If you are a member of Sinn Féin, and are
interested in an unwaged job, you now have until Friday January 19th
to submit your nomination papers for the position of Uachtarán Shinn
Féin. As most readers will know two months ago at the November Ard Fheis I
told the party membership that it was my intention to step down as
Uachtaráin Shinn Féin in the New Year. I asked the incoming Ard
Chomhairle to organise a special Ard Fheis to elect a new leader.
There was intense media speculation about
when this would happen. The media especially love to speculate –
frequently dressing up their guessing with words like ‘it is believed’ or ‘it is understood’ and ‘sources close to the leadership’
or ‘well-placed sources.’ Not
infrequently, especially by those renowned for their anti-Sinn Féin bias,
it is all just invented.
Some suggested that my departure could take
up to a year or that I wouldn’t stand down until the negotiations in the
North had concluded, for good or ill. I have to say that none of that
played any part in my decision. My one consideration was to provide the
new leader with sufficient time to prepare him or herself for the next
general election in the South.
I was and am entirely confident and
comfortable in the ability of Michelle O’Neill and her team in the North
to negotiate with the DUP, the British and Irish governments and manage
the challenge of finding a resolution to the crisis here.
Just before Christmas the new Ard Chomhairle
of the party met and decided on the timetable for the leadership
election. Earlier this week our National Chairperson Declan Kearney
announced that the Special Ard Fheis will be on February 10th in
the RDS in Dublin. The nomination process for the vacancy for Uachtaráin
Shinn Féin opened on Monday morning.
There are two weeks for anyone thinking of
running for the job to secure the necessary support for nomination. For a
candidate to be nominated they must be a member of the party for a
minimum of one year and have renewed their membership for 2018. The
prospective candidates also require the support of at least ten of the
300 plus registered cumainn across the island (cumann are essentially
local branches) or the support of two registered comhairle ceantair (the
next tier of middle leadership that co-ordinates the work of Cumainn in
There will then be a three week period for
the candidates to speak to the party membership at specially convened
regional meetings where candidates can debate their respective vision for
the party and for the future. On Saturday February 10th each cumann will send three voting delegates
to the Ard Fheis. Each of the 50 or so Comhairlí Ceantair will send two
voting delegates. And the four Cúigí, representing the four European Parliament constituencies on the island of
Ireland, also have two votes each at the special Ard Fheis.
In addition, the 12 directly elected members
of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle will have one vote each, as will the
Uachtarán and Leas Uachtarán, and the two treasurers and secretary. That
means up to 1200 Sinn Féin members will participate in the democratic
process of electing the next leader of the party.
The new leader of Sinn Féin will face many
challenges, some of these internal to the party as we seek to continue to
grow in political strength and improve the skills of our activists. It is
a fact that Sinn Féin is electorally and organisationally stronger than
at any time since partition. This is as a result of the great team of
political activists that we have consciously developed over recent years.
We have to build on this and make Sinn Féin, as a national movement, fit
There are also external challenges facing the
new leader. These include the need to agree a positive outcome to the negotiations
to restore the power sharing, partnership institutions in the North; the
all-island bodies established by the Good Friday Agreement; preparing the
party for a general election in the 26 counties and potential elections
in the North; and charting a course through the madness that is Brexit.
As the only all-island republican party
committed to a United Ireland the Good Friday Agreement provides the
means by which an end to the Union can be achieved. Political and
demographic changes in the North and the outworking of Brexit mean that
there is a greater interest in, and willingness to be open to, the
possibility of a United Ireland. This is our primary political and
strategic national objective and nothing will change that until we
So, this is an exciting time to be an Irish
republican and to be part of the process of renewal and regeneration in the
party. On February 10th we will have a new party leader who
will bring their own unique style and vision to the party.
With a new leader at the helm I am confident
that Sinn Féin will grow even bigger and stronger in the time ahead. So,
if you want a new future, a better future, a future determined by
citizens, and not by elites in Dublin or London, then join me and twelve
thousand others in Sinn Féin as we write a new and defining chapter in
the history of our nation.