The Government has failed to make the most of its presidency of the European Union, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams claimed today.
At the Dublin launch of his party’s campaign for the European elections, the West Belfast MP claimed Sinn Féin had a realistic chance of becoming the first party to capture seats on both sides of the Irish border.
But he also hit out at Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s Government, claiming it had been mesmerised during its presidency by the idea of securing a deal on an EU constitution.
“The Irish Presidency of the EU was another real opportunity to put issues raised by the Irish people on the European agenda,” Mr Adams argued.
“The Government could have acted to protect neutrality. They could have acted to demand that Irish is recognised as an official EU language.
“They could have acted to address a wide range of concerns about the growing lack of democracy within the EU.
“But the Irish Presidency is almost over and the government have spent the entire time transfixed by the effort to secure a deal on the proposed EU Constitution, even if such a deal means a further dilution of Irish sovereignty.
Sinn Féin strategists believe they can capture two European Parliament seats next month in Northern Ireland and in Dublin.
Former Stormont Health Minister Bairbre de Brun is strongly fancied to take her party’s first ever seat in Northern Ireland.
In last November’s Northern Ireland Assembly Election the party overtook the Ulster Unionists to secure the second largest share of the vote in the North, with 23.52%.
Party strategists believe if the West Belfast MLA attracts the same kind of support she will capture one of the North’s three seats.
Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson, who launched his manifesto today, is defending a seat.
However there are also expected to be strong challenges from the Democratic Unionists’ Jim Allister who has replaced Ian Paisley following his decision to retire from the European Parliament, and from the SDLP Lord Mayor of Belfast, Martin Morgan.
Also in the running are former farmers’ leader John Gilliland, journalist Eamonn McCann for the Socialist Environmental Alliance and the Green Party’s Lindsay Whitcroft.
Sinn Féin also has high hopes that one of its rising stars, Mary Lou McDonald can capture its first ever European Parliament seat in the Republic.
The candidate is being widely tipped to take one of the four seats in Dublin.
Party strategists are also encouraged by the performance of their north west candidate Pearse Doherty, John Dwyer in East and David Cullinane in South.
Mr Adams said today voters on both sides of the border were being asked to elect to Strasbourg and Brussels an all-Ireland team.
“Our message is simple,” he said.
“A vote for Sinn Féin is a vote for an alternative, for a working voice in Europe, it is a vote for the peace process, it is a vote for neutrality, it is a vote for equality and change.
“Sinn Féin is the only all-Ireland party standing candidates in all five constituencies on the island with the ability to win seats on both sides of the border.”
The West Belfast MP insisted his party would also campaign on an agenda for change and would bring the same approach to the EU as it had to the peace process.