Ní Riada begins Euro election campaign as SF candidate
LIADH Ní Riada from the Cork Gaeltacht has begun her campaign this week as Sinn Féin's Ireland South candidate for the 2014 European Parliament Election following her selection at a party convention last weekend.
The Sinn Féin Irish language officer won the party vote at a convention in Cahir by a very tight margin against her fellow nominee and national party executive member, Cork city Councillor Chris O'Leary.
Party officials predicted the outcome would be "close" as 300 members from various Sinn Féin 'cumanns' in the Ireland South constituency gathered into the convention venue at the Cahir House Hotel on Saturday.
Attendees were initially greeted by finished European election pamphlets, in colour, placed on every single seat, stating 'Vote Cllr Chris O'Leary No 1 for Ireland South'.
Tension in the hall was palpable when Liadh Ní Riada and her party agent then arrived, as single A4 sheets with pointed sentences about her qualifications were circulated.
They had both fought a hard nomination campaign in recent weeks, attending Sinn Féin meetings around Munster, canvassing members for their support.
The stakes rose as Sinn Féin's National Director of Elections, Brian Tumilty, set the format and tone for the convention. "Whoever we select here today stands a very good chance of becoming an MEP," he told members.
Party leader Gerry Adams also spoke before both nominees were formally proposed and seconded. "You're not just here to vote, you're here to get whoever you vote for elected," said Mr Adams.
Ní Riada was proposed by Kerry North TD Martin Ferris, and seconded by Senator David Cullinane from Waterford.
"I believe from a geographical and electoral point of view she stands the best chance of winning that seat," said Martin Ferris. "She is a daughter of Seán Ó Riada (composer) and a mother of three children." He mentioned her media experience, having worked in TV documentary-film productions, and her progress as the party's national Irish language officer since she was appointed l8 months ago.
David Cullinane also gave a powerful endorsement of Ní Riada's credentials.
Cork North Central TD Jonathan O'Brien proposed city Councillor Chris O'Leary and he was seconded by Cork East TD Sandra McLellan.
The Cork TDs emphasised Chris O'Leary's work on the ground as a councillor and community activist. O'Leary won a seat as an Independent councillor in the 2009 local elections, having left the Green Party earlier that year. He joined Sinn Féin in 2010. He got 11,000 votes in the Ireland South constituency when he stood as a candidate for the Green Party in the 2004 European Election.
Mr O'Leary and Ms Ní Riada had a final opportunity to speak at the convention before members cast their votes.
Some 30 minutes later, Liadh Ní Riada and Chris O'Leary stood nervously side by side as they waited for the result.
Mr Tumilty went to the podium to tell a hushed audience that Liadh Ní Riada had won by just two votes - there were gasps in unison as he informed them that there had been two spoiled votes, and that three members had not cast a vote on their ballot papers.
In her acceptance speech as Gaelige and in English, Liadh Ní Riada gave special thanks to her husband, Ballyvourney man Nicky Forde, and their three young daughters - Cáit (13), Ailsa (10), and Neans (7) - for their support during the campaign so far. Applause grew louder as she reaffirmed her commitment to the Sinn Féin party and its policies.
"I will fight hard for this seat, and I will take a seat for Sinn Féin," she said.
Party leader Gerry Adams reminded members that the campaign to get Liadh Ní Riada elected as the first Sinn Féin MEP in Ireland South in the election of next May begins now.
Mr Adams commiserated with Chris O'Leary: "The best woman won Chris," he said. "The only woman won," quipped Liadh Ní Riada behind him.