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What is an Irish political party ardfheis and why does it matter?

University of Galway to host Simon Harris’ first ardfheis as Fine Gael leader, with the party hoping to ‘reset’ and ‘reconnect’ with voters

What’s happening?

On Saturday, Fine Gael will hold a daylong ardfheis at the University of Galway, Simon Harris’ first as party leader. At it he will outline his priorities and plans for the party that he says is seeking to “renew, reset and reconnect” with voters.

What is an ardfheis?

An ardfheis or “high assembly” is the biggest event in an Irish political party’s diary and is essentially a conference open to all party members. It sets out the party’s vision and priorities and gives members a chance to debate and vote on issues. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin each hold an ardfheis annually or every two years. Other parties such as the Green Party and the Labour Party have national conventions or conferences.

If I am not a member of Fine Gael, is an ardfheis relevant to me?

In advance of the local and European elections, an ardfheis or national party conference offers voters a chance to get a better insight into a political party’s plans for the future. This weekend, Mr Harris as incoming taoiseach will address two audiences: his own party and you the voter.

Why is an ardfheis important for political parties?

An ardfheis is a national gathering of delegates where the party as a whole can convene and take decisions. It allows members from local branches to discuss the party’s direction and policy plans. It also gives the leader a chance to outline the party’s vision or message to the public, and for the larger parties this is usually via a televised address.


What happens at an ardfheis?

Alongside setting out the party’s direction, a range of motions are debated and voted on. Motions can be suggested by local branches, constituency executives or councillors and usually call on the party to take action on a particular issue. For example, at Fine Gael’s ardfheis on Saturday, more than 160 motions are scheduled.

These will include calls to introduce a middle-income tax band of 30 per cent, provide lethal military aid to Ukraine, increase funding for childcare and prioritise the building of starter homes for purchase at affordable prices. If passed and, each political party has slightly different rules around motions, certain motions can feed into policy decisions or party manifestos in the future.

And for all parties, including Fine Gael, the elephant in the room is the looming general election. Ministers, TDs and senators will often take part in discussions and debates on broader themes such as business, farming and housing which encompass the motions. Elections are also held for a party’s national executive committee which in the case of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin is also known as the árd comhairle. This committee acts as a governing body of the party and makes organisational decisions.