It’s interesting, the people – some expected, some unexpected – one meets at a political Ard Fheis – in this case, Sinn Féin’s in Dublin’s ultra-modern glass and steel, Liffey-fronting Convention Centre recently.
The former included loyal, hardworking party stalwarts – both at local and national level. People like Donegal Councillor and youth worker, John Sheamais Ó’Fearraigh, from the Gaeltacht hamlet of Bun na Leaca, Gaoth Dobhair, who voiced his concerned “about the closure of rural post offices and banks and lack of broadband coverage and tourism development, as well how European legislation on planning and wild life is preventing rural development – all leading to the export of our youth and loss of our Teanga Dúchas.”
And Inishowen Councillor Albert Doherty from Carndonagh who spoke passionately to the 2,500 party members about “unfortunate Donegal residents who are having to watch their homes disintegrate before their very eyes” because of Muscovite mica, a mineral that weakens concrete. He called for the government’s much-delayed experts report to be concluded by August 31.
Then there’s Pearse Doherty, TD. Though only six years since his victorious High Court case against Fianna Fail for delaying the Donegal South-West by-election, Doherty has risen in the party ranks astronomically since, culminating in national kudos recently when he found a gaping two billion euro hole in Fine Gael’s ‘fiscal space,’ (the amount of money available to the government above what is already being spent on public services). His value to Sinn Fein was more than obvious last weekend when I entered the so-called ‘green room’ to find him engaged in whispered conversation with party president Gerry Adams and vice-president Mary Lou McDonald. Even though a photograph was required of him for this article, a subliminal ‘not-to-be-disturbed’ sign hung clearly in the air.
All three Donegal politicians supported calls made by delegates under the party banner “Saoirse Ceart Aontacht’ for the rejuvenation of rural Ireland, on behalf of people the official Ard Fheis programme declared, “are tired of being treated as second-class citizens, fed up with under-investment and angry at the lack of jobs and opportunities.” Among the motions to strengthen rural areas under the document, ‘A New Deal for the West,’ were “the introduction of rural equality legislation; a spatial enterprise and infrastructure strategy backed up with financial stimulus; a commitment to significant investment to protect and enhance public services; support for traditional industries, particularly co-operatives; and measures to assist emigrants wishing to return.”
Such were the expected.
Among the unexpected was meeting author and former ‘Sunday Times’ managing editor and ‘Daily Mirror’ editor, Roy Greenslade, now journalism professor at City University London, my alma mater, who now pens an insightful media blog for ‘The Guardian.’ From sturdy working-class roots in east London and a fellow West Ham fan, Greenslade has been a long-time supporter of Sinn Fein. We met way back in the mid-80’s ago when he and his wife, Noreen, a former national feature writer, visited me in Kansas City and later at Mirror HQ before I headed off to the Romanian revolution, former Yugoslavia and the Iraq war. Greenslade bought Ballyarr House in Ramelton and two years ago stood surety for Creeslough-based former IRA member John Downey after his arrest at Gatwick Airport.
Last, but not least, was Danny Morrison, Sinn Fein’s former national publicity director, now successful fiction and non-fiction author and international creative writing trainer. Dressed stylishly in black hat and long leather coat, the affable man reminded me of Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrait of Aristide Bruant, famous on so many posters. Both Greenslade and Morrison have been invited as special guest speakers at this year’s ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ held at Teac Jack’s in Glassagh from June 27 to July 3.
For those interested in writing a novel, poetry or a memoir, or simply want to hear some fascinating speakers, this is the place to head for. It should be a most stimulating week. You can stay for the whole week, or sign up for several of the days. Your choice.