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2 April 2012 Edition

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‘This generation can deliver Irish unity’

2012 Sinn Féin Republican Youth National Congress

• Clockwise from top left: David Cochrane of Politics.ie; Declan Kearney, Sinn Féin Chairperson; Mayor of Belfast, Niall Ó Donnghaile; Jon Andoni Lekue of Abertzale Left

From campaigning on issues such as student fees, suicide prevention and drug awareness to producing top-class political activists like Pearse Doherty and Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin Republican Youth has undoubtedly contributed greatly to modern-day Ireland and the advancement of republicanism across the island

YOUNG REPUBLICANS from across Ireland met in the Ballybough Youth & Community Centre in Dublin on 2/3 March to map out a new direction for Irish Republican Youth at the 2012 Ógra Shinn Féin National Congress with an impressive range of speakers from the media and politics.

Panels included Politics.ie founder David Cochrane, Irish Daily Mirror Political Reporter Sarah Bardon and Barney Rowan, Security Correspondent for the Belfast Telegraph.

Huge murals of revolutionary figures including IRA Volunteers Mairéad Farrell and Bobby Sands, Che Guevara and Nelson Mandela hung on the walls while the backdrop to the stage declared: “This generation can deliver Irish unity.”

A steady stream of buses and cars arrived throughout the Friday afternoon as young people arrived to take part in an extremely important weekend of events which would shape the future direction of the republican youth movement.

One of the highlights of the weekend was a debate on the issue of the media in Ireland and whether it was a vehicle for change.

Politics.ie founder David Cochrane, who repeatedly hit out at the quality of some of the print media in Ireland, spoke positively about Sinn Féin’s use of social media and, with a hint of admiration, the so-called ‘Shinnerbots’ - republicans active in online forums and news-sites to support the party.

Irish Daily Mirror Political Reporter Sarah Bardon was on the back foot for much of the section as she faced tough questions from the crowd over the quality and style of tabloid newspapers. Barney Rowan, Security Correspondent for the Belfast Telegraph, spoke with passion about his love for journalism but also criticised those who use online forums to anonymously hit out at those they disagree with, arguing instead that if somebody is confident enough in their views then they should be able to express them without hiding their identity.

International guests included Jon Andoni Lekue, head of the European Department of Abertzale Left, who spoke about the Basque peace process and the repeated attempts by the Spanish Government to frustrate the political growth of the Basque pro-independence movement.

Youth representatives from the Young Republican Left of Catalonia (JERC) told of the situation on the ground in Catalonia, where the demand for independence is at an all-time high, and took questions from the floor about their struggle for nationhood.

Jim Slaven, Chair of the Connolly Association in Scotland, spoke about the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence and the effect it could have on the situation in Ireland. This session generated a huge amount of interest and debate.

The main debate of the weekend centred around the constitutional change to Ógra Shinn Féin which would see the name officially changed to Sinn Féin Republican Youth and new structures put in place with the adoption of the new National Youth Strategy. Support for the motion came from both long-time Ógra activists and new members and this was reflected in the vote with an almost unanimous decision in favour of the proposals.

The weekend came to a close with addresses from Gerry Adams TD and Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney, both of whom commended the youth wing for their work in recent years and looked forward to seeing a reinvigorated youth movement emerging from the new structures. They also encouraged young republicans to become as active as possible on the ground in their communities.

Eight republican youth representatives were elected from the floor to take their place on the new leadership structure known as the National Youth Committee. Speaking after his election to the committee, Dungannon Town Councillor Pádraig Quinn said:

“Over the past 16 years, Ógra Shinn Féin has played an invaluable role within Irish republican politics. From campaigning on issues such as student fees, suicide prevention and drug awareness to producing top-class political activists like Pearse Doherty and Eoin Ó Broin, Ógra has undoubtedly contributed greatly to modern-day Ireland and the advancement of republicanism across the island.

“Republicanism is an ever-changing force and in order to stay relevant we must adapt and readapt. With this in mind, Sinn Féin produced the National Youth Strategy. It is an extremely important step, one that puts youth at the forefront and creates a new, significant modern structure fit for the pressures and potential a movement like Ógra contained. Now known as Sinn Féin Republican Youth, the youth wing has an even brighter future.”

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