In this article chairman of Derry Sinn Féin ANDREW MCCARTNEY looks back on a year of elections and commemorations and ahead to a major All Ireland conference which will be held in the city next month.
As I look back over the past year as chairperson of Derry Sinn Fein I do so with a degree of satisfaction when you look at what our party has achieved locally within that year.
I have been a republican activist since I was a teenager and have held many roles within the party throughout this time. As in any organisation it is always an honour to be selected by your peers to take up a senior position as it is a clear vote of confidence by them in your ability. So it was for me when the membership voted to make me their chairperson at our annual general meeting. At this meeting I pledged to lead the party locally to a new level. We were looking ahead to three elections; one in February in the 26 counties, and two in May, Council and Assembly, and also at the 30th Anniversary of the Hunger Strike.
Padraig Mac Lochlainn chaired our AGM and we pledged to him our support to get him elected as TD for Donegal North East. We had already been instrumental a few months earlier in getting Pearse Doherty elected in the Donegal South West bye election.
I pointed out that we needed to commemorate the Hunger Strikers in a fitting way and we achieved this through the excellent events that were organised by the ’81 Committee, the largest and most fitting being the massive mobilisation on May 1st which saw thousands march through Creggan past Mickey Devine’s house down to Bishop St past Patsy O’Hara’s house and onto the beautiful Hunger Strike Monument at Rossville St. I also pointed out that we needed to make political advancement and that the May 5th elections would provide us with that opportunity. We showed our leadership qualities in the run in to the election. One clear example of this leadership was our ability through Martin McGuinness to guarantee the cancer unit for Altnagelvin which Michael McGimpsey tried to block from coming to the North West.
We also provided the citizens of Derry the opportunity to talk directly to our Ministerial Team at a ‘Town Hall’ meeting in the Waterfoot Hotel in April. We brought Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Education Minister Catriona Ruane and Department of Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy, along with recently elected TD Padraig MacLochlainn and our MLA’s Martina Anderson and Raymond McCartney and our ten councillors to the hall for round table discussions with all those who choose to turn up and engage with them.
In the election in May we came to within 499 votes of the SDLP, a remarkable result given that the previous year we were 5000 votes behind them. This result saw our MLA Martina Anderson selected by the Party to be a Junior Minister in OFMDFM and our MLA Raymond McCartney selected by the party to be Assembly Group Leader. It also saw our Director of Elections, Mark Mullan, selected by the party to be special advisor to Education Minister, John O’Dowd, giving Derry Sinn Féin three of its members as special advisors to ministers, Paul Kavanagh to OFMDFM and Conor Heaney to DARD. Derry Sinn Féin is right at the heart of government.
Coming out of May I thought we would have a bit of a break from elections and space for some party building but our leadership had different ideas. Over the summer months the presidential campaign was looming in the background and the party had to make a decision to back a candidate or stand one of our own. In making the decision they made our party leadership are to be commended for putting Martin McGuinness forward.
Derry played a very significant role in Martin’s campaign and I was honoured to be asked by the party to organise his campaign launch at Free Derry Wall on 29th September. That event was a major challenge for us as we wanted Martin to leave Derry with as broad a send off that was possible. The event at Free Derry Wall spoke for itself in terms of the platform party and indeed the audience.
Throughout the year, Derry Sinn Féin has risen to a new level but as chairperson, I can’t let it rest there. I have to continue to build the party locally and look to new challenges.
January 28th 2012 will be another challenge. On that date, the weekend of the 40th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Derry Sinn Féin will host one of a series of Uniting Ireland Conferences. This will be held in the Millennium Forum and will be attended by a number of high profile figures. It is our intention to put over one thousand people into the Forum to hear our vision of a New Ireland and how we intend to achieve it. The last time we held a conference in the Forum was in 2007 on Policing when we set out our strategy and approach to this important subject. At that Conference we packed the hall and we intend to do so again on another very important subject.
28th January 2012 will allow all those who want to debate the merits or otherwise of a United Ireland the opportunity to do so. I would encourage as many people as possible to come along and take part in the debate or to at least listen to the contributions that will be made.
I look forward to a very fruitful year for our party locally coming to an end and will approach my second year as Chairperson knowing that the challenge of this Uniting Ireland Conference being a success will start the thought process of Derry hosting our party’s Ard Fheis in 2013.