The elections last October re-enforced Sinn Féin's position as the largest nationalist party in the north. We are also the largest pro-Agreement party in the north. It was a testament to the hard work of everyone in this room and the positive leadership given by Sinn Féin in the Peace Process and to the radical agenda being pursued by us ^ a radical agenda to deliver change. It is our job, our clear obligation to ensure that the trust and confidence invested in us by the electorate is delivered on.
In the year ahead we face yet other key electoral contests with the local government elections in the 26 counties and the Ireland wide European elections in June. These are elections in which Sinn Féin stands to make very significant gains. The votes are there, the quotas are there. However, there is much work to be done between now and then.
We need to address the massive issue of registration and the disenfranchisement of around 200,000 people. Yesterday Gerry Adams wrote to the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach about this. What is involved is a case of massive electoral fraud by the British government. Having failed to get the election results they want they are trying through fraud to get the electorate they want. There is a campaign to get people back on the register underway at local level and we need to work at this but there is also a campaign directed at the rules and legislation that have created this crisis. Sinn Féin will not stand idly by and let a system that appears to be designed to uniquely disenfranchise citizens in the Six Counties go unchallenged.
In the coming period we will be launching a Six County wide publicity campaign and I commend everyone to ensure that this is taken up at local level and in particular we are calling on the Irish government to defend and secure the democratic rights of Irish citizens.
In the time ahead it is also vital that we continue to support the campaign to expose the British governments refusal to deal with its problem of the policy of British state agencies and agents colluding directly and indirectly in the murder of citizens. It goes to the heart of the British governments policy here and the dismantling of this apparatus and policy is a central component to resolving the conflict.
In many of your areas you will have witnessed an increase in British Army activity and in the outworking of a PSNI still wedded to the malign political agenda of the Special Branch; still too ready to harass and intimidate nationalists. It is vital that this activity does not go unchallenged either locally or centrally.
Many of you here today will be wondering at the prospects for political progress and what is likely to come out of the review. Let me make it clear, Sinn Féin are the strongest pro-Agreement party. We are champions of the
Agreement. There will be no renegotiation of the Agreement. At its heart are the principles of inclusivity, the All Ireland agenda, Equality and Human Rights. In the year ahead we need to build on expand on these areas of work.
Sinn Féin will guarantee that there will be no return to majority rule. The DUP proposals launched yesterday are a shift by that party from the never never land politics that they have inhabited for decades. They basically break down into three parts.
1. A corporate Assembly which we would oppose given the fact that its aim and effect would be to hand the DUP a veto.
2. A voluntary coalition which is also a non runner as it is simply a device to exclude Sinn Féin
3. Recognition by the DUP that power sharing government is the way forward.
This is I believe a shift and it brings the DUP into the ballpark of the Good Friday Agreement politics.
However the position which they have adopted regarding dialogue with Sinn Féin is extremely risky for themselves. For decades they have denounced successive British governments as treacherous and dishonest. Yet they now want to use the British government as a conduit to Sinn Féin. They should grasp the political reality of the GFA fully and talk to Sinn Féin face to face.
The biggest barrier to the progress of the Peace Process remains within unionism both inside the Ulster Unionists and the DUP but also within the British establishment. There is a job of work to be done as persuaders of the tangible benefits of Irish re-unification. To build the demand for unity. But that does not mean that we must not challenge unionist intransigence or indeed their refusal to accept their responsibility for resolving the conflict and moving the peace process forward.
In all of this the British Government needs to look at how its approach to the Agreement has both undermined the Agreement and let unionism off the hook. The British government need to ask if their failure to implement the
Equality and Human Rights commitments it has made in the Agreement and in the many discussions since or indeed the frustration of the new beginning to policing and demilitarisation have moved us forward or have frustrated progress and fed into unionisms refusal to accept the dynamic of change.
In all of this there are many challenges for Sinn Féin both in terms of standing up to unionism and the British government and defending the rights and entitlement of all and the Agreement but also for ourselves as a political party.
We are the fastest growing political party on this island and everyday we are gaining new members. Are we able to respond to our increasing support and the hunger and enthusiasm of members new and old alike? In the coming year we have to continue to build the party; to develop our structures. We need to open up the party and to empower everyone within Sinn Féin.
So there is I believe still a fair degree of optimism out there. There is a willing electorate keen to hear our message and it is up to the people in this room to keep on delivering at every level.''