Ard Fheis evolution underlines the changing face of Sinn Féin

World of Politics with Harry McGee

It had been a while since I had covered Sinn Féin Ard Fheiseanna before my drive down to Athlone early on Saturday. The first one I ever covered was in Killinarden in 1994. It was held in a community hall. Killinarden in Tallaght is a working-class area which had its fair share of deprivation at the time.

The conference was held in February. That was only a few months before the IRA called its first ceasefire, one of those turning points in the history of that conflict.

Though held in Dublin, the Ard Fheis was dominated by Northern politicians that year and – understandably – by Northern issues, not least the ongoing debate about the IRA calling a ceasefire.

Indeed, though the party had dropped its abstentionist policy since 1966, it would be another three years before it would get its first TD elected to the Dáil who would sit in parliament: Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin in 1997.

I’ve probably covered more than half a dozen conferences since then, most of them held in Dublin’s RDS. And even until recent years, I always felt that they remained dominated by Northern politicians and Northern issues.

Not so this time.

At the Ard Fheis in Athlone, when it came to the domestic agenda, the Southern slant was unmistakable. Mary Lou McDonald’s speech focused almost exclusively on the 26 counties.

That is not too surprising, given that the party is odds-on to become the biggest party after the next election and achieve its long-cherished ambition of being the biggest party in both jurisdictions.

Timing is key there too: it could be the last Ard Fheis before the next general election.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since 1994 – and Sinn Féin has changed hugely. If you read An Phoblacht at the time you would have seen the party describe itself in terms of being a socialist republican party. Some of its more ideological members described themselves as Marxist.

Pictured: Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald with Party Vice-President Michelle O’Neill at the Ard Fheis in Athlone last weekend.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

More like this:

Sign Up To get Weekly Sports UPDATES

Go Up