21 January 1999 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

City Hall meeting ``a major success''

By Peadar Whelan

Fra McCann, the chair of Sinn Fein's Six County Comhairle, has hailed a conference of elected representatives in Belfast City Hall, ``as a major success that has given Sinn Fein councillors from across the North a solid base to build on for the future''.

Last Saturday's conference was aimed at bringing party activists and councillors together to discuss the role and work of Sinn Fein elected representatives.

After the all day event Fra McCann said, ``most of the districts where Sinn Fein have councillors elected were represented at the meeting, up to 60 people attended and most of them made some contribution.... most of which were positive proposals or suggestions as to how the party can work better together as a party and also how we can represent our voters and supporters.

``Our party needs to develop a support system for our elected representatives which will ensure that they help and support the growth of the party... party building is central to the work we need to be doing. There is a wealth of experience at this level of the party, we need to utilise it throughout the party structures''.

Central to Saturday's discussions were two papers presented by Tom Hartley, the head of the Sinn Fein group on Belfast council.

Hartley's first paper pointed out that as members of Sinn Fein we have a political programme ``aimed at enhancing the political, social and economic well being of everyone on the island of Ireland''.

However, with the possible return of political power to local government and the planned redrawing of local government boundaries in the year 2002 Hartley recommended that ``for the party to put its stamp on any future changes in local government we need to put in place a working group that represents every council area'' so that Sinn Fein has a view that benefits the party and its electorate.

The big question in the debate was the question about what Sinn Fein as a republican party wants out of any elected body, be it the assembly or the councils.

For Mitchel McLaughlin the answer was easy: ``we can use all these opportunities to advance our political project. So we need to get our subversive heads around the issues that face us as we pursue our long term political objectives''.

McLaughlin endorsed the view that ``with all the expertise we have we should take up the challenge, stop seeing ourselves as a radical rump and see ourselves as a party capable of winning political power''.

Concluding his second paper Hartley summed up what he believes is the key objective of the party in the coming years given the political changes that are happening throughout the country: ``it is crucial that we develop a coherent strategy for our councillors which means they effectively serve locally but always act strategically''.

Mitchel McLaughlin picked up the theme of strategic thinking in his comments when he brought the day to a close.

Giving a political update the party chairperson said that this period of ``great political opportunity is a big challenge to us all''.

He advised those present, however to see the situation as the by product of the political dynamic that has driven republicanism since the ``dark days of the hunger strike''.

Sinn Fein's political success has been seen as a threat to British rule in Ireland and the power of that success should be seen in how Margaret Thatcher, knowing the British couldn't defeat republicanism, on her own brought Dublin on board through the Hillsborough Accord.

The Dublin Government's Forum for Peace and Reconciliation was about securing the SDLP's position as the biggest nationalist group in the North because they feared Sinn Fein.

McLaughlin used these examples to demonstrate the political power of Sinn Fein's appeal and made it clear that our power as a political party lies in our strategic overview of the conflict in Ireland.

``We need to clear away the undergrowth, ensure that people know that we are focused on a united Ireland, that is our aim, that is our goal''.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1