The first Sinn Féin Ard Fheis to be held in the west of Ireland will take place in the TF Hotel and Theatre, Castlebar, this weekend. The two day event will see up to 2,000 people coming to the county town for the occasion.
To welcome the Ard Fheis to Castlebar, Castlebar Town Council held an official civic welcome at Lough Lannagh on Monday. Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald attended the reception on behalf of the party where she was presented with a scroll of welcome by Mayor of Castlebar, Councillor Brendan Henaghan. The Mayor highlighted the positive economic contribution the Ard Fheis will have for the business community in Castlebar and Mayo. Cllr Heneghan expressed his hope that the delegates would have a fruitful and enjoyable Ard Fheis and weekend in Castlebar.
Deputy McDonald, whose paternal grandmother is from Westport, expressed her gratitude to the Mayor and councillors for “the generous welcome to Castlebar”. She said that the weekend would be a weekend of political debate with people from all 32 counties of Ireland participating in it. She added: “This Ard Fheis, the first in the west of Ireland, was a long time coming, considering Mayo and Connacht have such a strong republican tradition.”
Castlebar Sinn Féin councillor Thérese Ruane says that “it is a real honour” to host this Ard Fheis in Castlebar and she said that she “is very grateful to my colleagues on Castlebar Town Council for their generous welcome to it and all the delegates to our town. An action packed weekend is in store. This Ard Fheis is also a great opportunity to strengthen the Sinn Féin party in rural Ireland, in Mayo and the west.”
Belmullet area councillor Rose Conway Walsh has said that the party is gearing up for what will be a “historic occasion”. The councillor said that the Ard Fheis held in Castlebar “comes at a time when unemployment and emigration has blighted the people of the west of Ireland in a way not seen since famine times.”
Cllr Conway-Walsh commented: “Cumanns throughout Mayo have submitted motions on issues that are important to individuals and communities in the county. These include motions on primary care, Mayo hospitals, home help, carers, rural schools, rural Garda stations, natural resources, farming, employment and enterprise, and the delivery of the new rural development programme.”
The councillor concluded: “Sinn Féin in Connacht is excited and proud to play host to the most important event in the party’s calendar. We are looking forward to what is shaping up to be a lively and energetic weekend of debate on Friday and Saturday.
“This is a good opportunity for people in Mayo to hear the alternatives and solutions advocated by Sinn Féin to shape a new republic based on equality and justice.”
Registration for the Ard Fheis will take place at 5pm on Friday followed by an opening address by Councillor Therese Ruane. Motions to be discussed that night will be about public sector reform, property tax, and water charges, a United Ireland and the Peace Process, and the party development. A keynote address from Martin McGuinness will take place at 7.30pm.
Events will start on Saturday at 10am with environment and transport being discussed, the keynote address will take place at 11am and this will be broadcast live on RTÉ. Later that day, the economy, job creation and workers’ rights; international affairs; housing; defending rural Ireland; justice policing and equality; education and health; Gaeilge and culture will be debated. Finally, at 8.30pm the presidential address by Gerry Adams will take place.
As well as the formal debates on policy, there will be workshops and fringe meetings during the weekend such as Reclaiming Our Natural Resources which will take place on Saturday in the Humbert Room from 5pm to 6pm; Women Changing the World—in the Ruby Room on Saturday from 1pm to 2pm. Relatives of 1916 leaders will be present at The Fight to Save Moore Street on Saturday from 5pm to 6pm in the Ruby Room, and relatives of victims of the Ballymurphy Massacre will speak in the Board Room from 1pm to 2pm on Saturday.
A special public meeting for farmers to discuss CAP reform including the single farm payment will be hosted by Martin Ferris TD in the Humbert Room on Friday at 5pm.
There will also be literary and arts exhibitions as well as information stands from up to 100 organisations and community groups.