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 has been held outside Dublin and sets in motion a policy of taking the annual conference around the country, with Killarney in County Kerry already pencilled in for next year.
With most hotel rooms in the city booked and live coverage on RTé, the Waterfront Hall two-day gathering of party members will also be a major fillip to the Belfast economy. The event comes in a year in which 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, Bobby Storey, said bringing the Ard Fheis to Belfast caps a tremendous year for the party and said 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.”
Bobby revealed that local members of the party would be playing leading 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 when 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 9pm 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 he 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, a crucial session on suicide prevention, a Basque event, and a discussion hosted by members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community.
On Friday there will also be a social evening for the many visitors who have travelled to Belfast from around the country in the Emerald Roadhouse on Finaghy Road North. The West Belfast Taxi Association will also be busy running tours throughout the weekend to various historical sites in West Belfast.
“Anyone who wishes to attend the Ard Fheis should contact their local councillor,” added Bobby.
“It will be an historic occasion for Sinn Féin and a first for Belfast.”