Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein ard fheis: Aran jumpers, Easter Rising candles and selfies with Gerry Adams

By Noel McAdam

Government teetering towards collapse...stalemate and grand-standing....crisis talks and edge-of-cliff negotiations....”nothing agreed until everything is agreed”

It was almost as if Stormont had shifted 100-odd miles south, to Dublin where the main parties are trying to put an administration together - eight weeks after the election.

The fragile, fragmented, pheonix-like government appeared to be doing a very good impression of our power-sharing parties and Executive.

And it was against this backdrop that Sinn Fein held its annual ard fheis over the weekend in the palatial dockland surroundings of the glittering glass-fronted National Convention Centre.

It seemed way too posh for the ‘Shinners’ who only a few years ago were crammed into the dusty library of the Royal Dublin Society which somehow seemed a better fit.

But this is a party which thinks it has arrived and the next step, maybe 18 months away or less, will be into government in the Repubic, as it is already here.

Nonetheless it was more the timing of the event which was being emphasised, than the location, because the party deliberately delayed the gathering to coincide with the calender anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

“Join the Rising” said the giant posters plastered along with the front of the building, everywhere inside and almost the last words spoken by Gerry Adams in his closing address.

Speaker after speaker laid claim to the spirit, history and legacy of the small century-old rebellion, and a reprint of their original Proclamation was the first thing featured in the glossy conference agenda.

Declan Kearney - who looks set to replace Mitchel McLaughlin in the next Assembly - said it most starkly. “100 years on from the Easter Rising this party has the vision and energy to achieve the Proclamation.”

Martin McGuinness said it was an “historic weekend” and hugged Mary Lou McDonald who brought delegates to their feet with her praise of the “vision” of the men and women of 1916.

But despite many reasons to be cheerful - almost doubling their seats in the Dail which has yet to meet - the atmosphere on Saturday was at times oddly flat.

It was as if delegates were caught between commemoration of the Rising and celebration - of the ‘united Ireland to come’ - and ended up falling between two stools. And some said numbers were down.

One senior official explained that with one eye on the Assembly elections - the televised portion of Saturday featured virtually back-to-back candidates - numbers were down. Some were anxious about leaving their campaign trails cold.

“A lot of people think they are better out on the doorstep this weekend that coming down here. Elections are not won by party gatherings,” he said.

Framed photoes of the Proclamation were on sale at 15 Euros along with souvenir candles, Aran sweaters and Gerry Adams was doing a tour of the stalls, doing dozens of “selfies” as he was ratified President of the party for the 33rd time.  No sign of any challenge soon: he has the job for as long as he wants.

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