Coalition requires decommissioning - Ó Caoláin
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
The final section of the Árd Fheis, themed `Increasing Political Strength' saw debate on development of youth policy, the abolition of QUANGOs, Sinn Féin taking offices in Westminster, the promotion of An Phoblacht and, most contentiously, motioins regarding Sinn Féin's possible entry into coalition government in the 26 Counties.
Mary Nelis, representing the Pól Kinsella Cumann in Derry, said that Quasi Unelected Autonomous Non Governmental Organisations (QUANGOs for short) are an obstacle to democracy.
We would require decommissioning of the partitionist mindsets. Decommissioning of the conservative politics which have led to a two-tier unequal society. Decommissioning of the consensus that has destroyed Irish neutrality
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD
``These QUANGOs have a massive impact on our lives,'' she explained. ``The place is coming down with councils, boards and commissions - all unaccountable, all unelected.'' Despite the rhetoric from the SDLP and unionists about ``democracy'', Nelis noted, ``we all know that those who talk about it the most practice it the least''.
Matt Carthy, National Organiser of Ógra Shinn Féin, spoke on a motion calling for further resources, financial and otherwise, to ensure the best future development of ÓSF: ``Now, for the first time, Sinn Féin has a youth wing with the potential to be, and I believe it will be, the largest amongst any of the parties on the island.'' John Paul Swayne of the UCD MacDonagh/Farrell Sinn Féin Cumann added that Sinn Féin ``has to enhance the party's profile in third level institutions''.
``Earlier today you clapped when delegates drew your attention to that fact'', Daisy Mules from the Patrick Pearse Cumann in Derry said of the response of the hall when the failure to elect any women to the Árd Comhairle was criticised. ``Yet it is you who failed to elect a woman to this party's Ard Chomhairle''. Mules was supporting Motion 183, which was later passed by the Ard Fheis, calling for the establishment of a commission aimed at increasing female representation on the Ard Chomhairle. This commission is now mandated to establish a minimum number of elected women members for future Ard Fheiseanna.
The debate on entering coalition was heated, even though, as Gerry Adams pointed out late in the debate, not one speaker ventured to propose the idea of coalition with other political parties in Leinster House. ``Our vote increased because people see us as a fresh alternative to Labour, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael'', Sligo's Chris McManus said. ``An undermining of this will lessen our prospects of attaining seats in Leinster House. We must ensure that our republicanism is not diluted by coalition with a larger political party.''
Mark Daly from Tallaght in Dublin was less enthusiastic about making such a direct statement on the prospects of a Sinn Féin coalition and urged delegates ``not to pre-empt things that we do not already know''. Jim Gibney, supporting the Ard Chomhairle emergency motion recommending that Sinn Féin would not enter any coalition arrangement unless a special delegate conference decided otherwise, came the closest to actually broaching the perceived benefits of coalition entry when he said: ``To bring about change you need political power. Do we achieve political power by working from the inside or from the opposition benches?''
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, also supporting the Ard Chomhairle motion, was in no doubt as to the answer to this question. ``The option least palatable to me is entry into coalition with either of the right-wing parties that have dominated politics on this island for many years. I'm certainly not in the business of giving relief to any of the other political parties in this state.'' While there had been much questioning of whether Fianna Fáil would enter coalition with Sinn Féin whilst the IRA remain fully armed, Ó Caoláin said, he would require some decommissioning from any prospective coalition partners:
``If the electorate of the 26 Counties places us in a position of strength which may require other parties to negotiate with us, then it is my belief that we should take up that challenge. And what would we require of those parties?
``We would require decommissioning. Decommissioning of the partitionist mindset which still persists among them. Decommissioning of the conservative politics which has helped to create our two-tier unequal society. Decommissioning of the consensus between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to abandon Irish neutrality.
``Can they deliver?
``Let us test them and let us place our sound policies before the people in the most effective manner possible. And let the debate on our attitude to coalition continue. Coalition is only one of a number of possible options after a general election. The adoption of the Ard Chomhairle motion allows the debate on all those options to continue in Sinn Féin.''
The Ard Chomhairle motion was passed with a strong mandate from delegates.
Martin Spain, Editor of An Phoblacht, spoke briefly of the future prospects of the paper and the need for party members to promote sales. While the paper currently sells 20,000 copies every week, there is massive room for expansion and a clear gap in the market for a radical and honest voice, he said. He thanked the Ard Chomhairle for the increased attention and resources devoted to the paper and asked that this be reciprocated by party members on the ground.