Large crowd attends Hilltown public meeting
A packed Downshire Arm's Hotel in Hilltown was the venue for a public meeting organised by Sinn Féin's Cúige Uladh to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The event was also the fulfilment of a commitment given last year in advance of the Policing Ard Fhéis to come back to constituencies across the north within a year in order to brief people on continuing developments in the political process.
South Down Assembly Member Willie Clarke chaired the night's proceedings and the panel of speakers included The Minister for Education, Caitríona Ruane MLA; The Minister for Regional Development and MP and MLA for Newry Armagh Conor Murphy; Tyrone MLA Francie Molloy; South Belfast MLA and Sinn Féin Policing Board Member Alex Maskey; North Louth TD Arthur Morgan, Barbrie de Brún MEP and Sinn Féin Party President and MP and MLA for West Belfast Gerry Adams.
Speaking after the meeting, which was attended by over 250 people, Ms Ruane said:
"In advance of Sinn Féin's special Ard Fheis on policing last year, we made a pledge to organise a series of public meetings with the wider nationalist and republican community in order to allow the maximum participation and debate on this and other crucial issues.
"At last night's meeting, a wide range of topics were discussed including Sinn Féin's role in policing, the scrapping of the transfer exam, the future of the fishing and agriculture industry and how we envisage achieving a united and more equal Ireland.
"The ensuing debate and question and answer session was informative, both for the people present and for the panel of speakers and conducted in a very comradely fashion; it was an excellent opportunity to engage directly with people from across south Down.
"Last night was also an opportunity for Sinn Féin's Party President, Gerry Adams, to report back on the progress made on key issues such as policing as well as providing the public the opportunity to question us on our stewardship of the process.
"This April marks the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Last night's meeting in Hilltown allowed the party and the public to assess the significant contribution the Agreement has made to bringing about positive change on the island of Ireland.
"It also provided an opportunity to engage with the families of the republican patriot dead and with victims of state murder and collusion."
Cllr Willie Clarke added:
"Substantial progress has been made in the last year and especially in the last decade on a wide range of issues, including policing, demilitarization, human rights and equality.
"Crucially, the Good Friday Agreement, with its inclusive process and power sharing governmental structures, is the framework within which the current political institutions work.
"There are of course many outstanding issues that are still unresolved and some of these are directly affected by the process of leadership change taking place within the DUP. These include the transfer of powers on policing and justice, Irish language rights, and issues of equality and human rights.
"Despite the challenges that lie ahead, Sinn Fein believes that significant progress will be made in the time ahead and we expect the DUP, and the two governments, to honour the commitments they have entered into.
"Last night's meeting was positive and productive and a very successful engagement that we hope to make an annual event." ENDS