11 February 2010 Edition
Party prospering in Munster
BY PAUL HAYES
A large crowd of dedicated republicans converged on Mallow GAA Complex early on Sunday morning last for the annual general meeting of the Munster Cúige.
Outgoing Cathaoirleach Ken O’Connell opened the meeting with an overview of the year’s activities locally and nationally, including the negotiations with the DUP. He thanked those from Munster who relayed their thoughts and opinions to the negotiating team in Belfast by phone and text, allowing the leadership to know how the grassroots felt during the tense and often frustrating round of talks until they eventually came to a successful conclusion in the last week.
The cathaoirleach then handed over to Paul O’Connor to deliver a presentation on the challenges and opportunities that 2010 holds for the party. O’Connor outlined how Sinn Féin in Munster bucked the national trend at the polls in ’09, increasing its vote in both Local and European Elections. City and County Council seats were up by 50% with increases in Town Council seats also. Membership of the party rose by 15%, with members active in many campaigns such as budget cuts protests and highlighting the plight of the unemployed.
While global forces will have a bearing on the country throughout 2010, the continuing policies pursued by the government at home will have a massive impact on the lower paid and will undoubtedly increase the gap between the haves and have nots, he said.
O’Connor also pointed out that more scrutiny will come on the so-called opposition parties of Fine Gael and Labour in the coming year. An insight as to how life under their governance was revealed in the unjust proposals both parties passed as part of Dublin City Council’s recent budget. In an entertaining presentation which included references to Lady Gaga’s present ditty Bad Romance, O’Connor stressed that the party needs to get a distinctive message for its audience, influence a specific group of people – young people, small farmers, working people, and be consistent with our messages and policies so the electorate, and our supporters, know exactly where we stand on issues. He outlined a number of initiatives for the year ahead, beginning with a ‘Jobs for the Unemployed’ campaign to be rolled out over the next three months.
The election of a new officer board for the Cúige saw the very popular Kerry Councillor and recent EU candidate Toiréasa Ferris take the top position of Cathaoirleach, with an energetic support team to assist her from Rúnaí Paul O’Connor to Education Officer Cathal Foley. The three Ard Chomhairle representatives selected are David Cullinane from Waterford, Dick Dalton from Kerry, and Paul Hayes from Cork.
Sinn Féin Vice-President Mary Lou McDonald received a warm welcome when invited to address the gathering, with members showing their appreciation for the fantastic work of the Sinn Féin leadership, and in particular Martin McGuinness, in the historic negotiations which saw another plank of the Union removed with the deal over the transfer of policing and justice Powers to the northern Assembly.
Outlining in more detail the outcome of the talks at Hillsborough, Mary Lou explained how at all times the negotiating team would not entertain the DUP’s attempt to appease the Orange Order element in their ranks to return to the past and dispose of the Parades Commission. Cross-community support remains a key aspect to any parade being allowed into an area, with the DUP agreeing to the fundamental right that people have the right to live free from sectarian harassment.
There are still some outstanding issues such as the Acht na Gaeilge which will now be debated in a working committee of the Assembly. McDonald added that the party’s leadership remains vigilant for any further delaying tactics the DUP might throw at them in the coming months.
Speaking about the state of the party as a whole, Mary Lou expressed her confidence that people will continue to support the party, as it is very relevant in Irish life today
Shannonbrooke Murphy briefed members on the Taxation and Public Finance Policy document that will be presented at the Ard Fheis in March. Making reference to the need now more than ever for an all-Ireland approach to tackling the economic problems facing the country, Shannonbrooke highlighted the problems for businesses, especially in the border area, and the need to harmonise VAT rates and have a single currency in both jurisdictions.
While the North needs to have financial powers devolved from Westminster, fundamental reform of finances north and south is required, with massive savings to be made if the duplicated public services north and south were merged.
Sinn Féin will proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with low paid public servants, she said, adding, however, that “we are not afraid to call for a capping of salaries for public sector management”.
The document outlines how Sinn Féin will oppose further privatisation of public companies while working closely with unions in those companies to improve efficiencies and ensure better value for taxpayers’ money.
Closing the meeting, newly elected chair Toiréasa Ferris gave an impassioned speech to the assembled members and supporters.
She was convinced that with improved communication with the public in getting its message out, Sinn Féin is sure to build the party to something very significant. “Sinn Féin is as relevant in 2010 as we were 100 years ago,” she said, “with the banks evicting people from their homes now instead of the landlords back then.”
Calling on members to take courage from the actions of men like Tom Barry and his volunteers, who fought to end the injustices they saw around them, and calling on every member present to play their part and actively improve the organisation in their own area, Toiréasa promised to lead the charge that will see Sinn Féin in Munster become a serious threat to the tired and failed policies of the other parties.
AGM: Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin, Noel Harrington, Toiréasa Ferris, Martin Ferris, Paul Hayes, Mary Lou McDonald, Rachel McCarthy and Donnchadha Ó Seaghdha at the Sinn Féin Munster Comhairle Cúige in Mallow