Republic of Ireland news

Sinn Féin ard fheis: Plush riverside setting reflects party's rising stature

Gerry Adams is joined on the stage of the Convention Centre by (left to right) Michelle Gildernew, Catherine Seeley, Mary Lou McDonald, Martin McGuinness and Pearse Doherty. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association
Analysis by John Manley

SITUATED on the River Liffey’s north bank and part of the regenerated Spencer Dock, Dublin’s Convention Centre is a symbol of a confident and thriving capital city.

It’s the glass one that looks like a drinks can tipped at 45 degrees and is a matter of minutes from Liberty Hall, Moore Street and the GPO, places that exactly 100 years ago played a role in the violent uprising which led ultimately to the creation of a 26-county Irish Republic.

For many that struggle is history, but not for Sinn Féin, which is scathing of those who claim the ideals of Pearse, Connolly, Clarke, et al have already been realised.

The rather plush venue, chosen for this year’s ard fheis because its location close to the spiritual home of Irish republicanism, not only reflects a transformation in Irish society but also in the fortunes of Sinn Féin, which is now closer to the political mainstream than at any time for nearly a century.

Despite this, the party’s goal of a unified Ireland remains as elusive as ever.

What Martin McGuinness calls "an agreed Ireland" – after John Hume – may be more realisable, if only he could explain what it is.

Sinn Féin continues to be a party on the rise and though support north of the border may have peaked, there are still gains to be made in the south, where politics is in state of unprecedented flux.

The situation isn’t quite that envisaged not so long ago when Mr McGuinness predicted his party would mark the centenary of the Rising by being in power on both sides of the border, yet it’s a far cry from the days of duffel coats and broadcasting bans – though this year the BBC did impose a black-out on the conference due its proximity to the forthcoming Stormont election.

This year’s ard fheis deliberately coincided with the eve of the calendar anniversary of Easter 1916 and carried the strapline 'Join the Rising', so commemoration was a key theme of the weekend.

On Saturday evening, delegates were treated to re-enactments of Easter 1916’s events, including the marriage of Joseph Plunkett in Kilmainham jail on the eve of his execution.

The other theme was attacking Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. It's one that’s likely to remain constant beyond the centenary year, as Sinn Féin seeks to exploit a growing disillusionment with establishment politics in the south.

The climax, as always, was freshly re-elected party president Gerry Adams’s speech, beamed live across the 26-counties and beyond the border by an unconstrained RTE.

It’s fair to say the address, while ticking all the necessary boxes, didn’t match the occasion, and Mr Adams fluffing the rallying cry of "Up the Republic" at the close only underlined the sense of anti-climax.

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