Sinn Féin looks west
Sinn Féin looks west


Sinn Féin is hoping it can build its support in the West of Ireland by holding its annual ard fheis [party conference] in Connacht for the first time.

The event takes place this weekend in Castlebar, County Mayo, the home town of the 26 County Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The party’s strength has traditionally been concentrated in Dublin and in border areas, so it is working to develop the organisation in rural areas across the country.

“You have such a strong tradition of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael in most rural areas -- very little of the Labour Party in rural areas -- that to come in and build up a structure in those areas takes time,” said Connemara-based senator Trevor O Clochartaigh.

While Sinn Féin has targeted Mayo for gains -- Fine Gael is facing a huge task to hold onto its four Dail seats in the constituency -- O Clochartaigh is himself eyeing a seat in Galway West.

MP for Newry/Armagh Conor Murphy, launching the ard fheis programme this week, said the party has up to 10% support in some parts of the country, but lacks the organisation to mobilise the vote.

Mr O Clochartaigh said there would be a particular emphasis at the Ard Fheis on the issue of Ireland’s natural resources. The County Mayo village of Rossport has seen a prolonged battle over the environmental and financial implications of an onshore gas refinery and pipeline, currently under construction by Shell, and linked to the giant Corrib gas field.

A change in the taxation regime for the oil and gas industries could play a significant role in revitalising the economy, O Clochartaigh said.

“It is estimated that the oil and gas reserves in Irish waters are worth some 750bn euro, but the Irish people are profiting very little from this due to the taxation regime brought in by Fianna Fail which is being continued by Fine Gael and the Labour Party,” he said.

The conference, entitled ‘A New Republic -- Stronger Together’ will also focus on the property tax due to come into effect in July and water charges planned for next year.

There will also be a strong focus on public sector reform and the proposed Croke Park II Agreement, with a motion to resist “yellow-pack” jobs created for new graduate nurses and teachers. There will be a section called “defending rural Ireland”.

The conference will also call for a border poll or referendum on a united Ireland on both sides of the border.

One of the more contentious motions to be debated at the conference is “to articulate and vote on the issue of abortion according to their conscience”. This would give TDs a free vote on the issue in the Dail, but would mean a historic shift from the party’s famously strict internal control structure.

Some 2,000 people are expected at the Ard Fheis this weekend and in addition to the formal debates there will be fringe meetings on topics such as ‘Women Changing the World’, ‘Reclaiming our Natural Resources’, ‘The Ballymurphy Massacre, and ‘The Campaign to Save Moore St.’.

It was also announced that Vernon Coaker is set to become the first front-bench British politician to attend the event. Coaker is Labour’s Shadow Direct Ruler (‘Secretary of State’) for the Six Counties.

“I think it’s a vital part of my job to engage with all parties in Northern Ireland,” he said, confirming his attendance.

“In this week that marks the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it’s an example of how far we have come in Northern Ireland when I, as shadow secretary of state, am attending the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis.”

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