4 October 2007 Edition
Sinn Féin get highly positive response at Labour conference
With rising speculation about an imminent Westminster General Election, the British Labour Party Conference took place in Bournemouth at the end of September, and saw Sinn Féin’s delegation receive a highly positive response to the party’s role in moving forward the political process in the Six Counties.
The first conference since the re-establishment of the Assembly and the first under the Brown leadership, a lively series of fringe debates included one of the biggest Sinn Fein meetings in many years.
A packed audience, including senior Labour politicians, key trade union general secretaries and a wide range of constituency representatives heard Alex Maskey explain the priorities for the coming period.
The South Belfast MLA said there had been `a huge determination to see the peace process succeed’. The current focus was `to get the Executive embedded’ and `consolidate an agreement and the equality and human rights agenda that every citizen, particularly in the north but also across the rest of the island, would welcome’. He added that whilst immense steps for ward had been made, there were many outstanding issues to be resolved. He thanked supporters in the British Labour movement who had backed Sinn Féin and the peace process over the last 30 years and encouraged them `to continue supporting the peace process and progress on crucial issues such as the transfer of policing and justice powers’. He added that the party remained `focused on the need to work towards Irish independence’, adding, `we want to do it in a way that is common sense, via persuasion against a peaceful background’.
Earlier at conference, Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP led the party’s representation at high profile events hosted by the Irish Embassy in London and by pro-peace process cross-party group, Champ, whose packed breakfast discussion hosted First Minister Ian Paisley in a question and answer session.
Pat Doherty welcomed the `huge events’ earlier in the year and also stressed the need to keep a focus on the outstanding issues. In response to British Minister Shaun Woodward’s comments on the fringe, that the various enquiries may be costing too much money, he reiterated Sinn Féin’s full support for the inquiries demanded by the Finucane, Nelson and Hamill families.
He said that if the British government was `truly concerned at the cost of these inquiries and not once more attempting to cover up the truth’ then there was a simple solution `that will save time as well as money’ which was to `stop the cover-up, co-operate with the enquiries and expedite closure for the victims loved ones’.
At a number of meetings concern over Gordon Brown’s continued focus on `Britishness’ and the implications for ethnic minority groups was raised. Chairing the Sinn Féin fringe meeting, party representative Dodie McGuinness warned against an approach which could isolate communities, and drew comparisons with past treatment of Irish people in Britain and the way that some communities today, in particular Muslims, were being targeted. She said the Irish community could play a helpful role in linking up with others in response to this. At an Agreed Ireland Forum discussion, former minister Lord Dubs echoed concerns over the focus on `Britishness’, as did Federation of Irish Society leaders, who stressed the need to defend multiculturalism.
Sinn Féin councillor Padraig Mac Lochlainn addressed the meeting on his own experience of living in England and raised the important role of the Irish in Britain in the political process.
The need for to continue to lobby and provide platforms, which keep a focus on these key questions, and a pressure on the British government, was raised by many attending the fringe discussions - an issue of even greater importance in ensuring that the Irish electorate in Britain makes its voice heard in the context of a likely Westminster election.