched over three or four years it won’t even do that. So many people who don’t qualify for social housing can’t afford a mortgage through the bank. There are very few options for those people as well as long waiting lists for social housing,” he added.
The Cork TD also expressed his concerns about the lengthy waiting lists in Cork hospitals. “There is also a concern in relation to the healthcare sector and how that is going to cope over the next few years. We saw the numbers that were on trolleys in the CUH a few weeks ago. Fundamentally we need to transform how we deal with healthcare in this state. We need to create a situation where we are working towards an Irish national healthcare system,” he added.
Sinn Féin continues to record consistently big percentage points in the opinion polls. Deputy Ó Laoghaire said people want to see his party given a chance in office. “Unfortunately, after the last election, the two big parties didn’t want to talk to us. We were frozen out. People want to see our spokespeople like Louise, David, and Eoin given a chance in office and to see what they can do.”