“A very unlikely setting to prepare for unity!”

Alex Kane on Sinn Féin’s ‘historic’ Ard Fheis in Belfast.

It was an altogether different bunch of rebels last night, an army of united-Irelands, many of whom had travelled a very long way (maybe even passing Prince Charles as he visited this part of his future kingdom) to debate, among other things, a motion calling for the ‘practical planning for Irish unity to begin now’.

The conference programme may have referred to the six counties, but the reality was that this was the first time that an ard fheis had been held in the UK: in a conference centre a stone’s throw away from the very courts that had dispatched many IRA members to prison and a mere black taxi ride from the offices Martin McGuinness shares with Peter Robinson in the once hated Stormont. A very unlikely setting to prepare for unity!

So it’s probably no surprise that they should go for a headline grabber on the opening night. The Rev David Latimer, a former TA chaplain who has held hands with Martin McGuinness as they prayed together, seemed like the perfect person to fill the role. The fact that his acceptance of an invitation to address the event had annoyed a wide range of unionists and evangelicals, while securing extensive coverage in the local media, would suggest a job well done by Sinn Fein’s PR team.

In more ways than one…