10 March 2005 Edition
This year's Ard Fheis, as usual, saw the attendance of many international friends and allies of Sinn Féin. Representatives from France, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Cyprus, Catalonia, South Africa, the Basque Country, Portugal, England, Sweden, Canada, the US and Scotland met with many of the delegates and attended many of the policy sessions during the three-day conference.
Pernando Barrena MP brought, as he does every year, solidarity from the Basque nationalist left. "The meaning of solidarity has more importance when difficulties arise," he said. "You know who your real friends are when support is needed. And Sinn Féin has been always fully supportive of the Basque cause and, in return, Basques will continue to support the Irish people on the basis of solidarity."
The Basque politician showed he keeps an eye on Ireland, when he mentioned the political attacks that Sinn Féin have been under on the last few weeks and expressed confidence that republicans will overcome these difficult times.
Updating delegates on the situation in the Basque Country, Barrena spoke about the peace proposal launched by Batasuna in November, 'Time for People, Time for Peace'.
Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún with visitors from friends of Sinn Féin Canada
Barrena said that the reaction of the Spanish Socialist government has, so far, been limited to nothing but nice words.
"The Spanish Government has recently announced its intention to keep on preventing us from standing for elections to the Basque parliament next April and to keep us illegal," said Barrena. "Exclusion never worked and it will never work anywhere in the search for peace and justice. Exclusion, humiliation, banning and criminalising politicians are the worst enemies of peace."
Ali Halimeh, representative of the Palestinian National Authority in Ireland, also found common ground in the struggle of the Palestinian and Irish peoples on their respective paths to freedom.
"Palestinians have been facing serious allegations against our leadership, our movement, against our own people, who are only fighting for peace, justice and equality," he said. "All political movements are required to take decisions, and comrades, only courageous and wise leadership would take the difficult and painful decisions."
Halimeh reminded republican delegates how Fatah faced "its total elimination by some opponents, by Israel, by countries who never wanted to recognise our basic rights of freedom and independence. But we are many and we survived. And you can be sure, comrades, that more than any time before, the Palestinian people will achieve their political objectives of freedom and independence."
The Palestinian ambassador recalled the figure of Yasser Arafat, forever symbol of Palestine's struggle for justice and independence, and how the late Palestinian President had to confront vicious attacks and criticism not only from Israel's Government, but also from members of the international community. "And he refused [to compromise], because he was certain that the people who supported him did not want him to compromise and abandon the national objectives of the Palestinians," explained Halimeh
"When I read the [Irish] papers I see a lot of similarities. Yes, you live in a different part of the world, you have different enemies, but I can tell you, only justice and truth will prevail. So, continue with your struggle, continue with your commitment in order to achieve your objectives. There is no one in this world that can make you surrender if you are sure of what you are doing".
Dumi Matabane came to this year's Ard Fheis representing the ANC, the South African Government and friends of Ireland in South Africa. He brought smiles to the faces of the many delegates attending his speech by describing Sinn Féin President, Gerry Adams, as "a bad boy".
"I am bringing you greetings from the land of struggle — some of us grew up in the struggle — and as Montesquieu said, 'revolution is a continuous process in itself'.
The ANC representative explained that the ANC is fully confident that Sinn Féin will be able "to weather the storms raised by those who are incessantly determined to stop any peaceful resolution to the colonial legacy that the people of Ireland have been subjected to".
He reminded the audience that the ANC experience is that war is not a solution to peace. Matabane raised the possibility of trying to get the international community to focus on the situation in Ireland as another possible way to increase the pressure on those who oppose change, because, as he said, "the truth: no one can bury the truth. It is difficult, but we are confident that people of Ireland will be free".