SF Ard Fheis builds party momentum
Seven motions running contrary to Sinn Fein's policy of tentative
support for Britain's PSNI police were either voted down or withdrawn
during the party's annual conference (Ard Fheis) at the weekend, which
mainly focussed election preaparation.
There were no speakers in favour of any of the policing motions, all of
which were submitted last November. That was two months before the
special conference on January 28th where the party's new approach to
policing was adopted by an overwhelming majority.
Motions from branches in Tyrone and Fermanagh committing Sinn Fein to
withhold support for any policing arrangements in the Six Counties
until there is a united, free and independent Ireland or until a
clearly-defined transition to a united Ireland is under way were
rejected by strong majorities.
A motion from a cumann in Ballyheigue, County Kerry, calling on the
leadership to stay out of any policing arrangements that would
"reinforce British rule in the North of Ireland was withdrawn, as
motion from a Monaghan branch demanding the replacement of both the
PSNI and the Garda by an all-Ireland police service.
Speaking in advance of the votes being taken, Sinn Fein justice and
policing spokesman Gerry Kelly appealed to delegates to abide by the
policing motion passed at the special policing conference five weeks
"Having effectively put our political opponents behind the eight-ball,
these motions would let them off the hook and give them a platform upon
which to attack us. After such an historic move by Republicans, it
would be foolhardy, to say the least, for delegates to let these
motions go through today."
He continued: "In the last few weeks of canvassing throughout the
I can tell you that the support for our position on the doorsteps
reflects the overwhelming vote given by the Sinn Fein delegates in the
RDS a few weeks ago."
Mitchel McLaughlin MLA said the January conference had taken place at
"a truly historic point in our struggle" and the leadership
mandated to take decisive steps towards delivering "a new beginning
policing in the North".
That "courageous decision" had an equally-important impact on
political process. Sinn Fein had again seized the initiative and the
spotlight was on Ian Paisley and the Democratic Unionist Party.
"I hope he says 'yes', but in the event of him walking away, the
process will move on regardless. This time that is the vital
NO TO COALITION MOTION
A Bandon, County Cork, motion ruling out a post-election coalition with
Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fail, was overwhelmingly defeated on the advice
of the leadership.
The party's Dail leader, Caoimhghin O Caolain, reminded delegates that
it would be up to party members to decide if Sinn Fein should enter a
coalition arrangement after the election. "Now that is something
should retain," he added.
The only delegate to speak in favour of the motion was Jackie Phelan
from Portlaw, Co Waterford, a popular ardfheis attender. As always, he
did not disappoint, and even Mr Adams smiled when he rebuked the
leadership for ambiguity on the coalition issue.
Delegates cheered, as Mr Phelan said: "The greatest betrayal of all
Fianna Fail was the extradition of republicans into the hands of a
British system which was found guilty of torture by the European Court
of Human Rights."
However, when the vote came, the vast majority of them backed Mr O
Caolain's view. The same Mr O Caolain, recovering from a recent
illness, got one of the biggest cheers of the weekend when he remarked:
"My fellow republicans, when I say it is great to be here, I really
Overall, the focus was squarely on the elections. Dublin South East
candidate Daithi Doolan, in a variation of the Danny Morrison edict,
urged delegates to have "a union card in one hand and a ballot paper