22 October 1998 Edition
Young and independent
Sinn Fein Youth 1st National Congress
`The past year has witnessed the emergence and development of Sinn Fein Youth as the most vibrant and popular youth political grouping on this island. Today's first National Congress will send a clear signal to our political opponents that republican politics is becoming increasingly relevant and popular amongst young people. We are committed to empowering young people, to allowing young people to have a say in their lives and futures. We have a right to participate, we have a right to contribute and Sinn Fein Youth is the platform from which to do this. Over the next 12 months we will continue to grow, we will continue to be heard and we will continue to struggle for independence. Young people must become active in building a new, inclusive and independent future'.
With these words National Organiser Eoin O'Broin concluded Sinn Fein Youth's first National Congress. Held on Saturday 17 October at the ATGWU hall in Dublin, the Congress brought together 150 young republicans from across the country. Guests from Euskal Herria, Catalonia, Wales, Scotland, England, Germany and Denmark joined representatives from Young Fianna Fail, COCAD, the Cuba Support Group Ireland, to name but a few.
In the morning the Congress dealt with reports from the National Youth Committee. The past 12 months work was outlined and discussed. Campaigns and mobilisations, education work, organisational development and international relations were touched on as delegates welcomed a productive year's work. Alongside the congratulations there was also much criticism, particularly with reference to Sinn Fein Youth's internal structure and communication. Positive proposals were made and a task force set up to review the current arrangements with a view to a radical restructuring.
Following the report session a number of guest speakers addressed the delegates. The Justice for Diarmuid O Neill Campaign relayed the details of O'Neill's summary execution at the hands of the London Metropolitan police.
Josetxo Otegi and Arturo Nuevacassa addressed the crowd on behalf of the Basque youth organisation Jarrai. They told delegates that, `this is the first National Congress of Sinn Fein Youth and it is an indication of your achievements during the last year. Remember that the best contribution that you can make for a free Ireland is organise yourselves.' Otegi and Nuevacassa also discussed the current political situation in Euskal Herria. They said, `the ceasefire called by ETA has given responsibility of the struggle to the Basque society. For this reason, the Basque youth must increase our work'.
Former political prisoner Michael O'Brien read a statement on behalf of the Portlaoise prisoners. He welcomed the development of Sinn Fein Youth and the opportunity to speak at the Congress. The statement also touched on the current prisoner release scheme. Highlighting the fact that not one prisoner from the 26 counties has been released to date, O'Brien called for the immediate release of all political prisoners.
The main guest speaker of the day was Sinn Fein National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin. In a wide ranging speech he discussed the peace process, the Sinn Fein political, social and economic project and the recent development of Sinn Fein Youth. He told the delegates that `The role of Sinn Fein Youth in the recent past and its involvement in the peace process cannot be underestimated. The role of young Republicans in the time ahead will become even more crucial. The overall Republican project is entering its final stages, and it will be the leadership of young people that will bring about the fundamental political, social and economic change which Republicans have been struggling for for many generations'. He called on young people to take `ownership of the entire process' as it `is your voices which must now be heard to ensure that it is implemented in full'.
The latter half of the congress was taken up with elections to the officer board of the National Youth Committee and political discussion. The newly elected seven member officer board (which will come into effect from January 1999) includes; Matt Carthy as National Organiser, Eoin O'Broin as Development Officer, Maria Cahill as National Secretary, Pearse Doherty as Campaigns Officer, Michael Webster as Finance Officer, Colleen Gildernew as International Relations Officer and Rosa McLaughlin as Education Officer.
In order to facilitate as much discussion as possible Sinn Fein Youth divided the political discussion into structured and open sessions. Three documents were discussed during the structured session and delegates' motions were debated and voted on during the open session. They covered the peace process, Sinn Fein Youth strategy and youth living conditions.
Motions dealt with issues such as the need for Sinn Fein Youth to develop Irish language work, the appointment of a national Irish language officer, changing Sinn Fein Youth's name to Irish, changing the local and national structure of SFY, developing better links with Sinn Fein, funding transport to national meetings and events, to name just a few. In addition a wide range of issues were discussed from decommissioning and demilitarisation to student tuition fees and youth provision in local areas.
Closing the conference incoming National Organiser Matt Carthy said; `To advance our republican aims and objectives it is crucial that we continue to struggle through campaigning and mobilising, our peace strategy, advice centres, local constituency work, councils, education and international work. Only when these areas of struggle are placed together can we have the force and capacity to achieve our goals'. Carthy urged all activists to `get organised and make today's discussions a reality. It is on the streets that we have our power. Let's use that power and create an independent and socialist Ireland'.
Gardaí attack Sinn Fein Youth
Despite the positive tone of Sinn Fein Youth's first National Congress Gardaí in Dublin seemed set on attacking the event. Saturday saw Special Branch officers outside the ATGWU Hall for the duration of the Congress. Sinn Fein Youth staged an impromptu protest at 7pm on Saturday evening after the Congress. A hundred youth activists surrounded the car and chanted for an end to Garda harassment. At several points the car was accelerated forward into the crowd endangering the lives of the protesters. After 30 minutes Sinn Fein Youth stewards called the protest to an end and the crowd dispersed peacefully.
Late Saturday night uniformed officers attacked a group of Sinn Fein Youth activists and international guests after a social in the Widow Scallons. Nine young people were arrested - including one member of Jarrai - while trying to defend themselves from Garda attack. A number of those arrested were badly beaten.
Sunday evening saw a second impromptu protest outside Store Street Garda station, where those arrested the night before were detained. Several hundred people listened to Sinn Fein Youth activists recount the previous night's ordeal. During the protest a large number of uniformed and Special Branch officers came out of the station and proceeded to kick and violently push the protesters from the steps of the station. After interceding with the Garda, Dublin Sinn Fein representatives Sean Crowe and Dathaí Doolan calmed the crowd who dispersed without incident.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Dublin organiser Matt Carthy said, `On all three occasions during the weekend the Gardaí in and out of uniform provoked young republicans in a deliberate attempt to create ugly situations. The behaviour of the Gardaí was criminal and calls into question their ability to provide the service paid for by the people'. Carthy also challenged media misrepresentation of the weekend and called on journalists to address the ongoing campaign of harassment by Gardaí against Sinn Fein Youth.