We arrived in the Kingdom last Friday afternoon in time to do a run through on the Presidential speech before the Ard Fheis began at 5.30pm.
Each speech has to be approached differently. Sometimes it’s enough to have speaking points to work from. Sometimes you speak without notes. Sometimes there will be a script around which you can ad lib. But the Ard Fheis speech is counted down to the last word. There is a fixed length of time and little opportunity to make a mistake or be spontaneous. It is a very rigid structure and made all the more so because you have 3000 words or so to deal with the big issues of the day while setting out the republican vision and explaining how republican solutions would come at problems differently.
The Ard Fheis speech is changed right up to the last minute which causes some concern, especially for the RTE crew who are trying to ensure that it all runs smoothly.
The weather in the Kingdom was spectacular. One BBC journalist from Belfast mused that as he got off his plane at Kerry airport he thought he had landed in Spain! The sky was blue, there was a light haze over the mountains and a gentle breeze, and the heat was intense.
As Ard Fheiseanna go Killarney’s must rank as one of the hottest – weather wise that is. It was the first topic of conversation in the morning and the start of every conversation before the delegates began to talk politics.
The National Convention Centre looked well. The delegates were attentive; the speakers articulate and enthusiastic. It was by general acclamation a very good Ard Fheis. Even the media coverage wasn’t bad.
But predictably a lot of the interest in my remarks was centred on the austerity treaty. In particular exactly how long I was going to devote to it in my speech. RTE had invited the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny to respond to my criticism of the treaty by giving him the same amount of time I used.
As it turned out he got half a minute longer.
It would have been easier and more informative for the public if Mr. Kenny, as leader of the YES side, had simply agreed to a debate with me but he refused.
Some accused him of running away but that wasn’t the real reason. When the Fianna Fáil leader challenged him on this last week the Taoiseach said;
“Were I to cave in to the pressure that has been around for some days I would be elevating Deputy Adams to the position of Leader of the Opposition …”
And as he made his way into a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning the Taoiseach’s response to the possibility of a debate was even more tetchy than usual. He said: “I am not going to be shoved around by Sinn Féin. I am not going to give a platform to somebody who I don't regard as the leader of the Opposition to propagate what are blatant lies and hypocritical assertions."
That doesn't show much respect to the electorate or the intelligence of Irish people.
Fine Gael and Labour are happy with Fianna Fail sitting across the chamber from them acting out the role of an opposition party.
Why wouldn’t they be? After all they are implementing Fianna Fáil policy. It is Sinn Féin that is holding this bad government to account and challenging it’s decisions and policies on the floor of the Dáil and the Seanad.
With their junior partners in Labour reeling from one bad opinion poll result after another the last thing Fine Gael want to do is be forced into treating Sinn Fein as the main opposition party.
It is also now just two days to the referendum vote. As Enda Kenny remarked this is more important a vote than electing a government because the longer term implications for the state are so grave.
Last night in Dublin Sinn Féin held a packed last political rally calling for a NO vote. There were hundreds in the rotunda and genuine enthusiasm about making one last major push for a NO vote.
It’s all to play for. There are many citizens who still haven’t made up their mind about this treaty - and although I have a healthy disregard for polls - the general trend in recent weeks suggests that the gap is beginning to narrow.
As well as the huge number of people who haven’t yet made up their minds, there are many others who feel they are being coerced into voting YES by the scare tactics of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail.
So, let’s get out there and make it happen. Austerity isn’t working now and won’t start working on 1st June. Neither will it bring stability or certainty. It will mean more cuts. Join with the millions across Europe who are demanding an end to austerity.
It is a good and patriotic and positive action to say NO to a Treaty that is bad for you, bad for your family and community, bad for society and entirely without any social or economic merit.
On Thursday. Vote No.
Terry O Sullivan, President of the International Labourers Union of North America who presented Martin and I with their annual award.