7 February 2008 Edition

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Looking forward to the 2008 Ard Fheis

Rita O’Hare

Rita O’Hare

BY ELLA O’DWYER & BRENDAN KERR

THIS month’s Ard Fheis will be one of the most important in Sinn Féin’s history, with a special focus on the economy, the Lisbon Treaty, and community safety.
Held under the over-arching banner of “Republicanism in the 21st Century”, the Ard Fheis is guaranteed to be a lively conference after months of intensive, straight-talking discussions among comrades throughout the organisation across the 32 Counties who have taken stock of what has happened and where republicanism is going.
The disappointment of last year’s general election in the 26 Counties is behind us, the lessons learned, and there is a re-energised membership that has dusted itself down and is determined to regain the momentum Sinn Féin is noted for.
And the amazing strides made in the Six Counties continue to give us all food for thought about the next steps in driving forward the project of a united Ireland.
Sinn Féin General Secretary Rita O’Hare has been through many battles in her long years in the republican struggle and there is no one with more determination to see Sinn Féin reassert itself on the political landscape.
“We’ve done our looking back,” she said. “Now we need to roll up our sleeves and get down to the work that we are capable of. I’m looking forward to this Ard Fheis being upbeat, positive and forward looking.”
Rita said that Sinn Féin undoubtedly has the hardest-working and most committed community activists in the country and this is reflected in the breadth of motions on the Clár.
Debates will cover all the major areas affecting people’s lives in direct ways, from public services to education, health, housing, transport, farming, fisheries and climate change.
Party organisation will also come under the microscope and the ‘big picture’ scenarios of the Peace Process and consequent political developments, including the all-Ireland bodies and initiatives, will be centre stage.
“The Peace Process and the potential of the Good Friday Agreement is still a priority for us,” Rita O’Hare explained.  “You can see the physical outcomes of all the work that has been done, in sometimes very difficult times as when hard decisions had to be made in recent years.
“You can also see that, through the power-sharing government, Sinn Féin is able to deliver for all the people of the North and people should consider the knock-on effect this will have for the rest of Ireland.”
What this Ard Fheis will reflect, Rita O’Hare insisted, is that Sinn Féin is in government and the tools to deliver change are now in the hands of our elected representatives.
In the area of education, for instance, Sinn Féin Education Minister Catríona Ruane is bringing in reforms which will make education genuinely available to everybody – “in effect, treating all of the children of the nation equally”.
And it’s not just through the abolition of the 11-Plus but also the changes she is bringing into the curriculum, that real change is being delivered.
And delegates will be particularly keen to hear some special outside speakers, including Raymond McCord Senior and Dutch Socialist MP Harry Van Bommel.
Raymond McCord has fearlessly campaigned to uncover the truth about RUC collusion with the UVF death squad that killed his son, Raymond Junior, in 1997 while senior UVF figures were working as informers and agents protected by Special Branch.
Raymond Snr will speak in the Friday evening session, on 29 February, in the section on collusion.
Netherlands MP Harry Van Bommel led the Dutch Socialist Party’s contribution to his country’s stunning referendum rejection of the EU Constitution, now given a new coat of paint and being wheeled out as the Lisbon Treaty. Harry’s stewardship of the ‘No’ campaign and his experiences will be valuable as Sinn Féin activists bid to emulate the people of Holland (and France) when Ireland is the only state holding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
Turning back to the sort of society Sinn Féin needs to explain clearly to people through events like the Ard Fheis, Rita O’Hare said:
“This country needs efficient management with a social conscience of a type that uses the wealth created for the benefit of the families who have created it, not shareholders, speculators and bankers.
“It’s no good talking about changing society and people’s lives unless you get out there and do it. And republicans are the ones to do it. Republicanism is as vibrant and relevant today as it ever was.”


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