Sinn Féin Ard Fheis (Party Conference) 2022
Last week (Saturday 5 November) Sinn Féin held its Ard Fheis (annual conference) at the RDS in Dublin. Buoyed by their success in May’s Assembly election (when the party became the largest party in Stormont, with 27 seats to the DUP’s 25) and consistently promising polling in the south, the party aimed to a “readiness for government”. It was perhaps for this reason that commentators described a “pent-up energy” at the conference, with an “enthusiam and a desire for success”.
In her speech to the Ard Fheis, Sinn Féin Vice-President (and MLA for Mid Ulster) Michelle O’Neill said that the party “stood ready to form a power-sharing government” and accused the DUP of using the NI protocol as “an excuse” to avoid serving with a nationalist first minister. She said: “It is wrong that progress on the issues affecting the daily lives of people are being put on hold because one party refuses to accept the democratic outcome of last May's assembly election”. At their party conference in October, however, DUP representatives whom Chambré spoke to were clear that the party would accept entering the Executive with a Sinn Féin First Minister, and DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said he accepts the outcome of the May election but will not change his stance on power-sharing until issues with the protocol have been resolved.
Sinn Féin President (and TD for Dublin Central) Mary Lou McDonald reiterated calls for some form of joint authority (between the UK and Irish Governments) if the DUP continues to refuse to enter the Executive, despite the Northern Ireland Office ruling out the idea at the end of October. Ms O'Neill also called on the UK and the EU to "propel the protocol talks" and demonstrate will to find a solution.
The party not only has its eyes on the office of First Minister and Taoiseach. In his speech to conference, the former Finance Minister (and MLA for Newry & Armagh), Conor Murphy made several references to Sinn Féin taking control of the Department for the Economy. He said: “if Sinn Féin take control of the Economy Department for the first time, we will bring much needed clarity and focus on what is required for sustainable economic growth”. He added that a Sinn Féin economy minister would have four key aims: jobs, raising productivity, promoting regional balance and decarbonisation. As the largest party in Stormont, Sinn Féin will have first pick of the ministerial positions under the D’Hondt system. Taking the economy portfolio may go some way in projecting the aura of ‘responsible stewardship’ that the party is eager to promote, particularly as it seeks to persuade the southern electorate that it is read to govern in 2025.
However, getting into government may be “the easy bit” for Sinn Féin: attempting to get a border poll will be much more difficult, not to mention dealing with the challenges of housing, healthcare and the cost of living. A fresh Assembly election may well be called for early 2023 with local elections in close order, followed by a UK and Irish General Elections in 2024 and 2025 respectively. Party insiders believe that there’s potential for at least three further gains in Assembly seats for Sinn Féin. The challenge for the party will be to “keep the ship steady” as it navigates the coming waters.
To watch Saturday’s Ard Fheis proceedings, click here.
Wellbeing in Northern Ireland, 2021/22
On Wednesday (9 November) the Executive Office published figures for NI for 2021/22 across four areas of wellbeing: loneliness, self-efficacy ("a person’s belief about their capabilities to exercise influence over events that affect their lives"), personal wellbeing, and locus of control (LoC) ("the degree to which a person feels in control of their life"). Among the key findings were that life satisfaction, happiness and anxiety measures improved over the year, while low self-efficacy and locus of control measures have shown a decline in wellbeing. Life satisfaction (7.7) and happiness (7.8) scores were higher in 2021/22 compared with 2020/21 (7.6 and 7.5 respectively).
Northern Ireland High Growth firms 1998-2022 Update
On Wednesday, the Department for the Economy published figures detailing high-growth firms in NI since 1998. The figures are drawn from the latest Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) data to provide High Growth figures on businesses for the most recent cohort period between 2019 and 2022, setting these in context with the previously published series of analytics on High Growth and extending the entire period covered from 1998-01 to 2019-22.
Applicants sought for Chairs of five Health and Social Care trusts
The Department of Health announced on Wednesday that it is seeking applicants for the role of Non–Executive Chair of the Board for five of Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care (HSC) Trusts. Permanent Secretary Peter May said: "We need talented people with the skills and experience to serve as chairs or non-executive members on boards providing the direction and leadership to these bodies, holding senior staff to account and providing independent advice." The deadline for applications is 12:00 Friday 9 December 2022.