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4 June 1998 Edition

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Sinn Féin Youth meet in Newry

by Deirdre Feehan and Michael Pierse

  Nothing in recent times has demonstrated better the growth and the potential of Sinn Féin than the development of Sinn Féin Youth. The emergence of a vibrant youth section of our party is a great sign of strength and shows the increasing relevance of republican politics for Irish people in every part of our country.  
Caoimhghín O Caoláin TD

Newry, Co Down, was the setting for last weekend's SFY conference entitled Republicanism Today. A considerable turnout of young republicans from Dublin, Belfast, Leitrim, Armagh, Down and other regions throughout the 32 counties gathered for the event, to discuss the general strategies and policies which young republicans believe essential to the development of their struggle.

Sinn Féin TD for Cavan/Monaghan, Caoimhghín O Caoláin, asserted the growing disenchantment, emerging especially in working class communities, with the economic problems that continue to blight our society. This, he said, is despite that ``ubiquitous animal - the Celtic Tiger'' which, according to O Caoláin, is noticeably elusive within many urban and rural regions.

``For too long the politicians of the establishment, North and South, have relied on the apathy or justified cynicism of young people about politics to ensure that their domination goes unchallenged. I believe that Sinn Féin is starting to break that apathy and cynicism down. Most of our new support comes from young people.''

Martina McIlkenny of Belfast Sinn Féin related the success which has thus far characterised SF's community politics and the necessity to empower and involve people on the ground in the decision making process. ``The tieing together of national independence and social, economic, political and cultural equality is probably the defining feature of modern Irish republicanism,'' she said. This inclusive method of political activity would require an overhaul of the current stagnant and aloof system, which has little or no relevance to people's everyday lives. Real ownership at local level would involve the implementation of ``decentralised government'' and ``extensive consultation with community groups and local residents on all matters affecting their daily lives.... National independence without these things isn't worth a damn.''

Matt Carthy of SFY stressed the integral role of young people in shaping a vibrant and dynamic political landscape, divested of the sterility which currently defines Irish politics. SFY, he declared, ``can provide an opportunity for young people to express themselves in a productive and exciting way.'' On the issue of drug abuse, he conveyed that this inclusion of young people in the political process would be the vehicle with which to break the seemingly endless cycle of peddling and addiction and to allieviate the conditions which inspire and maintain such problems. ``Our aim must be to empower young people rather than hospitalise them'' he explained.

The morning convening was followed by a questions and answers session, in which many issues, from decomissioning to concerns surrounding the six county assembly were raised. Subsequent to an apprehension expressed by one delegate that SF was eroding its traditionally revolutionary politics, Caoimhghín O Caoláin was emphatic that the opposite is the case. ``We would fail by divesting ourselves of our radicalism...the passion of our hearts..if you lose that you've lost it all.'' It was clear throughout this conference that the passion and vibrancy of young republicans is as energetic and inspired as ever.

Afternoon proceedings commenced with the key speaker of the day, Conor Murphy, one of the three Sinn Fein Assembly candidates for the Newry/Armagh area.

Murphy began by congratulating SFY on the organisation of ``this effective youth section'', from the education programmes to street politics, such as the Camloch mountain and rooftop protests as well as the Saoirse rally at Crossmaglen. Murphy did, however, stress that SFY is not just about street politics, highlighting events such as the weekend residential at Glencree and the winter schools which educate the young people and provide them with practical skills.

Speaking about the ongoing RUC and Garda harassment campaign against SFY, Murphy explained that ``these securocrats are frightened by their strength, SFY is the fastest growing youth section in the whole of Ireland.''

The second speaker, Jim Gibney, dealt with self determination. He spoke of the effect Irish Republicans have had world-wide, specifically in South Africa where the National Executive of the ANC reacted immediately to a recent SF request for assistance and sent four senior members to Ireland, ``that is where we are in the eyes of freedom loving people all over the world.''

The SF Ard Comhairle member concluded, ``a new situation has come about where we can create a level playing field. The Good Friday document is not a republican document and the vote was not an exercise of self determination but it has laid a firm foundation to achieve independence, equality and sovereignty.''

The final speaker was Anne Speed who adressed the equality for women agenda. Speed began by stating that women are ``still not equal participants and leaders in struggle'' but congratulated SFY on their number of female activists.

She spoke of the H Block action committees that were organised by women; the mothers, wives and sisters of prisoners ``it was these women who decided to go on the streets and confront the British.''

Speed continued by asserting women's committment to the concepts of equality and self determination and the importance of shaping our own future.In conclusion she quoted James Connolly: ``how do you judge where a society is going - look at its women and children.''

All three speakers then answered questions from the audience on issues such as the Stormont Assembly, Unionism, decommissioning and articles 2 and 3.

The day ended with the closing remarks from the National SFY organiser Eoin O'Broin, who thanked all SFY activists, ``as the marching season and elections approach, get active and do as much work as possible.''

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