SF Ard Fheis builds party momentum
SF Ard Fheis builds party momentum

Seven motions running contrary to Sinn Féin’s policy of tentative support for Britain’s PSNI police were either voted down or withdrawn during the party’s annual conference (Ard Fheis) at the weekend, which mainly focussed on election preparations.

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 Féin 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the leadership to stay out of any policing arrangements that would “reinforce British rule in the North of Ireland was withdrawn, as was a motion from a Monaghan branch demanding the replacement of both the PSNI and the Garda by an all-Ireland police service.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 Féin justice and policing spokesman Gerry Kelly appealed to delegates to abide by the policing motion passed at the special policing conference five weeks earlier.

“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 North I can tell you that the support for our position on the doorsteps reflects the overwhelming vote given by the Sinn Féin 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 had been mandated to take decisive steps towards delivering “a new beginning to policing in the North”.

That “courageous decision” had an equally-important impact on the political process. Sinn Féin 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 difference.”


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 Féin should enter a coalition arrangement after the election. “Now that is something you 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 by 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 mean it.”

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 in the other”.

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© 2007 Irish Republican News