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Sinn Fein beats FF in another race to Mansion House for Dail anniversary

SINN FEIN dominated the first Dail in 1919 and now it has done it again 90 years on -- causing red faces for the Fianna Fail-led coalition.

Gerry Adams' party booked the Mansion House for the exact anniversary this month of the meeting of the first Dail there on January 21, 1919. Sinn Fein candidates swept the boards in this part of the island in the 1918 general election.

When it came to booking the anniversary, the Government moved too slowly. It is now stuck with holding an official commemoration next week, with a special sitting of the Dail, on the day before the actual anniversary.

Sinn Fein was asked to swap dates to avoid embarrassment for the 30th Dail.

But Sinn Fein was only willing to offer an all-Ireland commemoration, which would have been historically accurate for the all-island 1918 general election. It would have meant the North's Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, co-hosting the event with Taoiseach Brian Cowen. The Government rejected that idea.

But now there has been a fight to book the exact date for the centenary -- which the Government has won, after Sinn Fein was previously told that its attempt to book the 100th anniversary was too far in advance.

A spokeswoman for Sinn Fein said yesterday: "[Ceann Comhairle] John O'Donoghue's office contacted SF and asked that we swap our event with theirs, which is on the 20th. We were not prepared to swap the dates, but in our discussions with his office, offered to facilitate the Government's participation on the 21st, the exact anniversary.

"This would have been on the basis that it was an all-Ireland event that included the representatives from the Northern Assembly. This proposal was not agreeable to the Government, who chose instead to proceed with their own event on the 20th."

Sinn Fein booked the Mansion House over two years ago for their event, but the Oireachtas only set about organising its commemoration last autumn. Finding it had been beaten to the punch, the approach to Sinn Fein -- which has just four Dail seats -- to seek an exchange of dates came in mid-December.

Events

The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission said: "As the precise date of the 90th anniversary was unavailable, the sitting and the range of events planned around it will take place on the preceding day."

Special activities will include a photojournalism exhibition capturing 90 years of Ireland's parliamentary tradition, and the announcement of an Oireachtas Parliamentary Fellowship, a spokesman said. "These initiatives are planned to honour both the courage and patriotism of our first representatives to Dail Eireann."

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Sinn Fein justified its decision by saying a lot of preparation work had been put in place for their event "which will focus on the campaign for Irish unity".


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