#SFAF18 — What to expect?

15 June 2018 - by Gráinne Walsh

Having spent some time this week with journalists and Prince Charles, the new Sinn Féin leadership team of Mary Lou McDonald TD and Michelle O'Neill MLA faces its first Ard Fheis as President and Vice President in the Belfast Waterfront this weekend.

So what will occupy their time? Firstly, abortion. The party has to manage the fall-out from the referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution. While some southern members publicly grapple with divided loyalties on this issue, the dynamic in the North is somewhat different, the DUP being cast as the naysayers on this particular political, social and personal drama.

As with other parties in the Republic of Ireland, will there be a parting of the ways between Sinn Féin and some of its members? McDonald has been robust on the topic thus far — with respect to public policy, members must adhere to the party line. So, let’s wait and see.

Secondly, the party faces the challenge of navigating the UK's exit from the European Union. Will Brexit, England's crisis, to coin a phrase, prove to be Ireland's (or Sinn Féin’s) opportunity?

Clearly, as most recent polls show, people are unsettled, though it is too early to say if this will gather momentum. Sinn Féin has the opportunity to contribute to the debate while building its electoral base in the Republic, alongside retaining and growing support north of the border.

A key aspect of the project will be the development of those policies and strategies that will deliver the Sinn Féin vision of a united Ireland. 

Whether it is an economic model that delivers inclusive growth, a 32-county health service free at the point of delivery, or a society that respects all cultures — specifically protestant unionist culture — Sinn Féin will need to convince the electorate, and potential coalition partners in the island's two jurisdictions, that it can deliver better outcomes for all. 

It's going to be an interesting weekend.

What’s happening at lunchtime?

Martina Anderson MEP will lead a session on Brexit during a lunchtime fringe event. She will be joined by Queen's University Belfast's Professor Colin Harvey and John Sheridan from Border Communities Against Brexit.

Across the hall, Sinn Féin economy spokesperson Conor Murphy MLA will be discussing how inclusive growth can increase prosperity with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's chief economist, Ashwin Kumar, and Mark Huddleston, the former Commissioner for Employment and Skills in Northern Ireland. That takes place at 1pm in Meeting Room 2. 

Elsewhere, Pearse Doherty TD will host a lunchtime event with the former leader of the PUP, Brian Ervine, who joins the Irish-speaking panel to explore the ‘resolute action’ of the Good Friday Agreement.