No surprise at no demise as Sinn Féin leader extends his unbeaten run

This was a confident conference from a confident party - members exuded belief that Sinn Féin is on the march

Pearse Doherty and Mary Lou McDonald, look on as Gerry Adams delivers his keynote speech at the Sinn Féin ardfheis in Wexford. Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill

Pearse Doherty and Mary Lou McDonald, look on as Gerry Adams delivers his keynote speech at the Sinn Féin ardfheis in Wexford. Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill

Mon, Feb 10, 2014, 10:42

Revolutionary heroes aside, this was the year Sinn Féin embraced Mark Twain.

The theme of its ardfheis strongly echoed the American writer’s famous line: Reports of Gerry Adams’s political demise have been greatly exaggerated.

And the cheering faithful pulled out all the stops to prove it.

So while reverential references to the republican dead were plentiful as ever, it was to Twain the party turned when getting out the real message – Gerry Adams is going nowhere.

Those Mark Twain moments summed up the weekend as delegates formed a united front and told the meddling southern media to lay off their leader.

This was a confident conference from a confident party. Members exuded belief that Sinn Féin is on the march.

Their comforting republican charms still remain as a reminder of their special bond. Gerry didn’t forget to mention fallen comrades in his speech.

There was applause when he mentioned “volunteer” Ed O’Brien, a young Wexford man who died when the bomb he was carrying detonated on a London bus in 1996.

The Sinn Féin shop with its martyr memorabilia hadn’t gone away either, but it was tucked away in the basement.

Back in the hall, we saw the emergence of a new breed: the young Sinn Féin fogey, as epitomised by 19-year-old local election candidate from Dublin, Jonathan Graham.

Politically precocious

In his grey three-piece suit and Tory-boy bow tie, he brought to mind old memories of the politically precocious – from across the water, little William Hague when he had hair and, closer to home, a young Brian Hayes, once described as “prematurely waistcoated”.

Jonathan, from Clondalkin, wowed the crowd with his arresting opening line: “I’m 19. It’s Ireland in 2014. I’m unemployed. I don’t want to join the queue for the boat.”

But the potency of his speech was immediately diluted by an alert blogger who revealed that Jonathan is a full-time student of economics at Trinity College, with a couple of years to go before graduation.

On the fundraising side, there was a raffle for four tickets to see Garth Brooks – fiver a pop.

By Saturday evening, not one ticket had been bought.

Then again, there could only be one star at this ardfheis.

In case there was any doubt, the mere mention of Gerry Adams drew thunderous applause from the crowd in the Wexford Opera House.

If the great Pavarotti himself had risen from the dead to sing the national anthem, he wouldn’t have received such a rapturous reception.

The Sinn Féin leader – 31 years in charge – even got a standing ovation before he arrived on the platform to deliver his keynote speech.

As the countdown continued to the main event, European election candidate Matt Carty read the results of the election for the top posts in Sinn Féin.

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