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1 February 2007 Edition

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Extraordinary Ard Fheis: Afternoon session 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speakers exude confidence and stress need for unity

BY ELLA O’DWYER

 

The afternoon session of the Extraordinary Ard Fheis opened with a long line of speakers queueing up to the side of the platform. The vast majority made a case for accepting the Árd Comhairle motion.

Invited speaker Tony Doherty of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign was given a warm reception. He said the findings of the Saville Inquiry which he said would be a litmus test for the British Government in Ireland. “It’s findings will indicate, better than any words, whether the British state is prepared to face up to the role it played here, and whether it is prepared to acknowledge that it was an active participant in the conflict.  Anyone who followed the Inquiry knows the conclusions it must come to. He said it needed to state clearly that:

  • British soldiers committed murder and attempted murder on the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday.
  • There was never any justification for any of the British Army’s actions carried out on the day.
  • The circumstances and atmosphere created within the Parachute Regiment immediately prior to their deployment in Derry were a direct contributor to their murderous actions.
  • Culpability for events on the day lies with the British Government Ministers and British Army officers who made the decision to murder the Civil Rights Movement on the streets of Derry, and that the British State must finally take full legal and political responsibility for the actions of their agents.
  • And finally, it needs to state that the lies, untruths and evasions that have characterised British state policy in relation to the murders committed on Bloody Sunday are forever purged from the history books.”

Seamus Finucane, brother of assassinated human rights solicitor Pat Finucane and a representative of An Fhírinne the support group for relatives of victims of collusion said “I want you to support the motion today but I want you to do so in the context of giving practical support to the various support groups, victims and families working to expose collusion and campaigning for the abolition of plastic bullets”, he said.

 


 

Supporting the motion Colin Barton of the Padraig Pearse Cumann, Bogside in Derry said it was now “time to step into the arena of policing and today’s motion sets out in detail how and why we should do so”. Saying there had been unease expressed during discussions on the issue in Derry, he stressed the need for unity. “Regardless of today’s outcome we must remain united and strong”, he said. It was a theme that reverberated throughout the day-long debate.

Not all delegates supported the motion though and Galway Councillor Daniel Callinan said that to accept it would be an “endorsement of a British police force”.  He said the party had made “concession after concession and every initiative had been thrown back in our face ten-fold”. Despite his opposition, Callinan said he hoped the leadership would be proven right on the policing issue in the end.

Supporting the motion, Michelle Gildernew recalled attending a play in Galbally, County Tyrone, organised for Mothers’ Day last year. It depicted events around the killing of local IRA volunteers in the early 1990s. The play graphically portrayed how the families were treated by the RUC and the UDR.

Many of the women who were at last year’s play were in the hall in Galbally again last Saturday for the meeting on policing. “The mother of a dead volunteer said that we ‘needed to get in there’ in terms of policing  – to make sure that the wrongs of the past wouldn’t happen again”, Gildernew said.

She added that despite the suffering endured by the community who attended the Galbally meeting, they expressed the need for just policing – along with the resolve to dissolve “the last bastion of unionism.”

Rose Dugdale earned a huge round of applause when, in a slip of the tongue, she said: “I support the revolution...I mean resolution.... but I support the revolution aswell”

She went on to say that the Ard Comhairle motion, if passed, would be a huge leap forward.

General election candidate for South Tipperary Liam Walsh said: “This decision is a difficult one and the debate has been a long and intense. But we republicans are used to making hard decisions and I’m supporting the motion. If we don’t pass this motion there will continue to be bad policing and injustice.”

General election candidate for Dublin Mid West Joanne Spain, speaking for the Drumm/Doherty Cumann, Clondalkin said: “There was a time in Dublin when the guards would take young people to the likes of Coolock cop-shop and beat the crap put of them. Now with people like councillor Larry O’ Toole on the policing bodies here in Dublin, the guards are being held to account and can’t get away with such abuses of power. There’s a need now for republicans to engage with policing in the North.”

Reflecting on the journey of republicanism she recalled the time when republicans moved forward “with the ballot box in one hand and the Armalite in the other. “Now we’re at the stage where we’re moving forward with the ballot box in both hands”, she said.

South Down MLA for South Down Catriona Ruane said “The reason why policing is such a challenging issue, the reason why we have been fighting tooth and nail to get it right is because we don’t want anyone, ever again to experience the type of political policing we have had. Our community deserves proper policing and we are determined to get it. There is no place for human rights abusers in civic policing. Can we afford to leave policing or indeed any institution to unionism? Would we hand over total control over health, or education or our children to unionism? Of course we wouldn’t.  Republicans have to ensure that we never allow what happened in the past to happen again to anyone. I believe that by giving a resounding yes to this motion and by moving forward together united and strong we can make history and meet every challenge head on.”

Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty addressed the crucial matter of M15 in Ireland saying, “We’ll get M15 out of Ireland when we get the Brits out. In the meantime we must continue to confront the Brits on their criminal record – their policy of murdering their own citizens.”

On collusion Doherty said, “The SDLP is a disgrace. They always said collusion was a republican myth. The unionist parties knew about collusion and privately endorsed it with their ‘rule of law’ mantra. The Irish Government were afraid to confront the Brits on the issue and tried to play it down. The media too knew and never exposed it – they didn’t want to know.” He went on to say that the challenges facing republicans were not easy but not insurmountable and urged delegates to support the motion.

Speaking on behalf of Monaghan Comhairle Ceanntair, Councillor Páidrigín Uí Mhurchada said she supported the motion though she recognised that many republicans approached the day’s decision “with trepidation and the decision would not be taken lightly. Some think supporting the motion would be a step too far. But we must take control of policing from Britain and bring it into Irish hands. If we reject this motion we’ll be allowing the continuation of collusion. I support the motion.”

While the vast majority of delegates supported the motion on Sunday afternoon several Ógra representatives expressed their opposition. Eugene Garvey of Louth Ógra proposed the recent initiative on policing by Ógra promoting a new model of policing with ‘radical changes in structure and practice for the formation of municipal policing which is locally accountable at district council level, decentralising power away from the state.”

Garvey said there were serious outstanding issues: For instance “M15 is still in the North and plastic bullets have not been abolished and we’ve only had a kind of apology on that issue. He also expressed concerns about the cohesion of the party saying: “We’re in danger of losing members and, as regards our objective of increasing popular support, we could in fact be in danger of losing votes both North and South.”

While urging delegates to reject the Ard Fheis motion Garvey, like so many other speakers at the event, addressed the need for unity saying that he was reminded of the last line of Song for Marcella by Bik Mc Farlane - ‘Our day will surely come, if we stand as one’.”

On behalf of the Ógra national executive Barry McNally said the PSNI was nothing more that “a repackaged RUC” and urged the party to reject the motion. While acknowledging the need for a policing service in the Six Counties he said he could not endorse the motion and presented the Ógra view that the DUP are not about power-sharing and called on the party to support the Ógra policy paper as the only viable alternative.

The tone of the debate throughout the day was positive. Speakers young and old exuded confidence in Sinn Féin, in its leadership, its overall strategy and its prospects for future growth and increasing political strength. one of confidence. The vast majority of speakers were in favour of the motion but speaker after speaker, both for and against the move proposed by the Ard Comhairle stressed the need and the desire to maintain the unity and comradeship that makes Sinn Féin the formidable party that it has become.

An Phoblacht Magazine

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