‘In disgust, I handed in my delegate card to Ard Fheis officials and left the RDS.’

Several letters in An Phoblacht’s postbag express discontent with how the debate on Hare Coursing was managed during the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis.

The hardest hitting was from Councillor Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin of Clonakility:

I will be very surprised if this letter will be published, but I want to put into the public domain my deep dissatisfaction at the chairing of certain sections of last weekend’s Ard Fheis (my 20th one since I joined Sinn Féin in 1989).
There has been a trend over the last few years, which results in party members being unable to have their say due to time constraints and as I witnessed last weekend, the steering committee blocking a member who had visitor but not delegate status from her cumann, being refused her right to address the gathering.
I’m beginning to question if democracy exists in the Ard Fheis any more. There are no longer debates – a debate being a motion being proposed and opposed, and then voted on.

Though I think O Súilleabháin has missed the main failing of his party Ard Fheis and most delegate based systems. The majority entitled to vote are cumann representatives (a very limited few have an individual vote eg. Ard Comhairle members) as such, regardless of the force or logic of speeches on any given topic many/most delegates have strict voting instructions from their comrades – if they act with integrity they will not/cannot be swayed.

Ó Súilleabháin continues:

The whole issue of Ard Fheis motions and how sessions are chaired needs to be seriously reformed, in order to facilitate genuine debate, cut out waffling and censor out irrelevant motions. The organisers also need to adopt the slogans of “FAIRNESS” and “EQUALITY” that were emblazoned on the backdrop and actually apply them on how they conduct the Árd Fheis and treat us plebs at it.

Debate is essentially a fiction and recommendations to improve the management of that fiction that don’t free up delegates to be moved by arguments seem an exercise in pointlessness. As things stand most motions could be decided in advance by people sending in the votes they have agreed at local level thus cutting out the need for mismanaged but mainly futile debates Ó Súilleabháin and others have got so hot under the collar about.