Sinn Fein’s Mid Ulster candidate Francie Molloy took questions from readers on everything from parades and flags to the horsemeat scandal, and to creating jobs.
Below is the webchat in full:
Francie Molloy: I think the scandal is in danger of destroying a vital industry here in the north. There is an onus on the processors to ensure what they are putting into their processing is what it says on the tin. The farming community have been very meticulous in ensuring the quality of the meat they produce, it’s traceable from the field to the plate and where the damage seemed to have been done is in the processing of meats from various different sources, which weren’t labelled correctly. We need to protect the local farming industry, it is vital, one of the main providers for economic growth and we need to protect it for the future.
I keep Dexter cattle and they are a great animal, they provide lovely meat and I put one in the fridge and eat my own home-grown meat and I would recommend that to anyone. I think if you want to get the best you buy local produce which is clearly identifiable and you buy fresh meat.
Comment From Don
Any comments on the horsemeat scandal?
Francie Molloy: Sinn Fein have taken a democratic decision to provide a [political solution, we have moved out of conflict and we want to deal with the past but also move to providing a better future for all of the young people in the north. We are in a long term process of politics, we want to build an all-Ireland, we are Irish Republicans and that is our vision for the future. I would say to anyone who has doubts about the conflict returning is that the conflict is in the past, we have a new political agenda and we have a mandate to build for the future. We want to engage with unionists to allay their fears and to build trust for the future, to build reocnciliation, and to include them in our plans for the management of the change to a united Ireland.
Comment From W J B
Many unionists want to believe that there is no possibility of a return to the Armalite and ballot box strategy. What would you say to convince them?
Francie Molloy: The flag has been an ongoing discussion in Belfast City Council. Recognising the change in Belfast, the make-up of the population and the make-up of the council, a democratic decision was arrived at in City Hall and the decision to fly the flag on designated days was taken.
When democratic decisions are taken we have to recognise those if we are to move forward to build reconciliation. The problem was created by those who failed to recognise the mandate of the councillors in Belfast, the change in demographics and the decision which was taken democratically.
If we are to move to border polls and other referenda then we have to recognise the result, whatever that may be and work accordingly. We elect politicians to make decisions on our behalf and we must recognise the decision they make and abide by them. This dispute is not simply about a flag, it is about Loyalist paramilitaries, it is about funding with the Loyalist communities, and it is about the democratic decision that the people of east Belfast took when they elected Naomi Long.
Comment From John
Why did Sinn Fein provoke the flags crisis in Belfast in the run-up to Xmas and the busiest times for shopkeepers struggling to stay in business?
Francie Molloy: I think that for the proper running order we need to have notification of parades and events.
We nee to ensure that the host community is comfortable with parades and negotiations should take place. The Orange Order should engage with Sinn Fein, they have failed to do so in the past. Now is the opportunity to build a new structure to manage parades of all kinds.
The flag protests have damaged the economy around Belfast, it has created friction and brought us back to a confrontation and we should move away from that and off the streets. We should look at the new marching season, building agreements for the future instead of enforcing the parades and flags onto communities
The reputation of the PSNI has been severely damaged in the eyes of the Nationalist community because of the way they have policed these illegal parades and facilitated the blocking of roads by small numbers of people across towns like Magherafelt, Cookstown and others across Mid Ulster.
Comment From William
The Newsletter Poll currently shows that 52% of respondents agree that the Orange Order is right to consider not giving notice of parades after observing weeks of flag protests which have not been ruled on by the Parades Commission. How can Sinn Fein help to resolve the parades disputes?
Francie Molloy: In answer to your first question yes I do. As an Irish Republican I support that and I feel that not only do the majority of Catholics want to join a united Ireland but that many Protestants given the opportunity in a non confrontational way, would actually see that their best interests lie within an Irish Republic.
Secondly I think if you read Peter Robinson’s line back in November when he made this assertion, and he said Nationalism was in disarray, you can see now where the disarray was and what he was trying to put aside was the concern and disarray within the loyalist and Unionist community. And we’ve had that since, within the flag dispute in Belfast.
In terms of the poll, successive e; elections - which are the real opinion polls - show that the majority of nationalists are not happy within an occupied six counties and want to build towards a united Ireland. And as an Irish Republican, part of a Republican party we will not be dropping that aspiration whatever the results of a border poll.
It is up to Republicans to convince of the need for change and I think Unionism also needs to manage that change because change is going to happen. What we want to build is a new Ireland and we shouldn’t be looking at the state of the 26 counties at present in making that decision. What we should be looking at is what is possible if we come together to build a new Ireland which recognises the cultures and traditions of all.
And Unionism should see itself as a sizeable number on the island of Ireland and be part of a coalition government of the future, instead of being a tiny minority at Westminster.
Comment From sean
Do you believe that the majority of catholics wish to join a united Ireland? Does evidence point to the fact that the vast majority are happy within the union. Surely that makes a united Ireland less feasible for republicans? Will republicans drop the demand for a united Ireland if in a border poll the electorate choose to remain in the UK?
Francie Molloy: I think it is very important and not just to young people as I’ve been finding. All walks of life seem to follow the issues on social media and for many retired people it is a good source of information and communication. Our campaign is on Facebook and Twitter and I’ve found that a very useful resource to put out our policies and strategies and also to listen to the public and their concerns. It is a very fast and effective way of communication.
Comment From young voter
How important is social media to you to reaching out to young voters in the mid ulster area?
Francie Molloy: It is up to the Cardinal to decide what is best for the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Comment From Roggie
Do you believe given that the pope has resigned, as has Cardinal O’Brien, that Cardinal Brady should also quit?
Francie Molloy: Firstly Martin McGuinness, myself and Michelle O’Neill have continuously lobbied various health minister to ensure the continuation of services at Mid Ulster. But unfortunately decisions around hospitals and the provision of services are taken at a clinical level, and very often taken out of the hands of politicians.
The Royal Colleges and Medical Professionals take decisions in relation to hospitals. Before the removal of services all three of us lobbied Michael McGimspey to delay that decision to ensure adequate provision at Antrim. Unfortunately it was not and we have the crisis we have at Antrim because of that.
The final decision rests with the Health Minister.
Comment From Agnes
What has the current MP done to save the Mid Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt? Not a lot it seems. The health service provision in mid ulster is appalling. What would you do differently to help save it?
Francie Molloy: Firstly I refute the allegation that Martin did not visit the constituency. He visited every day of the week. His constituency day was on a Friday, and he regularly dealt with local issues. And in his role as Deputy First Minister he raised the profile of Mid Ulster. He is resigning his seat at Westminster to allow him to concentrate more on his role at Stormont. He will not be leaving the constituency. Helpfully if I am successful I will be resigning my MLA seat and I would ask all the candidates to declare what they would do if they were to win. I am giving a firm commitment that when elected I would resign my Assembly seat. Someone else will then be co-opted into that seat which gives us extra personnel which will allow us to continue to provide the excellent constituency service across Mid Ulster.
Comment From Agnes
What do you say to all the critics that Martin McGuinness hardly ever visited the constituency of Mid Ulster let alone work for the people of Mid Ulster. Do you also intend to be an absentee MP
Francie Molloy: I have not seen Padriag’s comments therefore cannot make any comment on those.
In relation to the north Sinn Fein actually have supported, within the Assembly, the issue around human trafficking and the abuse that comes with that. And have been supportive of Lord Morrow’s bill on human trafficking. In terms of criminalising those who use the services of prostitutes, Sinn Fein is supportive of legislation that will both protect those who have been trafficked and also to enforce legislation which would criminalise the abuse.
Comment From andrew b
What is your view of Padraig Machlochlainn TD’s comments on Twitter last night regarding the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign seeking to criminalize paying for sex? Will you back similar measures being proposed in Northern Ireland?
Francie Molloy: First of all we welcome jobs into the area. Caterpillar’s main function is on building equipment, sand gravel, quarry equipment as referenced in my previous answer.
We want to focus on building on that excellence.
It is regrettable that companies like Caterpillar are involved in the armaments business but so are many companies who supply small items which make up equipment which can be used in the damage that has been done in e.g. Gaza and other sites of conflict around the world. That is regrettable. We should be trying to persuade companies to stay out of that kind of business. The reality is that big companies will continue to manufacture and process machinery which is used for destruction as well as construction.
I think what we have to do is to learn from the experience we have here in the north which is about reconciliation and peace-building and we have to transfer that to Gaza to try and persuade the Israelis to end the occupation there as we as Irish Republicans would try to persuade the British to end the occupation of the north.
Comment From Anthony
Hi Francie, I’m a long time SF supporter but I was very disappointed with the party’s stance on welcoming jobs from Caterpillar to Belfast. This company has been involved in supplying armoured bulldozers used to illegally demolish Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Gaza but the party made no reference to this. What’s your take on that statement?
Francie Molloy: Yes it is a big sector - it has been a growth industry. Recently we had the announcement of 200 jobs in the Coalisland area, employing young people. We need to train young people for the future and we need to retrain some of those who are involved in the construction industry who have that work ethic, which can be converted to engineering skills for the future.
We held a very successful event last Friday with the engineering sector, asking employers what are their needs for training because they’re saying they need young people to be trained and ready to go onto the shop floor and to take up employment. What I am proposing is a training centre of excellence in engineering in the Mid Ulster area. Mid Ulster provides 82% of the world’s mobile sand and gravel and crushing equipment . We need a training centre to ensure those skills are provided. That will keep young people employed in the area a and hopefully avoid forced emigration.
The other thing employers said is the businesses need planning permission to be given for factories in the area and to ensure they can actually meet the need of the engineering sector. Within planning we should be facilitating the development of factories and jobs, not blocking them or discouraging them or driving them into industrial estates.
Comment From John
Local jobs are key to the future of Mid Ulster, with the construction tade being hit hard it looks like engineering is a big resource in Midulster. whats your plans for tackling the jobs issue.
Francie Molloy: Yes we as a party have continued to provide Education Maintenance Allowance for students. We have taken a stand on it, because we do believe young people need the support to continue in education.
Comment From Guest
Will Francie oppose cuts to EMA?
Francie Molloy: I think we want open and transparent politics, it shouldn’t be a dirty word. We want to give everyone the opportunity to engage whether that is financially or through activism. We want to be open about our politics and allow others to be open about theirs. We want to show who is financially supporting any political party and to expose their reasons for doing so.
(See video attached)
Comment From Pete
Why are you calling for an end to secret party donations?
Francie Molloy: In response to the qu, all of which I welcome, I am an Irish Republican - but I also recognise others who have lost their lives in different conflicts. I have attended many events in Belfast and Dublin which recognise victims of conflict.
I have also engaged with those of other political persuasions. We want to build reconciliation and engage with Unionists and with the British on these issues.
I won’;t be at that particular event - I have not been invited but secondly the party would like to take a position of representation at events like this.
In the past I have hosted events around the British Legion at council level and attended events which are cross denominational and cross political so I have no problem at all in engaging with other.
Comment From Jeremy
Is Francie prepared to prove that he is open and tolerant of all persuasions in Ireland by attending the Reform Group’s marking of International Commonwealth Day in Dublin on Monday 11 March at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin?
Francie Molloy: In relation to the seat I am confident of regaining it, but not complacent. We need everyone out to ensure that the vote is maximised and that we will return the seat to Sinn Fein.
With regards to allegations in Westminster I refute them completely. I don’t know the source but I have challenged David Simpson to make those allegations outside of the security of Westminster and I will see him in court.
Comment From Sean McWilliams
Are you confident of holding the seat in the face of an agreed Unionist candidate ? What about the allegations surfacing that you are an informer ? Who do you feel responsible for these ?
Francie Molloy: I welcome the question. Mid Ulster Hospital has been a long running issue in the area, we have engaged with the Board to try and ensure that as many health provisions are located at the hospital site as its possible and to reduce the amount of travel the people have to do. We welcome the new A&E at Antrim, it will be a bigger site and able to cater for more patients and look forward to future developments, like the bus service to Antrim hospital, to ensure people travelling there have a direct contact to bring them onto the site. I think the more health provisions we can put onto the Mid Ulster site will ensure the continuation of health provision on that site.
Comment From Hugh McCloy
Question for Francie Molloy, you recently said its time that services are returned to the Mid Ulster Hospital, why is it taking an election for this commitment? Since the last election performance within the NHSCT has escalated and the Antrim Area Hospital is now a public risk due to fire exits being blocked with beds. The new A&E while welcome is being supported by your party, surely this will negate all hope for live saving services to be placed in Mid Ulster and considering the capacity of inpatients at Antrim Area hospital will the new A&E be of any benefit when the back up capacity for inpatients does not exist?