SF Ard Fheis - My reaction so far

I caught most of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams’ speech to the Ard Fheis this evening on RTÉ and I would agree with fellow blogger United Irelander that I was very impressed with what I heard.

Gerry set out five strategic points which he believes the party has to deal with in the next year in order to carry on with the task of building political strength and furthering Sinn Féin’s aims and objectives. He believes the party has to

- concentrate on the current negotiations to advance the peace process and ensure the Good Friday Agreement was implemented in full including resolving the issue of policing.

- develop an entirely new relationship with unionists, deepening and broadening the party’s engagement with that community.

- build support in Britain for the unification of Ireland.

- promote an Ireland of equals, emphasising the cross-border agenda.

- build up Sinn Féin as a party, giving a more prominent role to women.

I would agree with every one of these objectives and I believe they are both realistic and achievable. The issue of building support in Britain is particularly interesting. I believe this is a task which is far from impossible and it would not surprise if in some stage in the future there were more people in Britain favouring a United Ireland than supporting NI as part of the Union. These would leave Unionists isolated. However they do not have to be, it is the job of Nationalists and Republicans to ensure that Unionists realise that a United Ireland is the best option, not only for Nationalists but for all those born on or who live on this island.

I was also pleased to see Gerry deal with the ludicrous accusation which has surfaced in some quarters which claims that Sinn Féin “hi-jacked” the Easter 1916 Commerations in recent decades. This is, of course, nonsense. Sinn Féin did not hi-jack anything, rather the parties in the 26 counties abandoned the ideals and commitments of the Easter Rising martyrs. And Bertie Ahern continues to abandon the ideals of 1916 by refusing to allow access to the chambers of the Dáil and voting rights for Presidential elections to all Irish citizens on this island.

The issue of coalition government in the 26 counties was debated and although motions barring Sinn Féin from any involvement in coalition governments were defeated, the delegates did vote in favour of placing a barrier in front of any potential Sinn Féin coalition i.e. that the party should not enter coalition government without the repeal of the Offences against the State Act. On this issue, I feel the party faithful have erred. With an increased electoral mandate, the Sinn Féin leadership may be entering negotiations and I believe they should not have their hands tied or options limited in such a manner. I oppose non-jury trials completely and utterly, however I am not sure this is the most effective way to deal with the issue.

However, generally it seems to have been a very positive Ard Fheis so far. Of course, the thorny issue of Policing will be debated tomorrow and I’m sure there will be some very fortright and passionate debate, however I hope that, just like in the case of coalition government, the delegates do not rule anything out entirely but rather trust the leadership to act in the party’s best interests in any changing situation. A special Ard Fheis has already been promised before Sinn Féin will support Policing arrangements in the north and I believe this should be a sufficient safeguard for delegates worried about any future direction the party may take.

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