Sinn Féin - ``dynamic, youthful, focused and in touch''
BY SEAN BRADY
Sinn Féin holds its annual Ard Fheis in Dublin this weekend. It is just five weeks since delegates gathered at a special internal conference in Dublin dominated by the crisis in the peace process. The mood at that conference was angry and defiant, and with no progress since then, the political mood of party members this weekend will hardly be any different.
The current crisis in the Peace Process aside, delegates meet this week at a time of growth and opportunity for the party. Since its last Ard Fheis, Sinn Féin has significantly increased its political representation throughout Ireland and recorded its best election results for many decades.
The party coupled a dramatic breakthrough in local government elections in the 26 Counties in June with improved EU election showings North and South. In the words of this year's Ard Fheis Clár, the results are those of a party that is ``dynamic, youthful, focused and in touch''.
Sinn Féin is now the fourth party in the 26 Counties and is rapidly establishing itself as the real voice of opposition politics in Ireland, offering an alternative to the centre-right politics of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour.
Recent anti-Sinn Féin outbursts by Labour Party leader Ruairí Quinn and former Progressive Democrat leader Dessie O'Malley merely highlight the challenge Sinn Féin poses to the stagnant political process in the 26 Counties.
At a press conference in Dublin to announce details of the Ard Fheis on Wednesday, 5 April, Caoimhghín O Caoláin TD said that Sinn Féin was keenly awaiting the next general election in the 26 Counties. ``Colleagues such as Aengus O Snodaigh here in Dublin South Central, Seán Crowe in Dublin South West, Martin Ferris in North Kerry, Nicky Kehoe in Dublin Central, Arthur Morgan in Louth and Dessie Ellis in Dublin North West will be making strong challenges to join me in Leinster House.
``Nationally, Sinn Féin is consolidating, regenerating and restructuring our organisation to meet the challenges ahead. There has been a marked increase in young people joining the party.''
The Sinn Féin Ard Fheis will give party members another opportunity to air their views and debate vital political issues. Unlike the the Ard Fheiseanna of many other parties, the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis is the ultimate policy-making body of the party. What is decided in the RDS at the weekend will be party policy.
A lively debate around the issue of the Sinn Féin's attitude to participation in coalition government in the 26 Counties is expected on Sunday afternoon. Discussion on this issue is ongoing within the party and that debate will be reflected at the Ard Fheis.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams met Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on Friday, 31 March in his continued efforts to find a means to break the impasse in the Peace Process. Adams said the suspension of the Good Friday institutions had delivered a hammer blow to the process but Sinn Féin had ``no intention of giving up''.
He said there was a sense of urgency in the Dublin government's approach to the situation but warned that there is ``only one chance left to sort this out''.
Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin and the party's spokesperson on Human Rights, Mary Nellis, will meet Dublin Foreign Affairs Minioster Brian Cowen this afternoon, Thursday, 6 April. The meeting will focus on the human rights aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, and in particular the failure by the British government to implement them.