16 February 2006 Edition
Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2006
BY JOANNE CORCORAN
Ard Fheis 2006: Wide ranging policy debates
Delegates gather for biggest Ard Fheis yet
This weekend will see Sinn Féin's largest ever Ard Fheis take place in the RDS in Dublin.
This conference is just one of the many opportunities for party members to debate and establish policy.
Sinn Féin's refining and developing of policy across a vast range of issues will be is reflected in the debates on Saturday and Sunday
On Saturday, following a debate on the environment, including sections on waste, transport, local government and energy, delegates will discuss the all-Ireland agenda. The issue of speaking rights in Leinster House for MPs of all parties in the Six Counties comes up in this section, as does the right of all Irish people to vote for a President.
Straight after, workers' rights and trade unions will b discussed. Sinn Féin gave a clear lead on this issue during 2005, particularly in relation to the Irish Ferries' issue and smaller disputes around the country such as at Doyle concretes in Kildare. There are several motions centred on these two issues and also on immigrant workers.
Health and children follow this section. The party's new policy document, Health in an Ireland of Equals - Sinn Féin All-Ireland Health Policy will be presented to delegates for acceptance.
Health is a major campaigning area for the party in the run-up to the next election. Traditionally this section, which airs during the live television session, has seen the highest quality contributions and this year will be no different. The issue of abuse will obviously feature strongly following the Ferns' revelations. An Ard Chomhairle motion sets forward in the strongest terms the rights for children and the need for greater child protection.
Many of the Government's failed health policies will be examined in this section.
The issue of acute services being pulled from regional hospitals features strongly, and the lack of investment and interest in Primary Care is also looked at.
The rolling out of cancer screening programmes has been a recurrent motion in this section and will appear once again this year. The topical argument around the lack of cervical smear services for women will no doubt be discussed.
After lunch, elections and electoral strategy will deal with the issue of coalition. There are no motions proposing Sinn Féin involvement in any coalition government in the 26 Counties. There is a motion reiterating current party policy by calling for a special Ard Fheis to debate the issue following the next general election. There are several motions calling for the party never to enter coalition with a number of specified parties.
The culture section of the clár has grown this year, in tandem with the resurgence in the activity of the party's Cultural Department and interest in the Irish language over the last 12 months.
After debates on education and the economy, and contributions from the international guests and the Hunger Strike commemoration, Gerry Adams will give the annual Presidential Address. The 25th anniversary of the Hunger Strikes is likely to feature largely in his speech, as will the significance of IRA initiative of last year and the political opportunities presented.
Delegates are advised to take it easy on the revelling on Saturday night and make it in for the Negotiations Report at 11am on Sunday morning. This will be followed by the section on party development and rules. The last two years have seen this section dominated by the debate over gender quotas on the Ard Chomhairle. It's expected the debate will move on from that argument this year and begin to deal with more ways of developing the party, including in the area of gender.
An Phoblacht is traditionally discussed in this section, and this year will see a contribution from the party's new Editor Seán Mac Brádaigh, who took over from Martin Spain last June.
Policing and Justice will follow. Last month's conference on policing will be discussed in this section, with contributions from Gerry Kelly and Aengus Ó Snodaigh. Delegates will be asked to accept the document Core Principles and Values for an All-Ireland Justice Policy.
Despite the media's attempts to seize on alleged divisions over policing in the party, most of the motions reflect current Sinn Féin position - a special Ard Fheis on policing will only be held after a number of conditions, which the party has already set out, are met. There are no motions calling for the party to sign up to the current policing arrangements in the Six Counties.
There will still be valuable and interesting contributions from members on the issue of the PSNI, and also on Garda corruption.
Sunday will finish with sections on housing, prisoners and social justice.