10 March 2005 Edition
Reviewing the rules - updated Constitution passed
BY JOANNE CORCORAN
Last year, Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty gave the Ard Fheis an interim report outlining the establishment in 2003, and work since then, of the Constitution and Rules Review Group. This year, Doherty was before the delegates again, this time asking them to vote on the revised and updated version of the party's constitution.
Doherty opened the debate on Saturday afternoon by thanking all those who had worked with him on the review group and those who had given help and advice to the group. Lucilita Bhreathnach, Frances McCole, Proinsias Ó Maolchalain and Daniel Callanan were all praised. Ann O'Sullivan was singled out for special mention and thanks.
Doherty said the group had put in a massive amount of work since his last report, meeting regularly, making working reports to the Ard Chomhairle and Officer Board, and meeting with the five cuigí to receive additional amendments.
But there were, he said, many light-hearted moments to break the monotony of the hard work.
"As we were presenting our reports to the Ard Chomhairle, we presented them in colour code," Doherty said. "This caused great merriment within the Ard Chomhairle, largely because half of them are colour blind, and because at one stage some party member had decided to photocopy a colour coded document in various shades of gray."
Doherty said a lot of research had gone into distinguishing what was constitutional, ie, requiring a two-thirds majority for change and what were rules, ie, requiring 50% for change.
The group had met with Ógra Shinn Féin to fine tune its section in the document, and had also tidied up the section on finance, giving a big expansion to the role of trustees.
"We also formed a very strong opinion that after completion of a new members' course and probation period, there should be a pledge to our Constitution and Rules by new members before joining the party," Doherty said.
A lot of work had been done in the area of the Ard Chomhairle, cúigí, chomhairlí ceantair and cumainn, and it had been recognised that the make-up of the Ard Chomhairle was constitutional, and would require two-thirds to change it, while the make-up of the remaining bodies lay in the rules section.
In this section, the group had dealt with the issue of gender balance.
"In relation to cúigí, chomhairlí ceantair and cumainn, there is a 30% target for women, as far as possible, and this is in recognition of the reality of membership at these levels," he said.
"But the imperative to have not less than 40% women and 40% men on the Ard Chomhairle is also a reflection of our ability to actually achieve this at national level."
Doherty referred to motion 239 in the Clár, which called for a PR system of voting on one ballot sheet for the 12 Ard Chomhairle seats, effectively removing the quota voted in two years ago.
"The question of gender is, in my opinion, a straightforward one," he said. "We need six men and six women elected by two separate ballot papers."
He urged delegates to support amendment 35, which would see two ballot papers used and cause the fall of motion 239.
Doherty said the revised Constitution also proposed a move for the party from changing EU constituency boundaries to regional boundaries.
One of the main points debated after Doherty's address was the issue of the Ard Chomhairle quota.
Kerry Councillor Toiréasa Ní Fhearaíosa pleaded with delegates to support motion 239, which would allow the "young women in the party to be elected on their own merit".
Ní Fhearaíosa said the current system was alienating many women in the party, who refused to put their names forward for contest until the quota system was removed and elections became fair.
Tipperary Councillor Muiris Ó Súilleabháin argued that no election could ever be considered 'fair', given that delegates would always be influenced by outside factors such as popularity and geography.
Daisy Mules from Derry said the quota system was only ever intended to be temporary and while she understood the sentiments of those who argued against it, it had to be given time to work.
Returning to the podium, Pat Doherty said the fact was that while six women had ran and been elected to the national executive, only nine men had run for the six male positions. He added that only seven people had run for seven positions on the Officer Board, and that as four of them were women, it meant that for the first time there were more women than men in leadership positions in the party. He added that the issue of how many people were running for the Ard Chomhairle had to be looked at as a whole.
Eventually, amendment 35 was passed, and motion 239 fell.
Newly-elected Ard Comhairle member Sorcha Nic Chhormaic and EU Department member Ciarán Doherty argued in favour of an amendment which would have seen cúigí officerboards fall into the constitution rather than rules section. This was defeated, with Pat Doherty arguing that it was an elitist amendment.
"If we pass that, what about cumainn officer boards?" he said.
Martina Anderson spoke against another amendment, which called for sections on the All-Ireland agenda to be removed from the Constitution.
"Just try it, comrades," she told the hall sternly. Her warnings didn't fall on deaf ears, and the amendment fell.
A final vote saw motion 238, adopting the revised Constitution and Rules, accepted.