Speakers from South Africa, Palestine and Basque Country to feature alongside North Belfast reps

‘New Republic’ the theme of first Ard Fheis in Belfast

By Anthony Neeson

With over 1,200 delegates set to pour into Belfast, Sinn Féin are gearing up for the party’s first Ard Fheis in the city next weekend.

It’s also the first time that a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis will be held outside Dublin and sets in motion a policy of taking the annual conference around the country with Killarney in County Kerry already penciled in for next year.

With most hotel rooms in the city booked and live coverage on RTé, the Waterfront Hall two day meeting of party members should be a major fillip to the Belfast economy. It comes after a year when Sinn Féin increased its electoral strength in the Dáil, Stormont and local councils in the North, over three elections, and returned Paul Maskey as MP for West Belfast after a by-election.

Speaking ahead of next weekend’s gathering of party members in the city, Belfast chair of Sinn Féin and North Belfast man Bobby Storey, said bringing the Ard Fheis to Belfast caps a tremendous year for the party adding it was an historic move.

“There is huge interest in the Ard Fheis nationally and internationally,” he said. “After three successful elections this tops off a great year for Belfast Sinn Féin, especially with Paul Maskey retaining Gerry Adams’ seat and Niall ó Donnghaile becoming Lord Mayor of Belfast. Sinn Féin are now also the largest party in Belfast.”

Mr Storey revealed that Belfast members of the party would be playing significant roles next Friday and Saturday at the Waterfront Hall.

“Alex Maskey will be opening proceedings on Friday,” he said, “and Niall ó Donnghaile will chair the opening session.

“Niall will also open the TV session which will be beamed live on RTé on Saturday where Paul Maskey, Carál Ní Chuilín, Gerry Kelly and Conor Maskey will also be speaking to a national audience.

“There is of course huge interest in Gerry Adams’ speech and this will go out live on RTé on Saturday night at 8.30pm and there will be delayed transmission at 9 o’clock on BBC.

“The overall theme of the conference will be a united Ireland and the focus will be on a new Republic.”

The Belfast chair said there will be several international speakers over the two days from Palestine, South Africa, the Basque Country and the USA, and also revealed that the Reverend David Latimer, the moderator of the First Derry Presbyterian Church, will also speak.

Several fringe events will also take place over the two days including a youth event, suicide prevention, a Basque event, and one hosted by the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community, among others.

On Friday there will also be an evening for the many visitors who have travelled to Belfast from around the country in the Emerald Roadhouse on Finaghy Road North.

“Anyone who wishes to attend the Ard Fheis should contact their local councillor,” added Mr Storey.

“It will be an historic occasion and a first for Belfast.”

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