There was a large contingent from Derry at Sinn Fein's Dublin Ard Fheis at the weekend to hear a series of tributes to the Republican leader Martin McGuinness, who died in March.

Guest of honour was Mr McGuinness's wife Bernie, who received a prolonged standing ovation from more than 2,300 delegates when she was welcomed onto the platform by Gerry Adams, who himself announced his plans to retire after 34 years as his party's president.

There were also film, pictorial and musical tributes to Mr McGuinness at the RDS Convention Centre, including an exhibition of photographs of his life, which premiered at the Gasyard Wall Feile in Derry this summer.

Among the special guests paying their respects was Chieftain's flautist Matt Molloy, who played a lament, and the Bonny Men, who performed a number of reels.

Foyle MP Elisha McCallion led the spoken contributions on Mr McGuinness's life and legacy. In her speech to the packed centre, Ms McCallion said it was the first Ard Fheis in many years without Mr McGuinness. She told delegates that the late Republican leader would have been heartened by the 'enthusiasm and camaraderie' of the weekend event.

"He would be particularly happy to see the strong role the youth of our party is playing to bring about change because Martin’s own activism began in his teens," she said.

"Nowhere was inequality more evident than in his native Derry. The state’s violent rejection of equality and, most especially, the arrival of British troops in his city clarified everything: he volunteered for the IRA. By January 1972, when the Parachute Regiment massacred thirteen anti-interment demonstrators in Derry, he had assumed a leadership position.

"Arrested in Donegal in December 1972, he was convicted by a jury-less court of membership of the IRA. ‘We have fought against the killing of our people’, he told the judges that convicted, ‘I am a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann and very, very proud of it.’

"After his release, Martin was centrally involved in initiatives that advanced the Republican project. He knew that if Republicans persevered that we would prevail—that we would build the peace process, that we would get into negotiations, and that we would get an agreement with the British and Irish governments and, most importantly, with our Unionist neighbors."

Confidence

Ms McCallion continued: "In election after election, Sinn Féin has convinced more people to give it their support. We have never been closer to a united Ireland and a rights-based republic.

"Martin said: 'When change begins, and we have the confidence to embrace it as an opportunity and a friend, and show honest and positive leadership, then so much is possible.'

"So this tribute is our way of saying thank you. Thank you Martin for your leadership, your friendship and for making change possible.

"So let’s do him proud. Let’s achieve Martin’s dream, lets achieve a united Ireland. Let’s celebrate Martin – his life and his legacy."

In her speech, Ms McCallion also said Northerners must be accorded representational rights in the Dail.

"The time has come for MPs to be granted speaking and voting rights in the Dail," she said. "The people in North voted for abstentionist MPs they want representation on this island. The First Dail was a parliament for all of Ireland. Let us return to that Dail again."

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