Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams told the party’s annual Ard Fheis [annual conference] that rather than a reshuffle by Brian Cowen of his coalition government, the Dublin government “needs to go”.
Cowen is left with three empty posts following the resignation of Defence Minister Willie O’Dea over his unfounded smear against an election rival, Sinn Fein’s Maurice Quinlivan, and the Green Party junior minister Trevor Sergeant, who attempted to influence a police investigation into a constituent.
Tonight, Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism Martin Cullen resigned from Cabinet and parliament due to a back ailment that has been troubling him severely in recent months.
Mr Adams in his keynote address to the party’s Ard Fheis at the RDS in Dublin on Saturday night, said Sinn Fein was opposed to the Fianna Fail/Green coalition because it was “unfair and unsustainable”.
Party delegates voted to agree with the possibility of entering a future coalition government in Dublin following a prolonged debate between the party leadership and delegates. The move was put in as a last-minute amendment to a motion that had called for a ban on Sinn Fein going into power with Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.
However, it was then agreed that a coalition would only happen once approved by a special delegate conference, and if there is a change to the programme for government, including moves to advance Irish unity. The now traditional Ard Fheis debate saw branch delegates lining up to criticise any future coalition, while elected members defended it and asked the party to keep their options open.
Among those who opposed the amendment was Cormac O’Dalaigh, chairman of Dublin South Central Sinn Fein who said It was a “sop” to say they were against the coalition unless enough was offered to the party.
“l would hate to think we would have to sell our soul,” he said.
Caoimhghin O Caolain, the party’s Monaghan TO, said Sinn Fein would not be taking the “crumbs off anyone’s politIcal table”. However he said: “Let us not lock ourselves out of the political debate or restrict ability to use our politIcal strategy”.
Donegal senator Pearse Doherty and North Kerry TD Martin Ferrls also urged members to back it.
Addressing the Ard Fheis on Saturday, the North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said Sinn Fein had “absolutely no interest” in coalition with Fine Gael.
Mr McGuinness recalled Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny’s appearance on the Late Late Show and said: “Enda seemed fairly certain that he wouldn’t go into government with Sinn Fein but he seemed less sure about exactly why.
“Well, let me help Fine Gael out: a bit like George Lee [a celebrity journalist and elected TD who recently resigned], we have absolutely no interest in government with Fine Gael or with their policies.
“More of the same isn’t what is required in the Ireland of 2010. We need new thinking and new ideas.” He added: “I have to say, unlike Enda Kenny, I do know what it is like to operate a coalition government. In case it has escaped his attention, I jointly head one, alongside Peter Robinson.
“Unlike his party colleagues, Sinn Fein Ministers take decisions... daily which impact on the lives of Irish citizens. That’s why it is laughable when I hear commentators or political rivals in this State say that Sinn Fein cannot be trusted in government, or we do not have experience in government. They need to wake and look north.
“We are in government, we are taking the hard decisions and we are doing a good job. Their attitude isn’t just arrogant, it is partitionist and it is absolutely unacceptable,” Mr McGuinness said.
Party delegates also expressed support for the continuance of Gerry Adams as Sinn Fein President.
Guest speaker Jack O’Connor, president of Siptu and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said social cohesion in Ireland had been sacrificed on the altar of appeasing the financial markets.
Whereas 1916 leader James Connolly had said, “the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour”, Mr O’Connor said that now, “the cause of Ireland has become the cause of the bankers”.
“Indeed, in many ways we have exchanged subservience to British rule for subservience to the financial markets,” said Mr O’Connor, a guest speaker at the Ard fheis.
Thanking Sinn Fein for the invitation, he said: “It is our policy to engage with every democratic party and with all who are committed to bringing about a better life for all the people who live in Ireland..
Another guest speaker Paula Clancy, director of Tasc (Think-tank for Action for Social Change) said a “new vision” was required to help create economic equality in Ireland.
He said urgent reform of the Irish tax system was required and that must mean more taxes and the jailing of bankers, developers and politicians,
Ms Clancy said that the Irish recession was the worst in the industrialised world. But that even in the good times no progress was made to tackle inequality. “Research by Tasc shows that the gap actually grew wider - we grew more unequal,” she said.
“We may be struggling with recession and unemployment and a lack of economic stability, but this is the moment to consider a new vision for Ireland - one that is rooted in the idea of wellbeing and of social wealth and recognises the ecological imperative of adopting a more sustainable approach to economic growth,” she added.