Martin’s mission

In February 1917 George Noble, known to many as Count Plunkett, pulled off a major coup when, as an Independent with Sinn Féin support, he was elected as MP for north Roscommon. Ninety years later Martin Kenny of Sinn Féin is attempting to emulate the father of the 1916 signatory Joseph Mary Plunkett and pull off a similar coup.   As the Sinn Féin candidate in Roscommon/South Leitrim, Martin Kenny is working hard to build up a profile in County Roscommon. A native of Drumshanbo, Martin is well-known as a county councillor in South Leitrim, but is hoping to make himself known to republicans in County Roscommon during the forthcoming election campaign.             ‘I would have grown up in a political house, there would always have been politics at home. When I was young, I did an ANCO course in Sligo and got involved with the Sinn Féin branch and would always have had an interest in Sinn Féin.             Why Sinn Féin? ‘I suppose mainly because we would have been a Sinn Féin household at home. I saw them as the people that were doing most for people who were disadvantaged or poorer.’             Martin Kenny was 12 years of age when hunger striker Bobby Sands died and that appears to have been a formative experience for Kenny. ‘Gerry Adams would have impressed me a lot and Martin McGuinness, but Bobby Sands would have had a big impression on me. I read a lot of his books and poetry and connected with that.’             Before becoming a Sinn Féin candidate, Martin Kenny worked for Sinn Féin in Leitrim as an organiser. ‘In 2003, Liam McGirl of Sinn Féin said that he would not be running in the next election so I contested to be co-opted in his place and was co-opted (to Leitrim County Council) in October 2003. After being there for eight to ten months, I ran in the 2004 county council elections and topped the poll with the highest vote in Leitrim. I would have been vocal on a lot of issues and I suppose I am a bit daring. I’m prepared to rock things.’             Kenny is hoping that Sinn Féin can achieve up to 15 seats. ’15 seats would be the target and I could see that being achieved. It would be an excellent result if I could take a seat. I am confident that that is achievable. It’s simply about selling the message. I have a confidence in the ability of the organisation around me and think that the time is now right for Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin policy is something that people are now connecting with.’             Politics is an addictive drug, something it’s often difficult for people outside the political loop to grasp, but Martin Kenny has certainly been bitten by the bug. ‘I am enjoying it immensely, I enjoy elections, the controversies and the craic.’ He has already done some canvassing in the major towns such as Roscommon, Monksland, Ballaghaderreen and has spent one afternoon in Castlerea. ‘The reaction is generally very positive. People are positive towards the whole Sinn Féin message and there’s a lot of goodwill there. It’s about transferring that into votes and ensuring we get enough number ones. We need a certain number of number ones to get over that threshold. Pearse Doherty did record a high number of number ones in Roscommon and I would be hoping to build on that.’             A number of the newly-elected Sinn Féin MLAs have been helping Martin Kenny in his election canvass. The designate Minister for Agriculture, Michelle Gildernew was in Strokestown last Thursday night for the launch of his website and Catriona Ruane, the designate Minister for Education, spoke at the Easter Sunday commemoration in Drumsna. ‘I would have a close relationship with a lot of people and would have worked closely with people in the north on the northern peace process.’             Sinn Féin economic policy is the subject of much debate and I asked Martin Kenny about the public concern over SF policy. ‘Firstly, economics is about more than managing wealth. It’s also about generating wealth and it’s about ensuring that everybody as far as possible, has equal access to the potential wealth that exists in our society and it’s from that frame of mind that we address the position.             ‘As far as taxation is concerned and that’s one area we are attacked on, we have suggested that there has to be a total restructuring of the tax system that is used. People on very high incomes and very wealthy people will probably pay more tax, while people on low to medium incomes pay less. Also the tax system has to incentivise the ecological crusade to improve the environment and enhance our lifestyles.             The availability of broadband in rural areas is another issue which Kenny has campaigned on in recent weeks. Indeed, at last week’s launch of a new website, he experienced trouble in connecting to broadband in Strokestown and used the occasion to highlight the problems being experienced by broadband users in rural areas.             Posters advertising Kenny’s new election website caused a stir in recent weeks and were the subject of complaints. ‘When we set up the website we put up posters and advertised it. That created controversy and being a bit daring is something that sets us apart. You have to dare to go out and make yourself known and we intend to keep doing that.’             One group which Sinn Féin is targeting is people who don’t normally vote in elections. ‘A lot of people on the canvass say ‘it doesn’t matter what you do’. We are saying ‘it does make a difference and a vote for Sinn Féin will be a counted a couple of times extra’.’             Last Friday, as nurses protested outside Roscommon County Hospital, Cllr. Kenny was present and he has been vocal in his support of the nurses’ dispute. ‘We support the nurses in their dispute. They are the ones at the front lines in the hospital service, trying to cope, particularly with the privatisation ideas of the PDs and Fianna Fáil.’             The youth vote is also very important for Sinn Féin. There are 18 YouTube video clips on Kenny’s new website, a measure of the importance which SF attaches to the new ‘bebo generation’. ‘It’s about trying to communicate every way we can and we would encourage young people to visit the website