Sinn Féin ard fheis gets underway with motions on candidate gender, flags, Royal Exchange and Easter Lily stickers (updated)

Sinn Féin’s ard fheis gets underway this evening in Castlebar, County Mayo. Martin McGuinness will give his now-traditional Friday night keynote, followed by debate around motions on a United Ireland and the peace process.

The majority of the business is tomorrow – with blocks of motions debated throughout the day, peppered with a band of two minute speeches around 11am that will be carried live on RTE. Party president Gerry Adams closes the ard fheis with his speech at 8.30pm.

With the Golf Masters on BBC Two on Saturday evening, BBC aren’t showing Gerry Adams’ speech live and instead running it on Sunday evening at 6pm along with live coverage for 45 minutes from noon on Saturday afternoon.

The ard fheis is being streamed online again this year and the result of votes on motions will be updated throughout the weekend.

There are 250 or so motions in the clár. Some are brought by the Ard Chomhairle, others from local cumann. Many are related to organisations that Sinn Féin have little influence over, or call upon the party to reaffirm or rededicate itself to a cause, or to commend groups for what they have done. Of note:

[3] Calling on Irish Government to allow Irish Diaspora to vote in any border poll. (East and South Tyrone) PASSED

[5] Young people North and South to vote at 16 years old and … legislation to be brought forward to allow this to happen. (West Belfast) PASSED

[6] Acknowledges women are not adequately represented in public life … supports setting of targets in legislation North and South which will ensure at least 30% of any election candidates are women including local, parliamentary and EU elections. (Various) PASSED

Shrinking councils in the North, but in the South …

[8] Effective leadership in opposition to the Fine Gael/Labour coalition’s plans to abolish all town councils, advocating instead the need for reform of this essential tier of local representation. (Monaghan) PASSED

[15] Change selection process for appointment of members to Broadcasting Authority or Ireland and Press Council of Ireland to be independent of government … representative of society as a whole, not just of a privileged elite. (West Waterford) PASSED

[16] Allow political advertising on local radio stations … it is inequitable that they cannot compete with print and online media for advertising revenue during elections. (Mayo) FAILED

[21] Notes the attempts by political Unionism and the British state to stifle the debate on the border poll … and calls on British Secretary of State to set a date for a referendum in the Six Counties … Irish Government to press British Government to set a date and to commit to holding a simultaneous poll in the 26 Counties. (Ard Chomhairle plus others) PASSED

[28] Calls on incoming Ard Chomhairle to initiate a debate with Comhairli Ceantair about the possibility of proposing the flying of both flags at councils in the Six Counties to reflect both main identities of local people (Antrim) [the amendment below passed]

A more measure amendment is proposed [28] This Ard Fheis mandates Sinn Féin representatives in local government in the Six Counties to promote and encourage the adoption by local councils of policies on symbols, emblems and flags which are underpinned by mutual respect for the ethos and identity of both the unionist and nationalist sections of the community and are therefore premised on equality or neutrality. (Ard Chomhairle) PASSED

[29] Resolving the political and cultural imbalance of Belfast City’s streets, bridges, shopping centres and public amenities bear names and titles reflective for the most part of only one community and calls on Environment Minister Attwood to find a more suitable name for the mooted Royal Exchange project. (West Belfast)

Oddly no sense of irony that the ard fheis is taking place in the Royal Theatre in Castlebar!

[46] Recognises importance of commemorating our patriot dead in respecting past sacrifices in the cause of justice and freedom … to this end commemorative events must be inclusive … and colour parties should adhere to an agreed dress code of shirts and ties. (Dublin) PASSED

[49] Proposes that the Easter Lily be made into a sticker. (Tipperary) MOTION WITHDRAWN

Wikipedia provides a useful diversion to explain some background to the Stickies versus Pinheads history:

At the 1967 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis a motion from the Tippearary Cummain calling for the Easter Lily to be supplied with a self-adhesive backing was passed. After the 1969/70 IRA split, which led to the emergence of the Provisional IRA, the Official IRA and Official Sinn Féin kept the Easter Lily with a self-adhesive backing while the Provisional’s reverted to the traditional paper and pin Easter Lily. This led to the members of the Official IRA and Official Sinn Féin being referred to pejoratively as the “Stickies”. On the other hand, the Provisionals became known as the “Pinheads”, a nickname which has not lasted.

[53] Comments those involved in the ‘Occupy’ movement as being an example of effective, peaceful protest. (Galway) PASSED

[54] Calls on Sinn Fein members of SIPTU to put forward motions to their union conference calling on SIPTU to withdraw its affiliation to the Labour Party. (Dublin) PASSED

[72] Calls on Executive to come forward with finance to support the creation of the Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) system. (West Belfast) PASSED

[97] That Allied Irish Bank, Bank of Ireland, Irish Life & Permanent, EBS Building Society and Irish Nationwide be fully nationalised to create one ‘super bank’ … which will then be wound up and split into four provincial banks .. which will create county banks which operate along the lines of credit unions. (Kildare) PASSED

(166) Supports for legislative changes to verdicts in Coroner’s Courts in the Six Counties to require majority verdicts in line with practice in the 26 Counties, Britain and elsewhere instead of current unanimous verdicts. (Ard Chomhairle) PASSED

(193) Calls on Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn to introduce a compulsory summer course in the Gaeltacht as part of the secondary education curriculum. (NUI Galway) PASSED

(243) Opposes efforts to link 1916 and the First World War as one commemoration … calls on all local authorities to submit motions that see commemorative monuments cleaned and civic buildings and streets renamed after republican unsung heroes. (various) PASSED

(246) Urges Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Football Association to start the process for forming one international team for the whole island an a 32-county league structure. (Dublin) PASSED

Flying in the face of commercial sports right management:

(247) Opposes any attempt by RTE to block out coverage of international rugby games on Freeview in the North of Ireland from 2014 to 2017. PASSED

I posted separately about the abortion motions.

Update – Someone got in touch to suggest that votes on ard fheis motions are a foregone conclusion and not affected by what delegates say in the debates. The suggestion is that a local cumann will decide in advance of the ard fheis how their voting delegates should cast their ballots. The leadership also keeps tabs on the likely voting patterns on contentious issues, giving the Ard Chomhairle a chance to propose amendments.

So “this make the debates entirely meaningless and essentially pointless theatre”.

Others suggested that a cumann will mostly only predetermine their position on the big motions that are a topic of discussion in the party – for example, abortion. On other issues, delegates will get to make their mind up in the hall.

Though it’s worth adding that since so few motions fail, there is a high level of predictability and control no matter how the delegates are organised.

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