Sinn Féin is preparing to lay the groundwork for the next general election in the 26 Counties at the 2006 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Dublin this weekend.
The party today published a programme of motions for the annual conference dealing with areas such as the peace process, policing in the North, health, education and trade.
Speaking in Belfast, Martin McGuinness said Sinn Féin hoped to be in a position to form part of the next government after the general election.
“Given the proportional representation system in the 26 counties, you can never be absolutely sure, but there is a definite feeling out there that there are going to be substantial increases for Sinn Féin,” he said.
The next Dáil election is expected to be held next year. On the eve of the three-day conference, Mr McGuinness predicted wide gains for his party.
“Pundits are saying Sinn Féin is going to double its representation in the Dáil and if that’s the case, then that could conceivably cast the party in the role of kingmaker,” he said.
“However we shouldn’t get carried away. I travel the length and breadth of this island for selection conventions and party functions, and what I say to members at all these events is, our job is first and foremost to get our people elected.”
In a recent newspaper interview, the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern suggested his Fianna Fail party could join with Labour to form the next government. His party is currently in coalition with the struggling Progressive Democrats.
Labour leader Pat Rabbitte was dismissive of the overture but hailed it as an admission of weakness.
“If the Taoiseach thought he had a chance of winning a third term with the PDs, he wouldn’t be looking towards Labour as an alternative partner,” Mr Rabbitte said.
The Taoiseach has also ruled out any coalition with Sinn Féin in the immediate future. However, Mr McGuinness said if an approach was made to his party about giving its support to the next government, Sinn Féin would hold a special conference and consult its grassroots before making any decision.
Speaking at the launch of the programme for the Ard Fheis, the Party’s leader in the Dáil and TD for Cavan/Monaghan, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said the mood of delegates would be “very determined and focused”.
He said the party would be setting out our proposals for government, on a number of key areas, including the peace process, and all-Ireland integration on healthcare, job creation and infrastructure
“Some of the key debates are around all-Ireland integration, the peace process, Sinn Féin in government, the economy and natural resources, promoting workers rights, and policing and justice,” he said.
“The wide-ranging motions reflect the high level of debate that is ongoing through the party. We expect a good and constructive weekend of debate and discussion which will inform the development of our policies over the coming year.”
He also said the two main themes of the weekend deliberations would be Irish Unity and Equality which he said “tied in perfectly” to the fact that we are celebrating both the 90th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising and the 25th Anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strikes.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said, “This years Ard Fheis takes place as we mark two pivotal landmarks in, not only the republican calendar, but in Irish political and social life in general. The two main themes of the Ard Fheis, Unity and Equality, tie in perfectly with the 90th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising and the 25th Anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strikes.
“These themes are reflected in the motions, the speeches and a number of key policy documents, which are being presented to delegates this weekend.”