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‘Impatient Republicans’ gather in Belfast for Ógra National Congress.
Tuesday November 17, 2009 23:41 by Ógra Shinn Féin - Ógra Shinn Féin
Last weekend saw in excess of a hundred young republican activists, gather at the Felons Club in Belfast for the Ógra Shinn Féín national congress. The weekend was the conclusion of a significant year for Ógra in which the republican youth movement remembered the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the original republican youth movement, Na Fianna Éireann.
The Weekend began on the Friday with an opening address from local MP and Uachtarán Shinn Féin, Gerry Adams. In addressing the congress he urged young republicans to continue to fight for the communities that are being hit most by the present recession, and for our national democratic aims.
This was followed by the final Address from outgoing National Organiser Barry MacColgan. Barry welcomed delegates from 'as far away as Cork, Derry and East Belfast' to the Congress. Reflecting on the past three years as organiser with pride, he expressed his confidence in the organisation to continue to build, and offered his continuing support as a member of Ógra.
The congress then launched in to the substantive part of the congress, with delegates beginning the debate on the motions on various issues of concern to young people.
The Friday evening drew to a close with a screening of the play ‘The Young Guard of Erin’, which told the story of Na Fianna Éireann and some of the young Belfast Fianna, and Cumann na gCailíní girls who died in the most recent phase of struggle, and music from the Spirit of Freedom.
The congress restarted bright and early the following morning with a further tranche of motions, and the debate continuing unabated on issues as diverse as the EU, Parades, and the Environment, before moving on to the workshops.
A number of prominent republicans including Padraig Wilson, Bobby Storey, Sean Murray, Daithi McKay, and Eoin O Bróin agreed to conduct these workshops, which all activists found to be of great value, with many ideas being hatched for the next twelve months of activism.
Meanwhile voting for the positions on the National Executive was going strong. The successful activists from a very strong field were Órla Ní Dhúill, John McDermott, Daithi Byrne, Joe Lynch, Laura Gildernew and Kerry McColgan.
A further election saw Portadown activist Gemma McKenna elected to the Ard Chomhairle, in a tight race with Mark Moloney of Dublin.
Former National Organiser of Ógra, Eoin O’Broin, was joined by Stephen Agnew of the green party for the Public Talk, ‘Ireland’s future – Free Green and Left’. Following both speakers addresses, the highly entertaining debate continued from the floor, and any observer would surely have been struck by the quality and maturity of debate from Ógra members.
Following the very positive Cúige organisers’ reports, in which all cúigí reported development and growth, Sinn Féin’s first Senator, and former Dublin Ógra organiser, Pearse Doherty gave the Keynote address. Pearse spoke of his pride, as a former Ógra member to be invited to speak to the congress, and commended Ógra for its development in the last twelve months. Picking up on the theme of Ógra’s new national campaign ‘Who fears to speak of a United Ireland?’ he emphasised that Irish unity was not an abstract notion, but an urgent priority, and stated ‘We need to be the impatient Republicans’. He urged Ógra to continue to grow and to become the most significant and influential youth movement, and to help win the hearts and minds of young people for the republican movement. His address was greeted with rapturous applause.
Johnny McGibbon then introduced Cork activist, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, as the incoming National Organiser to address the congress. Reflecting on a successful year, he pointed to the example of Na Fianna as a benchmark of Republican activism, stating that ‘Not only was the spirit of na Fianna Evident when a host of young people led the National Hunger strike commemoration in Galbally, it was evident in Ógra’s fight against fees, against cutbacks, for Demilitarisation, and against Drugs. Anywhere Ógra stood up for the communities it represents, that’s where the spirit of na Fianna was most evident.’ He encouraged delegates to be active both on the new national campaign and on local campaigns, and to build on Ógra’s development in the last year.In his address he also officially launched the new national campaign ‘Who fears to speak of a United Ireland?’ This campaign will involve Ógra aiming to push the national question further up the agenda, with actions as disparate and varied as leaflet and banner drops on demilitarisation, to debates on the union as against Irish Unity, and much more besides.
As he thanked Barry McColgan, and outgoing national secretary Cllr Johnny McGibbon for their contributions to Ógra in the last number of years, delegates rose to their feet in applause, giving them both a fitting send off.
Shortly afterwards, Pearse Doherty and Padraig Wilson launched a new mural on the Falls road highlighting the connection between Ógra and Na Fianna.
That evening saw the culmination of a year spent commemorating the anniversary of Na Fianna, with a Dinner Dance in honour of the Fianna who gave their lives for Ireland’s freedom, with Gerry O’ Hara the main speaker. An emotional evening saw a presentation to the families of the Fianna on the roll of honour, and a number of poems and songs from Ógra members, followed by music from Poitín.
The weekend drew to a close on the Sunday morning with a football match between members of Ógra and Na Fianna veterans. A close match saw the decidedly younger than expected Na Fianna team come out on top. A rematch at some point is surely on the cards.
As delegates departed from Belfast, all involved felt assured that the future of the struggle was in good hands. Albeit perhaps not all that good at football.