12 November 2003

Fighting for the vote takes Sinn Féin to pastures new

Gerry Adams always predicted the peace process would bring Sinn Féin closer to unionists — but the voters of Lisburn, Ards and South Belfast who have been canvassed by the party’s candidates this week didn’t think it would be this close.

For the first time, party stalwarts have been fighting for votes by going door-to-door in areas where republicans once feared to tread.

With Sinn Féin battling for the last seat in Lagan Valley and South Belfast, the party is chasing every last vote — and that means going into what were once regarded as unionist-only areas.

“In reality, there’s always been a strong Catholic-nationalist presence in towns like Lisburn and even Ards,” said one party strategist. “But until now, our activists didn’t feel ready to go into mixed areas and knock every door. But that’s exactly what they’re doing now.”

While Paul Butler’s canvass team was in the Lisburn street where David Trimble lives on Sunday, party activists were on the ground in the Rosetta area of South Belfast where former Lord Mayor Alex Maskey is hopeful of snatching a seat.

Meanwhile, electoral newboy on the block, Dermot Kennedy says he received a “very positive” response from voters in Portaferry on Friday. “This was the first time in two decades that the party had brought its message door-to-door on the Ards peninsula but there is a strong vote here if we’re willing to show people that we’re on the ground putting in the work on their behalf.”

The Belfast businessman is confident the party will poll well on 26 November. “The message from nationalist voters is, get stuck in and we’ll support you.”

Former West Belfast MLA Alex Maskey, now fighting for a seat in the south of the city, says he’s been received cordially by all shades of opinion. “There’s much more engagement now than ever before,” he said. “The extent of the canvass we’re carrying out is unprecedented and we really are criss-crossing the constituency.”

The former Lord Mayor believes old stereotypes are being challenged. “I won’t know how many minds we’ve changed until November 27 but I do know that we’re giving the voters something to ponder. Even speaking to unionist voters on the Upper Lisburn Road, the message on the doorstep was that ordinary ratepayers acknowledge the work carried out by Sinn Féin in government and during my term as mayor.”

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