9 November 2006 Edition

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Ógra - Eighth Congress hugely successful

No future without youth

BY
 ELLA O'DWYER

"There's no future without the youth" was the message that Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams had for Ógra Shinn Féin activists at their eighth annual Comhdháil Náisúnta in Dublin last weekend. For the first time, the Comhdháil Náisúnta was held over three days. It took place in the historic location of Liberty Hall.

The conference opened on Friday evening with a number of motions relating to current political issues arising from the political negotiations at St Andrews and proposals by the Irish and British Governments, as well as matters to do with the structures of Ógra. One motion sought to reduce the upper age limit of 29 for Ógra membership. This motion failed, the argument being that the older age limit allowed members to gain more experience and confidence. Another motion raised and rejected was the legalisation of cannabis on a regulated basis.

Rose Dugdale delivered a presentation on the all-Ireland agenda while Jim Monaghan gave a talk on the international political context. An interesting workshop on Islam and national liberation struggles was facilitated by a member of the Socialist Labour Party from the international delegation.

Saturday started with an internal consultation on the St Andrews proposals, with Sinn Féin's Six County Chairperson, Declan Kearney, addressing the current political situation. Many of the Ógra activists present voiced their opinions in a clear and forthright manner.

On Saturday also, Ógra National Organiser Barry McColgan launched a new political campaign entitled ARISE. ARISE stands for anti-racism, anti-imperialism, anti-sectarianism and anti-exploitation. The ARISE campaign will be of a six-month duration with a different issue being addressed each month. The first month will concentrate on the issue of political prisoners.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams delivered the keynote speech on Saturday afternoon and addressed the important role of youth in the republican struggle. Adams told the activists gathered that the future is in their hands.

"It is the current membership of Ógra Shinn Féin who will be the party leaders of the future. Pearse Doherty is now a Councillor and we hope, after the next election, a future TD for Donegal South West. Eight years ago, he was elected to the Ógra National Executive. Toiréasa Ferris was also at the first National Congress. She is now a Councillor for the party in Kerry and was the first-ever Sinn Féin Mayor of Kerry last year.

"Going further back, even before the founding of Ógra, Seán Crowe TD was the party's youth officer in the 1980s. Look through Sinn Féin today and you will see that many of our elected representatives and our activists are people who first got involved in politics through Ógra," he said.

"Sinn Féin needs to be bigger, and Ógra Shinn Féin needs to be bigger. We need more members and activists. We need more women members. We need to reach out to those people new to Ireland, or marginalised, and bring them on board. We need to make their fight our fight. Sinn Féin, as the senior party, has a role to play in providing the support and resources that Ógra needs, and perhaps there is more we could have done, and more we can do. But the success of Ógra must be your success. You must not and cannot be reliant on anyone but yourselves," Adams said.

Following Gerry Adams's address, delegates dealt with the remaining motions before the congress. These ranged from supporting Leonard Peltier to calling for more to be done within Ógra to promote the Irish language.

The Rossport Solidarity Camp was also represented at the congress. The day's events culminated with a protest against imperialism outside the GPO on O'Connell Street. Members of the public stopped to talk to the protestors and showed interest in Ógra. A social evening took place afterwards in Ballyfermot.

On Sunday, Ógra held a Killer Coke protest outside the Australia-Ireland match at Croke Park.

Five new members were elected to the executive over the weekend. Speaking after the event, Ógra PRO Barry McNally said: "This year's congress was hugely successful, with a very large turnout of young people from all over the country. I was struck by the number of new faces in attendance and particularly the large number of women members. This was the second Ógra national congress to be held this year. The event was repeated to allow the organisation to prepare motions for the upcoming Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in March."


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