Sinn Féin to have its first congress in Belfast

The annual conference of the Irish republican party for the first time in the North of Ireland
In less than two hours yet another historical event will take place in the troubled Anglo-Irish peace process. Today and tomorrow Sinn Féin will be holding its first Ard Fheis (annual conference) in Belfast.
Up until last year the Conference was held “in the South”, “South of the Border”, to use a language which also is slowly changing.
There is a sense of excitement for this event, because for many Belfast was prohibited. Unthinkable only a few years ago, as many delegates were on the run or wanted by the British authorities and so could have never turned up at the annual congress in Belfast.
But times are changing. Slowly, as Sinn Féin knows only to well.
The peace process is still on track but peace has by not means been reached, not are we half way through it. Republicans have certainly made great achievements. For a start Sinn Féin is now in a shared government with the unionists. And indeed the keynote address tonight will be made by the North of Ireland Assembly (the sort of devolved parliament set up as a result of the Good Friday Agreement signed by Sinn Féin, SDLP, some unionist parties, the Irish and British governments in 1998) deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. In the Assembly seat many Sinn Féin ministers and deputies. Likewise many cities in the Six Counties are run by republican mayors. The first being Belfast, whose Sinn Féin mayor is only 26 years of age.
Gains have been made in the Republic of Ireland too. Sinn Féin now seats in the Dail, the Irish parliament. At the last elections the Republican party sent as many as 14 deputies to the Dail. Indeed Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams is today leading the parliamentary group and seats in the Dail. Something unthinkable only a few years ago. Still vivid in the memory the times when Gerry Adams’s voice could not be heard: Republicans were interviewed and their voices dubbed by actors because of the notorious Section 31, the law which forbid the voice of Sinn Féin people to be broadcast.

Sinn Féin has booked the prestigious Waterfront Conference Centre in Belfast (a place opened in 1997) for the conference.

This weekend will bear a particular significance for many Irish republicans. Two days of intense debate because the issues on the agenda are many.

The challenges in a peace process which often stalls are many and will be many more in the years ahead.

But Sinn Féin has its eyes firmly on the target.

The Ard Fheis will begin at 6pm today (Greenwich time). Martin McGuinness will give a keynote speech tonight, while Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams will be delivering his speech tomorrow night.

The Agenda / Clár for the two day event is as follows:

Friday 9th September 2011

6.00pm Opening Address

6.10pm Education (Motions 1-23)

6.50pm Keynote Address by Martin McGuinness MLA MP

7.00pm Culture, An Gaeilge, Arts & Tourism (Motions 24-32)

7.30pm Uniting Ireland (Motions 33-37)

8.00pm International Affairs (Motions 38-49)

8.30pm Party Development (Motions 50-78)

9.00 pm Close

Saturday 10th September 2011

10.00am Transport & Environment (Motions 79-93)

11.00am Keynote Addresses – Llive on RTÉ and BBC

1.00pm Lunch

2.00pm Economy (Motions 94-125)

3.20pm International Speakers

3.40pm Health (Motions 126-147)

4.15pm Housing (Motions 148-162)

5.00pm Tea

6.00pm Peace Process and Truth (Motions 163-171)

6.45pm Political Reform (Motions 172-181)

7.30pm Justice and Equality (Motions 182-198)

8.30pm Presidential Address

9.00pm Close

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