Sinn Fein seek progress
Sinn Fein seek progress

The following is the edited text of an address by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams MP to party supporters in South Armagh on Thursday evening.

I want to begin by commending all of you for your hard work and outstanding efforts in advancing the republican agenda, particularly in the face in recent times of a ferocious anti-republican campaign by our opponents. The Assembly group, our Councillors and party activists in the north have achieved remarkable results in successive elections and we should be proud of the fact that this party is now the largest nationalist party in the six counties and the third largest on this island.

Of course all our efforts, all of our endeavours, have been about advancing the republican goals. What are these?

Simply stated Sinn Fein is an Irish republican party. This year marks our 100th birthday, our CÚad, and on Saturday as part of our celebrations republicans from all over Ireland will converge on Dublin for a national rally to promote Irish unity. Our primary political objectives are; an end to partition, an end to the union, the construction of a new national democracy - a new republic - on the island of Ireland, and reconciliation between orange and green.

But we are not prepared to wait until we have achieved these goals for people to have their rights to a decent home, to a job and a decent wage, to decent public services like health and education, and a safer cleaner environment.

We also want change in the here and now.

Irish republicanism has a vision of a new society that is democratic.

That is economic as well as political. A society which is inclusive of all citizens, in which there is a redistribution of wealth for the well being of the aged, for the advancement of youth, for the liberation of women and the protection of our children.

It foresees a new relationship between these islands resting upon our mutual independence and mutual respect.

Our republicanism is about change - fundamental, deep-rooted change.

It's about empowering people to make that change.

That means we have to be agents of change.

This is an enormous responsibility. It is a huge challenge.

The last 15 years of the peace process, and especially the last 7 years, have been a political and emotional rollercoaster ride for republicans.

Republicans have been through a lot together.

We have been faced with enormous challenges.

We have confronted those challenges.

Each year, and sometimes more than once in a year, we have reached what some have described as another 'crossroads' in our struggle.

Some years ago I compared all this to a journey.

For us the destination is an Irish republic.

Completing the journey means having a political strategy to get us there.

It means engaging with and putting our case to our opponents.

It means taking the political offensive, taking initiatives, and engaging in the battle of ideas.

But being an Irish republican means more than paying lip service to the 1916 Proclamation or to the ideal of 'The Republic.'

It means refusing to stand still.

It means taking risks.

It means moving forward.

And through our collective efforts we have made significant progress and we have for the first time in the history of our struggle created the opportunity to achieve our republican objectives through purely peaceful and democratic methods.

This is the context in which I made my appeal to the IRA in April. This is the context in which the IRA took its historic and courageous initiative at the end of July.

I want to commend the commitment of all of those who took that decision and I want to appeal to every republican, the length and breadth of this island and beyond, to carry the struggle forward with new energy and enthusiasm.

The IRA initiative in July to formally end its armed campaign has changed the political context utterly. Our enemies can no longer use the IRA as an excuse for intransigence, and a refusal to engage with the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.

I believe the delivery by the IRA of commitments made in that statement will dramatically change the political conditions on this island, but especially here in the north.

It will present Irish republicans and nationalists with an unparalleled opportunity to make even greater political advances, and to make Irish freedom a reality.

For republicans, nationalists, socialists, trade unionists and all strands of progressive opinion in Ireland this means grasping the opportunity which now exists to take ownership of the peace process, to push ahead with its progressive agenda and to take on the task of shaping the future direction of this island for the decades ahead. Central to that effort has to be nation building - planning in a very strategic way the steps towards Irish unity. Part of this has to be about eliminating sectarianism and racism from our society.

And for Sinn Fein that means opening up the party to a wider membership and participation, particularly to women and young people who will bring their own life experiences and values, and it means setting new goals for the growth and development of the party in this area.

The potential for significant growth throughout the island is substantial. Why can't we have a Sinn Fein cumann in every townland or parish?

The fact is that republicans are now in a new area of struggle.

We have moved from a culture of resistance into a culture of change and through this to building political strength so that we can democratically take political power and exercise it in pursuance of our goals.

It is through building political strength across Ireland that we can advance our goals.

By building political strength we can build the capacity to move both the British government and the unionists and influence directly the political agenda in the 26 counties.

Of course, none of this will be easy. Our enemies within the British system and in Dublin will still seek to defeat us.

In recent months unionist paramilitaries have killed five people and have been involved in a systematic campaign of terror against nationalists, especially in county Antrim and Belfast. The unionist political leadership by abdicating responsibility and moral and political leadership encourages the continuation of this behaviour.

The excuse which some have sought to use is the deprivation experienced by unionist working class areas.

Let me make several points in respect of this.

First of all the riots in recent weeks were not about deprivation but about unionism and orangeism demanding to walk through a nationalist area on the Springfield Road.

Deprivation, or more accurately the playing of the orange card and the violence and threats of violence accompanying all of this, have been about forcing the British government into acquiescing to the demand for orange parades to march through nationalist areas.

On the bigger political stage it's about unionism advancing its objective of stopping or at least delaying the process of change inherent in the peace process and promised by the Good Friday Agreement.

Of course unionist working class areas on the Shankill and elsewhere suffer deprivation. The deprivations there are exasperated by the influence of paramilitaries and in particular the impact of their drug enterprises. Much of the blame for that can be laid at the door of the bad and inadequate political representation they have had for decades.

But resolving this problem will not be advanced by unionist politicians either blaming Catholics for this or by claiming that unionist deprivation is greater than that suffered by Catholics. Why? Because neither claim is true - but more importantly if these issues of unemployment and social deprivation are to be properly tackled it requires a partnership between unionists and nationalists to achieve it.

Unionism has tried to distract attention from its responsibility to show positive leadership.

I say it with no sense of irony - the people of the Shankill would be better served in achieving their economic and social rights if they voted Sinn Fein.

With some notable exceptions they have been poorly served by their political leaders because, and let us not forget this, some have had political power and influence since the foundation of the northern state.

No one believes that British government Direct Rule Ministers can do this job.

Only locally elected representatives, accountable to people in the north, and working together with institutions in the south, can hope to end deprivation.

The time ahead therefore is going to be enormously challenging.

We will be challenged as we seek to open up an engagement with unionism on the logic and benefits of Irish unity - in short to become persuaders for Irish unity. And of course we have a responsibility also to listen intently to their counter arguments, to take these issues on board and to respond intelligently to them.

We will be challenged as we seek to persuade unionists that they have an important and valuable role to play in a free and united Ireland and to convince those who feel threatened that they have nothing to fear in a United Ireland.

We will be challenged as we seek through all of the above to persuade the governments and others to develop a strategy and programme for national reconciliation.

Our Assembly team today at this meeting and at others which will take place in the time ahead, is planning new strategies, new campaigns to promote republican goals and in particular to advance the all-Ireland agenda inside and outside the political institutions.

That means the Irish government facing up to its responsibilities. It has failed to do so on a range of issues within its jurisdiction. Despite the economic boom there is a widening gap between rich and poor, ongoing attempts to sell off public services, overcrowding in our schools, health services in crisis and tax breaks for the rich. That's the Fianna Fßil/PD agenda.

Sinn Fein's meeting with the government tomorrow, is at our request and has been arranged to address a range of issues particularly initiatives from the Irish government following the IRAs decision to formally end its armed campaign.

We will also be raising the recent unionist violence and attacks on nationalists across the North.

Contrary to some reports this is not the first official meeting with the Irish government since the start of the year. Martin McGuinness and I have been meeting with the Irish and British governments continuously over recent months in our on-going efforts to break the log-jam in the peace process.

Tomorrows meeting is a continuation of this work. I welcome the fact that Dermot Ahern and Michael McDowell will be in attendance at this engagement as we are anxious to raise a number of issues with them, which are their specific responsibility and to listen to their proposals to inject momentum into the peace process. We have a lot of work ahead of us if the peace process is to be revived.

I welcome the fact that after so many months the Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern is in the North meeting privately with some of those nationalists who have had to bear the brunt of unionist paramilitary attacks.

I hope that he will also take on board their concerns particularly around the failure of the Irish government to take action to assist isolated nationalist communities over the summer months.

I hope he will also listen to concerns about his comments that unionist communities are now more disadvantaged than nationalist communities. It is worrying that such an inaccurate comment could be made by an Irish Cabinet Minister especially when discrimination against nationalists is one of the key issues to be resolved in the time ahead.

Central to this is the equality agenda and Sinn Fein is determined to accelerate its implementation.

Not equality for Catholics. Not equality for Protestants. But equality for every citizen.

There have been many high points over the years since the first IRA cessation in 1994. But there have been many low points also.

There is a major job in the coming months for political representatives, in particular the DUP, to rebuild the political institutions in the north and advance the many elements of the Good Friday Agreement which are outstanding.

As political activists none of this should worry us. Republicans have displayed time and again our ability to take the necessary hard decisions to move the process forward.

But in the upcoming phase of this process the onus and focus will fall principally onto the two governments.

The political process needs momentum. Republicans will again play our part. But others must now step up to the plate also.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News