#sfaf14 Sinn Féin ard fheis motions – universal broadband & 4G; praise for Belfast Lord Mayor; abortion (again), underground power lines; removing FOI charges

Sinn Féin ard fheis is underway in Wexford’s Opera House.

SFAF14 clarThe party has a long history of streaming its annual conference online, so you’ll be able to follow the business. (Though I do wish the party would stump up the cash top remove the adverts that appear in the middle of speeches.)

The full clár is online, along with up-to-date progress on which motions pass and fail.

Below are some of the motions that caught my eye – not necessarily the most important ones! Unionists will shake their heads in wonder at the all-encompassing gamut of motions that will be debated and decided by the party membership (or those representing them at the conference).

Motion 9 calls upon the Irish Government to explore the possibility of creating a semi-state company that will provide a reliable cloud computing platform hosted in Ireland for indigenous businesses to enjoy an affordable, secure environment in which to operate and grow their enterprises. PASSED – though in the meantime we should note that sinnfein.ie is currently hosted in Pittsburgh, US

Motion 12 wants the introduction of a statutory Universal Broadband Service Obligation to ensure that every home and business across the island of Ireland has access to a fast, reliable and affordable broadband internet connection. Also welcomes the investment by the Six County Agriculture Minister to address ‘not spots’ and calls on the Executive to work together to rectify the imbalance so that rural dwellers and businesses are not disadvantaged. PASSED

Motion 13 notes failure of private mobile phone companies to provide adequate coverage in rural communities; calls for the provision of 100% indoor coverage from 4G mobile phone coverage across the island of Ireland, with any additional funding required to be secured from local councils, the Executive, the Dublin and London governments and the Connecting Europe Facility; and further calls for the abolition of roaming charges across Ireland. PASSED – though no timeframe specified for the over-ambitious 100% indoor 4G coverage target. Three seem to be leading the way with all-island (NI/ROI) (and far beyond) roaming.

Motion 18. A secular motion to revoke the charitable status of religious institutions in the 26 Counties, not give religious institutions should not have a special position within Irish society, and apply the same ROI tax laws to religious institutions as are applied to companies. PASSED

Motion 21 called for the abolishment Zero Hour Contracts and to make such contracts illegal as well as calling on the governments to acknowledge that Zero hour contracts create an unequal balance in term of rights and obligations that seriously disadvantages workers, with a particular impact on women and people with limited formal education, and that acknowledging that conscious exploitation of vulnerable workers extracts a huge cost on people in terms of human dignity and self-esteem, on family life and on entire communities. PASSED – so let’s await statements from Agriculture, Arts, and Education ministers announcing how they’ll enforce this policy across SF-controlled Executive departments and whether they have any response from arms length bodies.

Motion 26 included a call for the re-establishment of the Civic Forum. PASSED – with at least SDLP and SF in favour for this, it’ll still not get any traction in the Executive or Assembly.

Motion 27 commends the great work Mairtin Ó Muilleoir has done while in the office of Mayor of Belfast. Also calls for positive cross-party and cross-community engagement to agree a culture of commemoration which supports reconciliation and contributes to a shared future. PASSED – but the motion failed to note that this is the third year in the row that he hasn’t attended the SF Ard Fheis! [Update – Having spent Friday evening at Ravenhill, Mairtin called down to Wexford for the morning to give a quick speech before heading back to the City Hall.] While he may end up in the Assembly within the next couple of years, he’s more “myself alone” than “ourselves alone”!

Motion 42 calls on the Irish Government to introduce legislation which would once and for all create a truly independent policing authority in the 26 Counties. PASSED

Motion 51 commends existing party activity around gender equality and under-representation of women in organisational structures locally and nationally and reaffirms SF’s target for representation of women in leadership, elected office and membership to reach 40% before 2016 and the full 50% gender parity thereafter. (Female party membership has trebled since January 2012.)

Motion 56 ensures that all buildings used by SF are wheelchair accessible where possible to encourage more people with disabilities to join the party.

Motion 57 encourages responsible environmental behaviour and promotes the use of recycled goods for use in the production of election materials. // Encourages rather than mandates.

Last year’s Ard Fheis had a number of competing motions on abortion. While the pro-choice or pro-voting according to conscience motions failed, there’s another motion this year, now supported by 15 local party groups (including two from Derry and one from Armagh). Support is growing within SF for a change of policy. By the time the party has a new leader, change will surely be inevitable?

Motion 58 This Ard Fheis agrees that all Sinn Féin members be allowed to articulate and vote on the issue of abortion according to their conscience. DEFEATED “by a heavy margin

Motion 59 says it would be inadvisable to enter into coalition with any right-wing party in the 26 Counties. // Inadvisable though not forbidden if politically expedient?

Motion 67 wants regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy to introduce additional rail halts in rural areas on the Derry-Belfast line.

Motion 99 calls on Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry to support St Mary’s in developing measures that will ensure its long-term sustainability in the heart of west Belfast.

Motion 127 opposes new electricity pylons and seeks the “undergrounding” of new major power lines/interconnectors.

Motion 133 calls on the party to examine emerging nuclear technologies with a view to developing policies on these new technologies.

Motion 137 recognises the huge potential for the island of Ireland to become an exporter of energy with the full development of wind, wave and tidal power … but believes that the export of energy should only begin when self-sufficiency in electricity generation from renewable sources has been achieved.

Motion 144 asks Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill to work with her officials to further improve the system of Single Farm Payments, especially in relation to inspections, so that farmers can address any penalties in a way that lessens the impact on their business.

Motion 151 calls for all charges associated with accessing Freedom of Information (FoI) requests in ROI be abandoned and that the Fine Gael/Labour Government must ensure that all public instrumentalities (i.e. semi-state businesses including the Central Bank) come under the remit of the FoI Act 2013 and that NAMA be stripped of its special status (Official Secrets Act) and be deemed a public body subject to full disclosure.
A recent report shows that Ireland is the only country in Europe to impose a FoI charge and is one of only three countries worldwide that has such a charge.

Motion 152 welcomes the overwhelming vote by the Constitutional Convention in September 2013 in favour of extending the right to vote for the President of Ireland to citizens in the Six Counties and the Diaspora and calls for the Irish Government to set a date for referendum on the matter during this Dáil term (and want Northern MPs and Assembly members to have speaking and consultative rights in the Houses of the Oireachtas, including Dáil, Seanad and respective statutory committees).

Motion 153 includes a call for online postal/absentee ballot registration and absentee ballots to be available for anyone requesting them for any reason.

Motion 154 calls for the creation of an all-Ireland youth parliament.

Motion 155 (proposed by the National Youth Committee) calls for a youth quota in respect of elections to public office. “While we realise that, similar to gender quotas, this measure will not be the cure-all in tackling under-representation in public and political life, the current age imbalance is so severe that a youth quota is necessary to actively counter the forces in society which deter young people from getting involved in politics.”

Motion 156 proposes the establishment of an all-island Local Government Association to improve co-operation and to promote agreed policies between the local authorities within the island of Ireland.

Motion 160 calls the [ROI] judiciary “elitist” and “created by decades of appointments by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael/Labour governments” and wants a study of the judicial system in relation to how judges are chosen by reviewing best practices in Europe and other parts of the world, and to develop a party position statement on required judiciary reforms.

Motion 161 calls on NI Health Minister Edwin Poots to comply fully with [the judgements on same sex adoption and blood donation from gay men] and his equality obligations as an Executive minister.

And finally …

Motion 162 calls upon all members to boycott the Winter Olympics in Russia in light of Russia’s new law criminalising “the promotion of homosexuality” and breaches of human rights against the LGBT community.


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