‘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.

  • Cllr Ó Suilleabháin’s letter neatly illustrates the point that the perception among grassroot party members is that Sinn Féin doesn’t encourage voices which dissent from the Ard Chomhairle line. This more than anything else is the root cause of the growth of dissident republicanism. The more you encourage real debate within the party – the less the discontent, the less the need for splits and factions.

    The same point is illustrated by Martin McGuinness’ reaction to the UUP no vote on policing this week. I really don’t care how the UUP vote and it made no difference in the end, despite the rhetoric of Nigel Dodds the previous week, but no effort was expended in attempts to persuade the UUP to toe the SF/DUP line (It’s no longer SF/IRA, it’s now SF-DUP) and vote yes. Why is this given that it made no difference?

    It’s touching to note the concern of SF delegates for the hare, I thought I’d mention in passing….

  • The Blow-In

    Given the time constraints that exist at every partys ard fheis or annual conference, someone who is only a ‘visitor’ shouldn’t expect to get taking up time which should be provided to ‘delegates’ who have been sent to the gathering on behalf of their branches etc?

    All sorts of people get ‘visitor’ status to all parties events these days, sometimes even members of other parties!

    I think this complaint is daft.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    So this councillor joined in 1989. A new boy. From Kerry (?). I dunno. Whatever he was only in SF when it was easy.
    In part its generational. It was been argued by Richard English, Brian Feeney ad others that the early SF of the early 1970s was no more than non-combatants…the parents and wives of those eupemistically called ” Republican activists”. Ther is no doubt a sense of discipline was needed.

    and no doubt that same discipline does not translate well into post 1998 politics.
    I am not sure how many political parties allow “visitors” to vote. So I think some of the points made on “iron disciplibe” lack of democracy are over-stated.
    Good tactic of course to begin a letter with “this will not be published” as it will obviously get published…thus making the writer look slightly stupid.
    Likewise as the issue of extending voting and speaking rights to all members rather than delegates is a step too far for ANY political party the so-called charges in his letter seem easy enough to re-but. A good reason to publish.

    Hare coursing. I have no idea what the SF-IRA policy is on hare coursing. No doubt somebody knows but if I dont ever know I wont feel left out.. Even though I am regarded as a “horsey person”, I have a deep disgust at Fox Hunting. And feel much the same about Hare Coursing.
    I suppose its a sign of normality that time can be consumed and people walk out of conferences on the subject of Hare Coursing. But its not exactly the Ruairi O’Bradaigh moment.
    In early May nobody is actually going to bring it up on the doorstep.

    As Ive said in many other threads. Its History repeated as Farce.
    And if anyone actually thinks its important, they make themselves look slightly silly and make their personal vendetta against SF-IRA look even more silly.

  • Marcionite

    Kenneth O’Sullivan is a hare today, gone tomorrow politician. Never heard of him.

    Shame the said party of thugs didnt have more regard for the coursing of humans in Ulster during their heyday of Tally Agus Ho.

    What convinced Mr OSullivan to join SF in 1989 anyway? The proud afterglow of Enniskillen?

    This is the world’s smallest violin playing in sympathy for Kenneth O’Sullivan.

  • old school

    By handing in his delegat card is he resigning from the party?
    It´s not clear.
    Is this yet another lost Councillor?
    I saw this same guy get ratty with Adams after he was told to wind up his speech in an earlier Ard Fheis in the mid 90s.
    He is correct though. The Ard Fheis is high on waffle and low on sunstance.
    Due to the live camera flow, the last thing the organisers want is actual,table- thumping debates, or arguments.

  • old school

    He was speaking at an Ard Fheis in the mid 90s, Adams signalled him to wrap it up, and he turned to Adams saying, “I didn´t interrupt your speech, Gerry.” and made a remark about censorship.
    His speech then was about his office not being properly supported financially, and felt that as he was in Cork, the party did not suitably rate it´s significance, geographically.
    I´m surprised he still in the party to be honest considering the U turns they undertook since he joined.
    But it seems to hare coursing on which he hangs his hat.

  • Paddy

    “What convinced Mr OSullivan to join SF in 1989 anyway? The proud afterglow of Enniskillen?”

    Were the fascists commemmorating the bombing of Hamburg and the burning of Cork more vlauable than the catholics hung up on meat hooks in Co Fermanagh?

    Hare coursing? I wonder what hair brained Adams hanger on came up with that motion?

    Please note that Marcionite refuses to call Cyclops, Councillor Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin, by his proper name. Hang him on a meat hook?

  • RobertEmmett

    Does his party leadership’s support for the de facto internment of republicans by the northern state not worry him more than hare coursing?

  • Hare Coursing was big once in Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin part of the world and probably still is. The mother of my children’s grandfather set up a hare coursing club at the end of the 19th century which had prise dogs, one of which had a song written about it that is still sung around Cork and elsewhere.(The armoured car)

    So coursing would be an issue a local councillor might have to take seriously.

  • Jimmy Sands

    “I’m beginning to question if democracy exists in the Ard Fheis any more.”


  • Rory Carr

    I’m afraid that a wilting violet like Ó Súilleabháin would not have lasted ten minutes in the British Labour Party – and I’m speaking of a time before all democracy was filleted out by the New labour apparatchniks to ensure that the voice of labour would never again matter in the party in whose interests it was established, whose funds financed it and whose sons and daughters toiled to make it relevant.

    The editor of An Phoblacht must have been delighted with this letter. It is precisely this type of me-me-me whinge that defuses the complaints of those with more justifiable grievances who now find themselves more pissed off with precious pricks like this than they might be with the Ard Comhairle or the organising committee of the Ard Fheis.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Rory Carr,
    Exactly my point.
    As a dazzling urbanite transplanted into a rural environment, there are some “country pursuits” I find rather distasteful. Fox hunting (thankfully none near me) but people shoot lovable little fluffy ducks and fluffy cuddly bunny rabbits.
    And while these are no doubt legal, there are I daresay rather more unacceptable and illegal animal related issues in the vicinity. I daresay they have been ongoing for generations.
    Repulsive as these activities are (legal and illegal)……SF shows a certain amount of confidence in going ahead with a party policy which might isolate a very small minority from supporting it.

  • FJH
    Not sure if it is a small minority, in that many of those who engage in blood ‘sports’ feel threatened when one of their ‘sports’ comes under attack, even if it only has minority support,

    If you look at how many people fish with rod and line, which if you think it through is pretty barbaric, plus shoot and all the rest of these ‘sports’, these folk are not a small minority. We should not overlook the power of the hunting lobby and how it has been able to circumvent the law within the UK.

    If there really was a god, he would certainly make us pay for the way the human race treats animals. From factory farming, blood sports, and keeping animals as pets and trophies, etc, we really are a pretty cruel bunch.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    I take this point.
    Most rural dwellers certainly in Ireland are pro-hunting. Certainly more so than in England.
    Indeed the hunting ban in England has actually produced a tourist industry offshoot in Ireland.

    Fox Hunting is too much of the fabric of Irish Society for any major political party to try and ban it.
    Am I right in saying prominent politicians such as Liam Cosgrave were/are hunters.
    Until recently the Irish Independent carried hare coursing reports.
    The Irish Field (weekly newspaper and Bible of the Horse industrt…produced by Irish Times features hunting articles and reports).

    There is an element of hypocrisy with us all. Many animal lovers would oppose the very notion that I breed some birds, that I keep a cat or even a horse. I am no vegetarian but I really dont want to know how my steak got on the table.

    I dont like fishing…have never done it in my life. I oppose klling animals FOR FUN.
    Frankly being a horse owner and anti-hunting is a difficult thing to do. So I keep my mouth shut. Hunters dont like me and oddly I am often shouted at by people in cars who assume that riding a horse equates with hunting.

    As an issue there are bigger ones.
    Certainly part of the opposition to hunting is a dislike of the types who hunt. Class War if you like and personally I am an old class warrior at heart.

    But SF opposing hare coursing and hunting is a clever move. While it is unfortunate for them that one person got a bit upset (oops he LIKEs hare coursing) then it is maybe a good move.
    Perhaps there are city dwellers who would be motivated to vote for SF on this issue and maybe even a few in the countryside who would do so.
    Incidently the English Countryside Alliance types dont take account of country people who oppose them.
    Its safe ground for Sinn Féin …they can adopt this policy……gain a few votes…..and be safe in the knowledge it will never be enacted.

  • old school

    Going by the letters page in AP/RN the only speakers who got to speak were Pro hare coursing.
    I have not read anywhere, what the opinion of the guy in question´is, as he didn´t get to speak.
    He may well be anti hare coursing.
    I don´t think thats the point of his gripe though.
    Hes obviously pissed off about ´lack of debate in the party in general, and this just seems to be the straw that broke the camels back.´
    Rory Carrs dismissive´put down of a grassroots Councillor shows why so many in the 26 Counties are sick of the patronising, Northern “little Napoleons”.

  • Greenflag

    ‘The Ard Fheis is high on waffle and low on substance.’

    Which just goes to show that SF is now no different than the other political parties . When can anyone tell me that any recent party conference in the UK or Ireland was ‘high’ on substance and ‘low’ on waffle ?

    Perhaps in the 1980’s .Rory Carr may have a better memory for the detail ? The spinners not the shinners rule 😉 okay!

  • Rory Carr


  • Rory Carr

    My last remark was directed at Old School, and I might add … a Francophobic sizeist to boot.

    Vive Napoloeon!

  • greenflag,

    In general your correct, the spinners are in control, which is a bad thing, political leaders cannot moan about low membership and few activists on the knocker at election time when they shut down all internal debate and democracy within the party they control.

    It is worse than this though, because what it means is leading politicians totally loose touch with their grass roots, a recipe for disaster as the Iraq war proved. All year they mix with the political, business, media, etc, elite, sure this has always been so, but in the past, when conference season came around, they rightly either got a flea in their ears from the membership, or were told bluntly and truthfully the negative impact their policies were having on the party’s core support base. They could never afford to more to far apart from their party base.

    Without neutering the conference it is inconceivable New Labour would have got away with, for example widening the gap between economically rich and poor, or totally ignoring and treating with contempt the party’s working class base.

    What is the point of being a party member, when you can have absolutely no influence over the party you belong to policy wise.
    As things stand, orders are sent down from on high, this is as true of SF, DUP, as it is the UK Labour and Tory Party’s.

    Internal democracy should and does mean a great deal to political activists, without it why bother, this is equally true of the political left and right.

    Just like NL, Cameron has carpet bagged a host of candidates into constituencies that have no real links with the local party, never had a proper job, and many are out of sync with the people who live in the constituency, plus some appear to be about 12 years old 😉 The common denominator is they are all A political, and will owe their rise, thus allegiance to the party leader. This practice is stalinist in all but name.

    Cameron is a perfect example, as too is Milliband, an empty vessel whose only life experiences has been kowtowing to his political bosses in an attempt to climb the greasy pole, not one proper job between them. Everything they know of life has come from books or back stairs political dealing.

    Is it any wonder away from a script they appear such shallow people.

  • Paddy

    Rory Carr: Post 11. Old Labour was unelecatable. Many Old Labour stalwarts have defected to the BNP and let us not forget many Rangers supporters vote Labour.
    IN a mass outfit like the British Labour Party, the chair must control the proceedings. How different or how much of an improvement would it be/have been allowing Trot windbags spout on a la the meaningless motions mob in Life of Brian

  • Greenflag


    ‘Without neutering the conference it is inconceivable New Labour would have got away with, for example widening the gap between economically rich and poor, or totally ignoring and treating with contempt the party’s working class base.’

    Generally agree with your points above in post 19 . However I see New Labour as being an attempt to adapt to the changing world economy post 1980 . It was only ‘obvious’ from that perspective and from Thatcher’s perceived ‘success’ that Old Labour was out of synch with the dynamics of the then world economy .

    As politicians everywhere (some of them anyway) are surveying what’s left of economies and political programs and the mountains of both public and private debt which have accumulated over the past 20 years as an ersatz for a more equitable share of productivity increase we see the USA once again looking to it’s consumers to lead the way to recovery . The question has to be moot . 3 million more foreclosures are expected this year in the USA as 17% real unemployment begins to impact on the back of the sub prime bubble burst . I’ve just got a copy of Joe Stiglitz’s ‘Freefall’ for my weekend read /nightmare 😉 . Described by Paul Krugman as ‘an insanely great economist ‘ it’s reputed to be ‘everyone’s guide to the misgovernment of globalisation’ . According to one reviewer he ‘cuts through the jargon ‘ and explains the meat and potatoes in layman’s terms . We’ll see .

    I don’t know enough about Cameron to accuse the man of being just another smiley face for the tabloids . If I was in the UK I’d stick with the grim and dour Scotsman at least for the next few years . He’s a safer pair of hands than what the alternative seems to be .

  • Rory Carr

    …”and let us not forget many Rangers supporters vote Labour.

    Yes. Your point being what exactly, Paddy?

    I understand that many Celtic supporters also vote Labour and that both at times have been known to have porridge at breakfast.