Sinn Fein held its first full conference since before the pandemic over the weekend and the first since the party topped May’s general election.
Here are six takeaways from the event.
SF thinks the NI protocol dispute is an ‘excuse’
Sinn Fein maintains his view that the DUP’s decision not to rejoin Stormont’s government is an “excuse” for not serving with a nationalist prime minister.
The party’s deputy leader, Michelle O’Neill – the first minister-designate – said the DUP was “punishing” the public with its Stormont boycott because it was “no secret” that the union party did not serve with it in the apparent top position wanted, although both roles carry equal weight in the executive branch.
This argument holds true despite the reality that the DUP went into the May elections making it clear that they would not return to the executive unless issues surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol were addressed, and subsequently secured a significant mandate at the secured the basis of this attitude.
Party relies on boost votes from emigrants
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald appealed to Irish emigrants to return home. “Enjoy your experience, work hard but come home and be part of the new Ireland we must build. We need you,” she said.
While she cited several reasons why expats should return, the phrase “we need you” is revealing as it indicates that Sinn Fein is hoping for the return of expats to not only win the party’s votes in the elections, but also their potential to increase border survey.
SF considers reunification to be possible within this decade
Sinn Fein has previously been quite vague on exactly when a border poll should be called, but has frequently urged the UK government to set forth without delay the requirements for the Foreign Secretary of Northern Ireland to call a poll.
When reunification is possible, Ms McDonald was clearer at the conference.
“Ireland has three great opportunities in this decade: the reunification of our country; achieving energy independence; and the power of our young people,” she said.
This seems, according to many experts and commentators, to be an unrealistic timeline for a survey to be successful.
There are only eight years left in this decade, and such a poll would require significant movement by voters from their current stance, according to recent polls.
Dowdall affair hurts party
Former Sinn Féin councilor Jonathan Dowdall was recently jailed for abetting the murder of David Byrne at a boxing weigh-in at the Regency Hotel in 2016.
During the conference, Ms McDonald took the time to address the issue and Dowdall’s connection to the party at length, stating that she did not believe his association with Sinn Fein harmed the party, as party officials had “no clue” about crime was involved.
The fact that Ms Donald had to say this at the annual conference shows that the party does indeed recognize that the Dowdall affair has hurt them.
“This person was once a very respectable person in north central Dublin,” stressed Ms McDonald.
“So the shock wasn’t just ours, it was widespread, but let me just reassure you if we had known it wouldn’t have been around us or in the Sinn Féin party.”
Sinn Fein demands EU-UK negotiation deadline
Ms McDonald hit “procrastination” at the UK government’s negotiations with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol, but went a step further than the party before by demanding a deadline for the talks to end.
“[The UK Government] must immediately bring clarity, a timeline for completing negotiations with the European Union and restoring the executive,” she said.
As already seen in the Brexit negotiations of the last few years, deadlines have not been effective in securing solutions on EU-UK issues. In the past, they have come and gone with nothing to show, only further solidifying the attitudes of those involved.
Joint calls to the authorities do not go away
There has recently been an uproar from trade unionists after suggestions were made that if the impasse in Stormont continues, there should be joint authority over the government of Northern Ireland by London and Dublin.
This sparked concern from the main unionist parties and within Loyalism in general, with reports that a paramilitary attack on the Republic was being planned, only to be canceled at the last minute after the Northern Ireland Office issued a statement stating that the ruled out the idea of a common authority.
Referring to the situation at Stormont, Ms O’Neill said: “I would demand that there is actually a very clear statement from the UK Government next week actually saying what they are going to do next.”
Ms McDonald later added that if the DUP were not ready to return to government, there would have to be a “Dublin-London partnership agreement”.
The comments make it clear that calls for shared authority will not go away anytime soon as the standoff at Stormont continues.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/six-takeaways-from-sinn-feins-annual-conference-42123884.html Six takeaways from Sinn Fein’s annual conference