Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Adams among 800 guests at event to honour ex-Sinn Féin TD and gun-runner Martin Ferris. A big Turnout for Martin Ferris, and also, a number of Fianna Fail Friends, were Present, a Great night, all Around?

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Martin Ferris with Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill at a tribute night for the former Kerry TD in the Inec at the Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney. Picture: Don MacMonagle
Martin Ferris is embraced by Sinn Féin's first elected TD in 1997, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and his wife Briege in the Inec at the Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney. Picture: Don MacMonagle

Martin Ferris with Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill at a tribute night for the former Kerry TD in the Inec at the Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney. Picture: Don MacMonagle

November 18 2022 08:54 PM

Over 800 people including the top figures of Sinn Féin are in Killarney tonight for an event to honour the “lifetime of struggle” of former TD and former member of the Provisional IRA Martin Ferris.

The party’s Northern Ireland leader and vice-president Michelle O’Neill, is among those in attendance at the dinner, while its president Mary Lou McDonald was also due to attend. Gerry Adams, the party’s former president, is also mingling with guests and enjoying the entertainment at the Inec Arena at the Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney.

Ferris, now 70, was twice jailed in the 1970s for his membership of the IRA. He was handed down a ten-year sentence in 1984 for his part in attempting to import tonnes of explosives, firearms and ammunition on board the fishing vessel Marita Ann.

In 2009 he collected Kevin Walsh and Pearse McAuley, two of the men convicted of manslaughter over the 1996 killing of Garda Jerry McCabe, on their release from prison.

Tickets for the event, priced at €50, carry a familiar picture of a younger Ferris with his fist clenched raised in the air, which appears to have been one taken as he left the Bridewell garda station in Cork in 1984 after being arrested with guns and explosives on the boat the Marita Ann.

A version of the image was used on the back cover of his 2005 biography.

“North of 700” tickets for the night of music and storytelling headlined “Martin and Marie Ferris: A Lifetime of Struggle” had been sold in the days following the Sinn Féin Ardfheis, one of the main organisers of the night at the Inec/Gleneagle hotel in Killarney.

Leading figures from the North as well as Sinn Féin in the Republic are expected, with Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill, organiser John Buckley of Sinn Féin in Kerry said.

It was not a retirement do, but was simply “an honorary” event for his political service and struggle, Mr Buckley, said.

Both Martin and and his wife Marie were being honoured, Mr Buckley stressed.

The event had been planned for 2019 but had to be postponed because of Covid.

“It is to honour his political life,” Mr Buckley said.

Mr Buckley said it was not a fundraising event – the proceeds from the tickets were to pay for the music and the night itself and any remaining proceeds would go to Sinn Féin.

It is believed the venue is the only one outside Dublin that could facilitate an event of such size that includes a dinner.

He was elected to Kerry County Council in 1999 and in 2002 to the Dáil for Kerry North, unseating Labour’s Dick Spring.

Fianna Fáil Kerry County Council cathaoirleach, John Francis Flynn, told Independent.ie he was attending the event, despite being a “Fianna Fáil man.”

“I’d be good friends with the Ferris’,” Cllr Flynn said. “I’m friends with a lot of the people going tonight – it’s not all about Sinn Féin – it’s about Martin Ferris and his wife.

“I see tonight as being about celebrating Martin and his wife’s life.”

When asked if he felt it was democratic the media were not invited to the event, Cllr Flynn said he didn’t feel it was a specific Sinn Féin event and more about Mr Ferris’ “political friends” meeting up with him.

“There will be friends there from politics he works with,” he said. “I’m a Fianna Fáil councillor and a friend.”

Last year former TD Mr Ferris told a commemoration in west Cork to honour the last Provisional IRA member to die during the Troubles, that Irish republicans who gave their lives for Irish freedom were not criminals and attempts to demonise them would be rejected.

Mr Ferris told the event to mark the 25th anniversary of the killing of Diarmuid O’Neill (27) in London by British police, that the IRA member was just one of hundreds of Irish republicans who had given their lives to building a 32-county democratic socialist republic since 1969.

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