1 April 2015 Edition
Republicans in confident mood as elections loom
2015 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, March 6th & 7th, Derry – Sinn Féin ready for Government – North and South
One of the highlights of the conference was the decision to overwhelmingly rule out entering Government in the South as a junior party to either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil
THERE WAS TWO DAYS of passionate and, at times, heated debate at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in the Millennium Forum in Derry in March as party activists and representatives considered and voted on more than 200 motions. Topics as varied as the Peace Process, the Irish language, international affairs and party development were thrashed out at the party’s annual Ard Fheis, held in the Maiden City for the first time.
One of the highlights of the conference was the decision to overwhelmingly rule out entering Government in the South as a junior partner to either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.
An Phoblacht columnist and Councillor Eoin Ó Broin articulated the beliefs held by many when he said:
“For the first time in generations, we have the opportunity to break the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael stranglehold on Southern politics. Decades of corruption, incompetence and greed can be brought to an end.
“The two-tier economy and society perpetuated by Mícheál Martin, Enda Kenny and Joan Burton can be transformed. We can start to build an Ireland of equals; a united Ireland; a better, fairer Ireland. But this can only happen if Sinn Féin makes a clear and unambiguous statement that we will not – under any circumstances – support a government led by Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.”
Welcoming the decmocratic will of the party, Pearse Doherty TD told the packed auditorium:
“Sinn Féin will lead a government of fundamental change. We have no interest in propping up failed parties for the benfit of ministerial positions. That is what the Labour Party is for. Sinn Féin will not enter a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael-led government.”
Another debate which attracted a flurry of media interest focused on the party’s stance on abortion in the case of babies diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormalities. Sinn Féin had abstained from a vote on this issue in the Dáil in February as the party did not have a definitive stance on the matter.
The Health and Education section of the Ard Fheis had to be extended to allow the huge number of delegates who had queued to speak to have their say. Eventually, delegates voted in favour of allowing terminations in the exceptional circumstances of fatal foetal abnormalities.
Welcoming the decision, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said:
“The motion recognises the gravity and complexity of fatal foetal abnormality, which requires great compassion. It also highlights the difficulties women face who are forced to travel abroad to access services because the law prevents women with fatal foetal pregnancies to access legal abortion in Ireland, both North and South. It also acknowledges that women in these circumstances who wish to continue with their pregnancy should be supported, with all efforts made to ensure appropriate care.”
• Hundreds of activists listen to delegates debate motions in the Millennium Forum
There was much discussion over the Ard Fheis’s rejection of a proposal that, if passed, would have halted Sinn Féin MLAs ability to vote to lower the Coporation Tax rate in the North. During a robust exchange, delegates supported a plan in favour of all-Ireland tax harmonisation, arguing that the current 20% rate in the North puts the Six Counties economy at a competitive disadvantage in attracting employers when the rest of the island has a rate of 12.5%. Sinn Féin does, however, want to see a closing of loopholes which exist, particularly in the South, where some companies pay an effective Corporation Tax rate of 3%.
As well as the debates, various fringe meetings took place, including one with leaders of the unionist Londonderry Bands Forum. The Bands Forum has been key to ensuring that the marching season in Derry has remained largely peaceful and without incident thanks to respectful engagement between local residents, bands and the loyal orders.
International speakers received an especially warm welcome from the delegates with standing ovations for Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland Ahemd Abdelrazek, African National Congress (ANC) National Executive member Sue Van Der Merwe; Greece’s SYRIZA Government Deputy Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos; and Head of International Affairs for Basque pro-independence party Sortu, Gorka Elejabarrieta.
Rounding up the event, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams warned of an upcoming all-out attack from the Government parties and their cronies in the Establsihment media:
“They will be even more strident in the run-in to the election – so brace yourselves,” he told party activists.
“They know the people want change. Sinn Féin wants a mandate for government. I believe we can win that mandate. I am confident that when it comes to making a choice, the people will make the change.”