Irish Republican News · March 3, 2007
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: SF Ard Fheis - Presidential Address 2007
SF Ard Fheis - Presidential Address 2007

The full text of the keynote Presidential address by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams to the party’s annual conference, which is taking place this weeekend at the RDS in Dublin.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte mór ón chroí a chur romhaibh chuig an Ard Fheis Shinn Féin. Fáilte roimh ár gcuairteoirí idirnáisiúnta, ár n-ionadaithe, ár mbaill agus gníomhaithe uilig.

Ba mhaith liom beannachtaí a sheoladh chuig na cimí poblachta agus a dteaghlaigh.

Go raibh fáilte speiséalta dár gCairde Sinn Féin a thaistil ó na Stáit Aontaithe, ón Ástráil agus ó Cheanada. Fearadh na fáilte romhaibh uilig anseo anocht.

Is deas sibh uilig a fheiceáil arís. Buíochas do Mitchel McLaughlin. Seo an lá deirnach mar Ard Runaí ag Mitchel. Tá muid buioch duit. Agus tá muid ag smaoineamh faoinár seánchairde Ann ‘s Tommy Devereaux. Níl said abalta teacht anseo inniu. Adh mór oraibh uilig agus ar Chaoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

Tá muid ar ais san RDS don dara Ard Fheis Shinn Féin taobh istigh de cúig seachtain.

At the Heart of the Peace Process

The policing debate only five weeks ago.

This was without doubt the most difficult, most problematic, most historic initiative Sinn Féin has taken during the course of the peace process.

That debate proved once again the willingness of republicans to embrace change and to make radical decisions which are in the long term interests of the Irish people.

I want to thank all of you who participated in these deliberations. I would also like to send greetings to republican prisoners and their families and to the families of our patriot dead.

Next week our candidates go before the people in elections to a new Assembly in the north that will lead to a power sharing government involving Sinn Féin Ministers in an Executive with the main unionist parties.

I am very hopeful that more nationalists and republicans, and a small but significant number of former unionists and members of the Protestant community, will vote for Sinn Féin in this election.

I say I am hopeful because across the six counties we are getting a warm and positive reception on the doorsteps.

Tá fhios ag daoine go bhfuil Sinn Féin ag déanamh ár ndicheall. Tá muid ag déanamh an gnó agus tá mé sásta go mbeidh níos mo daoine ag tabhairt taca duinn ar lá an togcháin.

A Determined Engagement on Policing

Our decision on policing is the beginning of a determined engagement with the range of policing agencies.

Our task is to ensure that policing is a public service, democratically accountable, depoliticised, transparent, and non partisan.

The exclusion of MI5 from civic policing is a considerable achievement.

But the steady flow of revelations about the level of collusion by MI5, with the RUC and unionist death squads, in the killing of hundreds of citizens during Britain’s prolonged dirty war in Ireland, has confirmed what republicans have known for many years.

The British state has yet to acknowledge the truth about this, about the Dublin Monaghan bombings, the murder of Pat Finucane, of Rosemary Nelson, of Eddie Fullerton, and of countless other innocent victims of British state terror.

Sinn Féin has relentlessly pursued the British government on this issue.

We have also briefed successive Irish governments on this issue for decades. But they did little.

At times I have expressed my deep disappointment at the role of the Irish government - its absence from the real negotiations; its silence in the face of British cover-ups; its unwillingness to promote Irish national interests.

The government may deny this but it knows that this is the truth.

However each new investigation, most notably the Ombudsman’s recent report into the murder of Raymond McCord junior, throws new light on the scale of official State collusion.

For our part Sinn Féin will continue to demand the truth. We will continue to hold the police to account on all these matters.

We will also work with them to prevent attacks on the elderly, and to confront drug pushers, death riders, hate crime, sex offenders, domestic violence, and sectarianism.

And we have discussed all of these matters with Hugh Orde and his senior officers.

Of course the PSNI needs to win the confidence of citizens, and as part of that necessary process Sinn Féin will continue to actively encourage people to deal with the police to achieve fully accountable civic policing and to enhance community safety measures.

A Crucial Election

Next Wednesday when the people of the Six Counties go to the polls they will re-elect an Assembly which met only briefly in its last term and had no power.

Instead there was direct rule and bad government from unaccountable ministers sent over from London.

There were education cuts, the introduction of additional water charges, an increased rates burden and a virtual ban on rural housing.

The lesson is clear.

People of all political persuasions want to send these British Ministers home.

In the last Executive, Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún provided effective leadership in the Departments of Education and Health.

Bairbre de Brún delivered a strategy for tackling health inequalities and reform of every aspect of the health service.

Martin McGuinness delivered a programme of change which saw an end to the injustice of the 11 plus, a school build programme larger than any previous Education Minister, support for integrated and Irish language education, and additional resources for children with special needs.

Sinn Féin faced up to the challenge of these difficult portfolios. Other parties, the SDLP, the DUP and the UUP, ran away from health and education. They chose easier options.

In contrast, Sinn Féin was up for the challenge.

Ready for Government in the North

We are up for the challenge again.

Sinn Féin is ready once more for government in the north. We have an excellent team of experienced future MLAs. Led by Martin McGuinness they will make excellent Ministers in the next Executive.On the doorsteps there is a clear demand that locally elected politicians face up to our responsibilities. That is also the Sinn Féin position. There is no reason why this should not happen by March 26th. There is an onus on local politicians to deliver on services for the elderly, the vulnerable and disadvantaged. There is a need for an anti-poverty strategy, and for first class health and education services.

There is a duty to oppose additional water charges and the unfair rates burden being imposed by British direct Rule Ministers.

We also continue to engage with the two governments to secure a substantial peace dividend.

Sinn Féin was the first party to put this on the agenda and we will work with the other parties to achieve it.

We expect to meet with the British Chancellor and the Taoiseach and Minister of Finance in the coming weeks to pursue this matter.

Politics has to be about empowering people, about making a positive difference to peoples lives.

We take a strategic view about how to accomplish this.

For example, at our Ard Fheis last year I set out the objectives for our negotiations. These were:

• To end the suspension of the political institutions

• To ensure there would be no dilution of the Good Friday Agreement

• To secure delivery on the outstanding aspects of the Agreement

• And to bring the debate on policing to a conclusion.

The Sinn Féin Ard Fheis on Policing is proof once again of how Sinn Féin delivers, openly, democratically, in the national interest and in a way that opens up the possibility of more progress.

Another example of how we plan ahead is to be found in our Irish language manifesto in the last election. Incidentally, Sinn Féin is the only party to publish an Irish language manifesto.

In that manifesto - Ag Cur Gaeilge Arais i mBéal an Phobail - we promised to bring forward an Irish Language Act.

We won that commitment last October from the British government at St. Andrews.

And our focus now is in getting the strongest possible Act as quickly as possible.

On Wednesday the voters will have the opportunity to make a judgment on our stewardship of all these issues.

Tá Sinn Féin ag tabhairt ionadaíocht atá láidir agus éifeachtach - in achan fhoram polaitiúl ar an oileán seo.

Tá muid ag déanamh an gnó go háitiúl agus go náisiúnta. Ba mhaith linn leanúint leis an obair seo.

Ba mhaith linn aghaidh a thabhairt ar bhochtanas, ar seicteachas agus ar chiníochas.

Ba mhaith linn sochaí bunaithe ar chearta, áit ina mbeidh gach duine glactha ar bhonn cothrom.

Decision Time for the DUP

So, it is the DUP who have big questions to answer in the coming weeks.

They must decide whether or not they are prepared to share power with Sinn Féin on March 26. I hope they are.

Such a development, bringing the leaders of unionism into the political institutions, would represent an enormous step forward in the essential process of national reconciliation.

Irish republicans have been enormously patient with the DUP, because we want them to be part of the process of creating a better future for all of our people.

But this strategic and tolerant approach should not be mistaken for political weakness.

Let me be absolutely clear. If the DUP refuses to join with the rest of us in the political process then the process will move on without them.

They have no veto. They cannot stop the process of change.

That change will continue either through the Good Friday institutions or, failing that, through the new partnership arrangements which Sinn Féin is already discussing with the two governments.

Ian Paisley asked for this election. He has a duty to accept the outcome.

If he does, there is a real possibility of a power sharing executive with Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sharing the office of First and Deputy First Minister.

We have every confidence in Martin and this Ard Fheis wishes him good luck.

There may be more theatrics in the time ahead; more bluster; more posturing, but the fact if the DUP prevent the Executive and Assembly from being established then Ian Paisley will have to explain to unionists why he got rid of the only institution that unionism argued for.

And while he is busy doing that the all Ireland dimension and the equality agenda and the process for change will be moving ahead. Why?

Because a revitalised, re-energised, and stronger Sinn Féin is the guarantor of that.

That is another reason why people should vote for Sinn Féin on March 7th.

That is the best way of keeping the two governments to their publicly stated commitments to move ahead with the new all-Ireland partnership arrangements.

Whatever decisions Ian Paisley makes he knows that he will have to deal with us.

And he knows that while we are ready to work with him - it will be on the basis of equality.

The Future for Unionism

Let me also say that we will deal fairly with the unionists.

We are avowedly anti-sectarian and we will never, ever treat anyone the way that nationalists have been treated in the north of Ireland.

We will never exploit anyone the way the unionists and loyalist working class were exploited and used by their political leaders.

Ours is a generous philosophy. Irish republicanism whose founders were mainly Protestant, is about people and their political, civil, religious, economic and social rights.

Irish Republicanism is about citizenship.

It’s about uniting orange and green.

It’s about building upon our common needs and in the common good.

Myself and Alex Maskey recently had the sad duty to extend condolences to Jeanette Ervine, the wife of the late PUP leader David Ervine and their family.

Can I take this opportunity to thank the Ervine family and the mourners and the loyalist people for the gracious way they welcomed us to David’s funeral service.

That day in East Belfast and in the Methodist Mission Hall was a reminder of how much things have changed.

Labhair muid agus bhuail muid le chéile le haontachtóirí.

Thug muid an lámh chairdeas dóibh agus ghlac muid nach bhfuil monoplacht ar an fhulaingt ag poblachtanaí agus gur ghortaigh muid daoine freisin.

Gan amhras, tá eagla ar aontachtóirí roimh an todhchaí. Tá a fhios ag aontachtóirí gur fhán rialtas na Breataine in Éirinn ar a son féin. Níor fhán said as grá dóibh nó as meas dóibh.

Tá a fhios ag a lán aontachtóirí freisin go bhfuil ath-aontú na hÉireann ag teacht.

Tá sé ar mhaith leosan, chomh maith le duine ar bith eile le tosnú anois le cruth a chur ar an todhchaí don oileán seo atá muid ag roinnt le chéile.

Ready for Government in the South

I believe that the strategy being pursued by this generation of republicans will bring Irish freedom.

Our political roadmap to an independent Ireland has involved negotiation and compromise with the historic enemy, but we have also prepared the ground for a radical transition to all island political and economic institutions.

Just as we are ready for political power in a new executive in the North we are also seeking a mandate for government in this jurisdiction.

Let there be no doubt about this.

Sinn Féin wants to be in government in both parts of this island because that is a means to fulfill our historic mission to bring about a truly national republic and a truly national government.

But we are not prepared to wait until then to tackle the many issues which bear down upon the people of Ireland.

We want people to have a better life now.

A Campaigning Party

Sinn Féin is a campaigning party and we are delivering for communities.

This is one of the qualities that distinguishes us from the other parties.

There are many principled people in Irish politics and there are energetic workers and representatives across the board in all parties.

But Sinn Féin is unique in that we are a party born in struggle, with our membership and elected representatives emerging from the communities most under the strain of political and economic oppression, north and south.

We are the party that understands and reflects the needs of people struggling to make ends meet.

We know how difficult it is to make mortgage repayments and to pay the rent on incomes eaten away by inflation and taxation. We know because we have these problems. We know, for example, because our elected representatives live on the average industrial wage. The rest goes into the party and constituency services.

So what price a decent quality of life, even for citizens on good salaries?

We know how hard it is to meet the bills as interest rates are hiked up, energy costs spiral and the cost of living goes through the ceiling.

And what of those at the other end of the scale?

We also know how hard it is to feed and clothe children, on low incomes without proper health care or proper housing or education.

This is the era of the Celtic Tiger.

But it is also the era of the rip-off, of stealth taxes, gombeenism, corruption, strokes and scams.

At the heart of the Sinn Féin project is a campaigning political ethos which challenges the growing inequalities across all aspects of economic and social life, north and south.

Sinn Féin is about radical political change, not about tinkering at the edges of power in the hope of winning some scraps from the elite and the privileged.

We are accused by the conservative parties of being a high tax party. That is not what we are about.

People on low and middle incomes should not be expected to pay excessive tax.

But millionaires and tax exiles who currently pay no tax must be made to pay their fair share. We make no apologies for that.

Sinn Féin is about tackling the super rich, the exploiters who make super profits by the clever use of tax loopholes or the direct theft of peoples’ labour.

Tax policy should be about eliminating and closing the loopholes.

Tax policy should be about reducing the burden on the lowest and middle income people.

It should be about encouraging local small businesses and the social economy.

It should be about building public services.

In an era of revenue surplus there is no case for increasing the overall tax take. There is every argument for using that surplus for the benefit of those in greatest need.

For ten years there has been unprecedented revenue surplus available to the government here.

In the last five years alone there has been an exchequer surplus of almost €40 billion.

The government has the ability and the resources, if they so chose, to deal effectively with poverty and inequality. They chose not to do so.

And remember, this wealth was not generated by Fianna Fáil or the Progressive Democrats. It is not for the sole benefit of the golden circle of cronies and self seekers.

It was and is created by all who work in Ireland. These men and women and their families are entitled to the fruits of their labour.

The big question for many people is whether the vast amount of revenues, generated from both the EU and taxation, are being put to the most efficient use?

The answer to that question is No.

Waste, official incompetence, failure to meet budget and completion targets is an established fact of life in Ireland.

We all know about the official waste of public resources, of the faulty electronic voting machines, of the PPARS health computer system that does not work, of overruns in the Port Tunnel and other major road and infrastructure projects.

Ensuring Long Term Economic Growth

Sinn Féin is about working with all sectors of our economy to ensure long term economic growth.

We are about investing in infrastructure, health, education, childcare, housing and research and development.

We are a party that has welcomed new immigrants and the contribution they make to the country’s cultural, social and economic growth.

No one should be exploited. The race to the bottom can be stopped by upholding decent pay and decent conditions for all workers.

A First Class Public Health Service

Sinn Féin believes that one of the areas of greatest need is healthcare.

You are entitled to know that if your child gets sick, you will have access to a clean hospital or a clinic not too far from your home.

You have a right to free and universal health care, without having to wait on trolleys in overcrowded, often infected hospital wards with insufficient beds.

The nurses and doctors and the other carers who treat you are equally entitled to proper wages and working hours.

Sinn Féin will be on the streets in support of the nurses in their current campaign for a proper wage increase and a thirty five hour week.

The health system consumes €16 billion of the annual tax take of some €40 billion.

The problem is that it is being put in the wrong places and into the wrong hands.

These resources should be used to build a localised health service, universally accessible by all on the basis of medical need.

Properly equipped hospitals, care centres and step down facilities to ease the pressure on accident and emergency wards and acute bed facilities can be provided on the budgets currently available.

So why is this not being done? It’s very simple. The government does not believe in a public health service.

It believes in privatisation. So does the so-called alternative.

As part of this the Minister for Health is pursuing a policy of handing over land in public hospitals to private developers.

And the government is offering tax based incentives to these same developers to build their private for profit medical facilities.

Sinn Féin is not against private hospitals. We are against private hospitals being publicly funded.

The public health sector is being starved of proper resources and the private health business is being subsidised by the tax payer, but available only to those who can afford it.

And the patient who takes up private insurance is doubly taxed. That’s not fair.

People want and deserve a first class health system for all. Sinn Féin is determined to see this delivered.

People regularly tell me of having to wait for months for scans or other tests. Unless they go private.

Then it can all be done very quickly indeed. That’s not fair either.

Sinn Féin is committed to using our bargaining power after the general election to dramatically improve the health services:

• We demand that all health funding is invested in the public system. We will stop tax breaks for developers of private hospitals.

• We demand a minimum of 3000 acute hospital beds to ease over crowding and waiting lists and to cut MRSA

• Sinn Féin will resource preventative screening programmes - in particular ensuring state wide coverage of breast check and a new free cervical screening programme

• We will guarantee a medical card for every child under the age of 18

• We will ensure all new hospital consultant posts are public only

• Sinn Féin’s commitment is to provide a public health service free at the point of use, and available as needed - not after years on a waiting list.

The government has the money to provide all this. Remember it is not the governments money. It is public money. It should be used for public health services not private profit.

We can afford this. We can afford a first class public health service. Sinn Féin has been campaigning on these issues for years.

They are rights which every citizen should enjoy.

A Quality Education System

There is also a right to a quality education system.

That means a dramatic reduction in class sizes. It means recruiting more primary school teachers. It means the reconstruction and refurbishment of those schools which are currently a health hazard for children and teaching staff alike.

Tá sé dochreidte go bhfuil cuid de na scoileanna san am seo “An Tiogar Ceilteach” ina chúis náire dúinn.

There is absolutely no excuse why children and their parents have to protest about rat infested schools, or old prefabricated, and poorly heated buildings, about the absence of vital play and recreational areas, or about dangerous and deadly school buses.

And there is no excuse for the crisis that this government has allowed to develop in the childcare sector. Childcare costs now represent a second mortgage for many families.

Sinn Féin wants to see accessible, affordable childcare and the introduction of a universal pre-school session of 3.5 hours a day for all children in the year before they go to school.

Education lays the basis for success or marginalization, or a full life of a life less well lived.

Those in positions of influence who appear determined to reduce our third level institutions into mere production lines for the economy should think through the consequences of their actions.

Arts and culture, the Irish language, music and poetry, the study of drama, of the classics, of history, are no less important in stirring the imagination of the young and promoting the creativity for which this nation has long been recognised.

An appreciation of the development of human thought and ideas is at the heart of any civilised society. It also promotes a more inclusive, just and equal society.

Drugs - A Government Failure

If you want to understand, really understand what is wrong with this government and other governments you need look no further than north Inner City Dublin.

Twenty or more years ago Sinn Féin was castigated by the establishment for supporting communities in their battles against drug pushers.

I am glad I played my part in that effort.

Tá mí-úsáid drugaí ar an chontúirt is mó ar an oileán seo inniú.

At that time the government refused to intervene. The priority of the government was to use Gardaí to defend Britain’s heavily militarised and imposed border.

Working class communities were left to the mercy of ruthless criminal elements. We warned of the dangers.

I remember arguing that the government did not care about these neighbourhoods and that it would not move until middle class youth were affected. By then it would be too late. And for many familes it is too late.

In just one small area of this city, a proud working class area a short distance from O’Connell Street, more than 200 people, mostly young people, have died as a result of drugs.

200 hundred citizens in one small neighbourhood - dead.

Last month 6 young people died within two weeks of each other as a result of drugs in this same area. And those responsible for bringing huge quantities of drugs into this city are now engaged in deadly feuds.

Heroin and cocaine is freely available. Crack cocaine is also available.

These events and the spate of drug related and armed crime on the streets of Dublin and other cities and towns is a direct consequence of the neglect by successive governments of the needs of parents and children over the past three decades.

And this continues at a time of the greatest wealth ever enjoyed in this country.

But then inequality is a good thing, or so we are told. What arrogant, patronizing nonsense Tanaiste. Inequality is always wrong. Equality is needed here in the Capital and every where else in this island.

The right to a Home

In this state there are nearly 44,000 families awaiting social housing - half of these families with children. Why is this so?

It’s because of government policy. There is no government policy to build social and affordable housing. There is mere lip service.

In 2005 this government funded local authorities to build just over 4000 social and affordable homes. For their part charities provided another 1400 - fair play to them.

Government policy favours private developers. How many houses did they build? 81,000 over priced houses and countless expensive apartments.

The housing crisis needs an urgent and direct response. Will it come from this government? No. Why? Because the wealthy property developers are their friends.

Expecting property developers to lower the price of housing is like expecting the tobacco companies to run anti-smoking campaigns.

Will it come from Fine Gael? Not a chance.

Sinn Féin insists that there must be at least 14,000 social and affordable homes built for every year of the next government.

And the Planning and Development Act must be amended to remove the ‘get-out clauses’ for developers. All new developments should allocate 30% to social and affordable housing.

Sinn Féin will seek the purchase of land banks to clear the disgraceful housing lists.

People should also have access to finance in order to purchase their own home. If that requires direct State investment then that should be done.

It is clear that first time buyers need help. We believe that the best way to do this is to increase mortgage interest relief for first time buyers.

As it stands a whole generation has been squeezed out of the housing market, and out of their preferred location, because of the escalating cost of a modest home.

Suicide - A national crisis

There are many others who have been left behind in the rush to wealth creation, consumerism and materialism. For example there are now 5,000 people homeless and on the streets. A mix of integrated residential and training centres should be established to meet their needs.

And remember there is the money to pay for this. Governments are supposed to manage the economy for the people. There may not always be an economic boom. Wise governments, acting in trust for the people, should invest in the future using public money for the public good.

The elderly, people with disabilities, many of our youth are frustrated, impoverished and demoralised by the pace and demands of life in Ireland today.

The high rate of suicide on this island among our young people is a deeply disturbing illustration of this.

There were 577 reported deaths by suicide across this island in the year 2003 to 2004 and many, many more incapacitated. In 2005 431 people died, here in the south from suicide.

Both depression and alcohol combine to encourage young people to kill themselves in greater numbers than ever before witnessed in this country, even with our long and often tragic history.

To have any hope of making a difference, an all-Ireland approach is urgently needed. I have spoken to the British Minister responsible for Health on this matter and we are making some progress.

But Mary Harney has refused to meet me. I first asked for a meeting on this issue, two years ago in May 2005.

Her response to this growing tragedy has been to minimise the funding available from the state while promoting private investment and voluntary input.

This cannot compensate for the state taking the lead and providing the funding resources necessary.

The Minister for Health has provided a miserly €1.85 million a year for suicide prevention.

Both governments need to be doing much more - helping families and communities, helping those engaged in self-harm.

The cost of such initiatives is not excessive in this time of plenty.

I will continue to personally crusade on this issue alongside families bereaved through suicide.

When an average of 500 people take their own lives every year that is a national crisis. Like deaths on the road the government needs to tackle this national crisis head on.

Action not rhetoric is required.

Ireland’s struggle for Freedom

Ireland has long been a beacon for those in the wider world seeking justice and equality and struggling against colonialism and imperialism.

We have also learned from other nations who have had to struggle for their freedom. In particular I want to acknowledge the great help we have received from Nelson Mandela and from South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki.

His government Minister Ronnie Kasrils, representing the ANC, is with us today. Failte mór romhat chara, to you and Eleanor.

In 2006 I travelled to Israel and Palestine and Martin McGuinness travelled to Sri Lanka.

We did so because we were asked to share our experience of conflict resolution.

The situation in the Middle East is particularly awful and the international community stands indicted for its refusal to intervene in a positive, consistent and progressive way.

The difficulties confronting the Palestinians are daunting. The poverty and deprivation is dreadful and the security wall being built by the Israeli government is a horrible and illegal scar on the landscape.

What is needed is a negotiated peace settlement. And it is the international community’s responsibility to actively secure this

We have also been trying to help with the peace process in the Basque country.

I would like to commend Batasuna for their efforts and urge the Spanish government to play a full part in the fledgling peace process there.

Yesterday I welcomed Arnaldo Otegi to this Ard Fheis.

It is my certain view that all of these conflicts can be resolved. And they should be.

There are other great moral failures in the contemporary world.

The crisis in development, in particular in Africa, where half the population live on less than half a dollar a day is totally unacceptable.

In 1970 the UN set a target for development aid at 0.7% of Gross National Product.

That target has yet to be reached. And last year the government postponed efforts to reach that UN target until 2012.

That does not in any way reflect the generosity of Irish people.

The ongoing occupation of Iraq is a disgrace. In the run up to the war Martin McGuinness and I conveyed directly to Tony Blair and George Bush the view of the vast majority of the Irish people that an invasion of Iraq would lead to a brutal quagmire.

US troops should leave Iraq.

Britain should also leave Iraq.

In the meantime the use of Shannon airport for the transport of US troops to Iraq, Afghanistan and other battle zones should be stopped. The use of an Irish airport by aircraft involved in illegal renditions is absolutely wrong and should also be halted immediately.

Among our many international visitors today, I would like especially to welcome Noelle Carrillo, Cuba’s ambassador to Ireland.

During the 1981 hunger strike Fidel Castro stood up in the United Nations in defence of the men in the H Blocks and the women in Armagh. He is now recovering from illness - we wish him well.

Go n-éirgh an t-adh leat Fidel.

Mucho Suerte! Hasta la victoria siempre!

Many challenges lie ahead

Much of the injustice in our world is about the control of oil and other natural resources, including water and gas and the global threat to the environment.

Ireland has failed miserably to meet the Kyoto targets on carbon emissions, and the dispute over the Corrib gas pipeline has exposed how much this government and its predecessors have given away to the oil and gas multi-nationals.

This Ard Fheis salutes the courage of the people of Rossport and the Erris peninsula.

Across the country other communities have been forced to engage in battles over threats to their natural environment, against unwanted incinerators or waste facilities, against the pollution of water and land, against the theft and destruction of our fishing stocks and more recently the sugar beet industry.

Ireland needs rural regeneration - not destruction.

We need to create employment in rural areas based on local strengths and advantages.

Over recent decades there have been other countless scandals involving the abuse of children, the mistreatment of our elderly in nursing homes, of women in maternity hospitals, and the continuing crisis of domestic violence.

There is still a growing inequality between the richest and the poorest, in health, education and in job and career opportunity.

There is still partition and foreign occupation.

So there are lots of challenges.

There is Great Hope

But there is also great hope, not least because many, many people want a better Ireland.

Public service, volunteerism, patriotism, activism and citizenship remain strong. Arts, language, literature, culture, music and sports are thriving. The community sector, carers, campaigning groups, the voluntary sector are the great unsung heroes and heroines of our time.

Despite all the difficulties the people of Ireland remain sound and hopeful about the future. Together we have all come a long way.

Sinn Féin has also come a long way.

That is due to the courage and resilience of the thousands of people who have given the best years of their lives to the republican cause.

Tá troid s’againn bunaithe ar an íobairt a rinne said.

Ach bhí todhchaí s’againn uilig i gcónaí ar intinn na laochra seo.

Our struggle is rooted in their sacrifice. But these heroes were always about the future. The great advances of our time are built on their efforts.

They are the wind that shakes the barley.

Bobby Sands put it best when he said ‘our revenge will be the laughter of our children and the liberation of all.’

The war is over. The peace must be built.

We are the peace builders.

We are the nation builders.

The next ten years will see more great advances for Ireland and for Sinn Féin. We are determined to make this country a better place for all the people.

Sinn Féin is ready for government North and South.

We are about delivering Ireland’s future and making Irish republicanism relevant to people in their daily lives.

We have a vision for a new Ireland of equals, where orange and green are united, where there is real meaning to the words democracy, equality, justice and human rights at every level in society, in every town and townland, in every city and village.

Bigí linn.

Join Sinn Féin in building a united, peaceful and prosperous Ireland that cherishes all of our children equally.

© 2007 Irish Republican News