1 February 2007 Edition
A party the likes of which this country has never seen
BY SEÁN Mac BRÁDAIGH
It was another date with history as Sinn Féin delegates and visitors gathered in Ballsbridge last Sunday morning. Young and old, urban and rural, North and South, men and women poured into the RDS Industries Hall in their thousands. The predominant mood was one of confidence and unity. Many had attended one or other of the internal republican gatherings or huge public meetings held in various parts of the country to discuss the policing issue in the run up to the Extraordinary Ard Fheis. People were well versed in the issues at stake, very focussed on the decision to be made and very up for the debate.
The range of ages and the high proportion of youth and women was striking and one remarked on by journalists. There was a real and palpable sense of a party on the move.
What was noticeable also, all day, was the long line of people queueing to speak. The quality of their contributions was remarkable. Here were hundreds of highly articulate revolutionary political activists, thinking and arguing strategically and all clearly imbued with a vision of the future. Delegates urged their fellow party members to avoid being reactive or taking decisions based merely on short term considerations and the posturing of other political forces. Speaker after speaker argued for republicans to plan now, to take decisions now to affect the future shape of Ireland. They urged republicans to continue setting the agenda.
Countless speakers addressed the importance of republican unity, the cohesion of the republican organisations and of allowing internal tactical disagreement, while all the time moving forward together. At no stage was there even the slightest hint of rancour, although it was clear that not everybody agreed with the motion in question. Every last one of those who spoke against the motion stressed that whatever the outcome they would accept the decision and urged that unity of purpose was central.
A tiny picket greeted visitors at the Anglesea Road gate. Occasionally the picketers shouted abuse at those arriving, particularly singling out members of the Sinn Féin leadership. Neither visitors nor delegates reacted. Unlike hundreds of those attending the Ard Fheis – which included many former republican POWs, victims of the British army and RUC, many whose family members had been murdered by the British state forces and unionist paramilitaries – none of the picketers were known for sacrifice or record of struggle in the past four decades which saw its share of sacrifice and struggle in the cause of Irish freedom. Bizarrely they were joined by Willie Frazier of the unionist FAIR organisation.
As the day wore on two picketers made their way into the grounds of the RDS and, in what was a truly sad and pathetic display, one of the group, clutching a banner, attempted to rush in front of the platform as the vote was being taken. The futility of the display contrasted sharply with the discipline and focus of the Ard Fheis delegates and visitors. It seemed merely to underline the sheer sense of purpose, maturity, confidence and increasing political strength and relevance of Sinn Féin.
The vote finally came after one delegate, Frank O’Neill urged that the motion be put as many people had long distances to travel home with trains and buses to catch. He got what was possibly the loudest round of applause of the day. There was no going back. Amendments were taken quickly and eventually, in the blink of an eye, the substantive motion from the Árd Chomhairle was passed by a huge majority.
It had been an edifying display of political sophistication by a party the likes of which this country has never seen. It left one with the unmistakable feeling that, as one speaker had earlier declared, Irish republicans can, if they want to, achieve anything.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.