The Presidential address to this year's Sinn Fein annual conference this [Saturday] evening.
Tá failte romhaibh uilig chuig Ard Fheis Sinn Féin i Halla cois cuain anseo i mBéal Feirste cois cuain. Nach mór a d’athraigh an saol anseo.
[Welcome everyone to the Sinn Fein annual conference in the waterfront Hall here in waterfront Belfast. Hasn’t life changed a lot here.]
I want to welcome all of you here, from all parts of our island to our Ard Fheis in Belfast. I want to welcome Friends of Sinn Féin from Canada and the USA. This is an emotive time for people in New York and we think of our friends who died in the attacks there on September 11.
I want to welcome our international guests from South Africa and from the Basque country and elsewhere, and all of you watching at home.
Can I extend a special welcome to Fady Abusidualghoul, our guest representing the Palestinian people? Later this month the Palestinian Authority will ask the United Nations to recognise the State of Palestine. I call on the Irish government to support the Palestinian people and their demand for statehood and independence.
In August 1971 a British Army regiment, the Paras, killed 11 people in Ballymurphy. Five months later in January 1972 this same regiment killed 14 people in Derry on Bloody Sunday. That July in Springhill, in West Belfast the Paras killed five more people. Shortly after that they shot dead two men on the Shankill Road. And in early 1973 they killed five men in Ardoyne. It is claimed that the Paras killed 42 people in disputed circumstances in the 20 months after internment in 1971.
Sinn Féin supports the efforts of their loved ones, as we do all of those seeking truth and closure. I want to welcome the Ballymurphy and Springhill Massacre families; the families from the Loughinisland campaign group and the McGurk Bar relatives, who are with us this evening.
A New Belfast
Belfast has a proud republican history. This is the city where the United Irish men and women first committed themselves to ending the connection with Britain. This is the city of proud Protestant republicans – the city of Mary Anne McCracken, of Henry Joy McCracken, William Drennan, Samuel McTier and others.
This is the city where James Connolly organised the working men and women, and particularly the women against sweat shop exploitation.
This is where Séan MacDiarmada joined the IRB and where Countess Markievicz founded Na Fianna hÉireann.
Seo an chathair a raibh Pádraig Pearse agus ceannairí eile Éirigh Amach 1916 ar chuairt inti go minic. Áit a raibh siad ag obair le Gaeilgeoirí agus le Home Rulers agus iad ag pleanáil deireadh le rial na Breataine sa tír seo.
[This is the city where Padraig Pearse and the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising visited often. The place were they were working with Irish speakers and with Home Rulers and they planning the end of British rule in this country.]
So it’s a big deal for Belfast republicans that the Ard Fheis is assembled here. And it’s a big deal for me as a Belfast citizen who has been elected by the people of Louth to be with you.
In the mid 1960s when I joined Sinn Féin it was a banned organisation.
I was arrested for the first time in Belfast city centre when I was 17 or 18 for selling the party newspaper.
At that time this was a one party - police state - run by a unionist elite which controlled all the institutions of government. Discrimination against Catholics was rife; the old RUC and B Specials ran the place.
And the Special Powers Act was the order of the day.
Many of my generation spent years of our lives without charge or trial on the prison ship Maidstone, anchored not far from here in Belfast Lough, or in Belfast prison and Magilligan, in Armagh women’s prison and in the cages of Long Kesh. Others spent decades in other prisons.
Some went to early graves or carry injuries to this day.
The Orange State, assisted and supported by the British government, ruled supreme. Those days are gone. Done with, over.Unionism, as it comes to terms with this new reality, will be liberated by it.
The orange state is no more. This Ard Fheis, your presence here, is proof of that.
Under the old regime the greatest price, as is the universal experience, was paid by working class communities. Nationalists were second class citizens. And every expression of Irishness was suppressed. Unionists were sold the pretence of privilege. But it could not be sustained. Not in this city. Not anywhere. Because this is also the city of Maire Drumm, of Mairead Farrell, of Marie Moore and many other heroes and heroines.
The Hunger Strike
They include Bobby Sands, Joe McDonnell and Kieran Doherty. Thirty years ago Bobby, Joe and Kieran, along with Francie Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch,
Tom McElwee and Michael Devine, died on hunger strike.
Is inspioráid é féin-íobairt agus tiomantas na stailceoirí ocrais i bpríosún na mban in Ard Mhacha agus na bhfear sna blocanna H.
[The self-sacrifice and commitment of the hunger strikers in the prison for women in Armagh and for men in the H-Blocks is an inspiration.]
They are our role models. Surviving hunger strikers are with us here tonight. Thirty years ago some of them were still on stailc ocras.
Tabhair fáilte mór gcroí roimh [Give a heartfelt welcome to] Pat Sheehan; Raymond McCartney; Jackie McMullan; Leo Green; and last but not least Mary Doyle.
Patriotic commitment to equality and to national sovereignty is what motivates Sinn Féin. Citizens have rights. These include the right to a home; the right to a job; the right to access to education; to a health service from the cradle to the grave; the right to a safe and clean environment; and to civil and religious liberties.
This is what republicanism is about. This is what freedom and real democracy is about.
And never was there a more important time than this for these core republican values. The people of Ireland are facing an economic crisis of such magnitude, it dominates all our lives – from the very young to the very old. In the north, British government policy and its continuing control of fiscal matters makes efforts to tackle the economic crisis more difficult. The cuts to the block grant is a major challenge to the Executive and Assembly.
In the south, half a million people languish on the dole. College graduates, newly qualified, join unemployed construction workers, architects, and solicitors.
This week, 575 workers lost their jobs in Waterford and the announcement of the immediate closure of Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta with the loss of 130 jobs will be yet another devastating blow to Gaeltacht regions. Thousands are leaving our shores taking their youth, enthusiasm and skills to other countries.
Families are being forced to choose between buying schoolbooks or paying exorbitant mortgages.
And Irish people don’t even have the right to make our own decisions about how to handle this crisis. Irish economic sovereignty has been handed over to the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
The job losses are mounting and still Fine Gael and Labour plough ahead with their slíebhín policies of re-capitalising the banks and slashing public spending.
Where is their jobs plan? What kind of a society will be left at the end of this crisis if there is no public airline, no public bus company, no public energy body, no post services, no forestry body.
What kind of society will be left when they have sold off our performing, essential state assets and natural resources for next to nothing to private interests?
The Irish people deserve better. And they know it.
Coalition have betrayed hopes of citizens
That is why there is also a great desire for fundamental political change across the island. That was most obvious in the six counties in the support given to the Executive and Assembly and the all-Ireland institutions in the election in May.
People voted for change in the south also. They voted against Fianna Fáil’s disastrous policies. They voted against the EU/IMF deal. They did so in huge numbers, and they elected Fine Gael and Labour in good faith that they would honour their election promises. But the Coalition Government has betrayed the trust of the people who elected them.
Fine Gael and Labour tore up their election commitments.Instead they are implementing Fianna Fáil policy. Labour spends its time defending the privatisation of public assets and the imposition of unfair taxes on the lowest paid.
One day Labour is telling us there will be no cuts in social welfare and the next they are forced to admit there will be cuts to social welfare in the December budget. In fact Fine Gael and Labour are set to impose almost 4 billion euro of these cuts.
At the same time they are handing three billion euro over to the Anglo-Irish Bank - this year and every year for the next ten years. And Fine Gael and Labour expects the people on hospital trolleys and carers, senior citizens and working families and the unemployed, to think this is fair.
This is not fair. This is wrong. There is another way, there is a better way. Sinn Féin would not pay this 30 billion euro to Anglo Irish. In fact Sinn Féin would not pay one cent of Irish taxpayers’ money to this dead bank.
A better Ireland is possible
A better Ireland is possible. It must be based on the rights of citizens; on the needs of society and the primacy of community, on fairness and equality. Sinn Féin’s recovery plan would use the remaining reserves in the National Pension Reserve Fund to introduce a multi-billion euro jobs package.
Our plan invests in school and hospital buildings, in broadband roll out, in developing our agri-food sector so that we can grow our way to recovery and reduce the deficit. Tens of thousands of families are in serious mortgage distress.This cannot be left to the banks.
The government must act now.
The priority must be to protect family homes. An independent distressed Mortgage Resolution Body is needed, with strong powers and a menu of options to help those in greatest need.
Anything less is unacceptable. Sinn Féin makes no bones about it.
We will ask our wealthiest citizens, who will also benefit from the recovery, to contribute more. A package of wealth taxes, taxes on profits and an end to tax exemptions will bring in the revenue necessary to meet funding needs. Sinn Féin will tackle public spending where it is wasteful. But we will protect social welfare, education and public health budgets.
Sinn Féin will go after hospital consultants who are among the highest paid in the world. We will go after politicians and top civil servants’ wages and their pension lump-sums. We will protect state assets and get a better deal on our natural resources. Sinn Féin will tell private bondholders that they must take the pain of their losses – that the Irish taxpayer will carry them no more. And we will tell the EU/IMF that it’s time for a new deal, a deal that takes account of what the Irish people are able and willing to do.
Agus nuair a deir Sinn Féin go ndéanfaidh muid rud éigin, bí cinnte go ndéanfaidh muid é.
[And when Sinn Fein that we will do something, be sure that we will do it.]
The IMF/EU Rip-off
Unlike others Sinn Féin is no latter day convert to the value of Irish economic sovereignty. We have always argued that the Irish people cannot enjoy democracy or full independence as long as the majority of our laws are made by people who we do not elect.
We want to co-operate with democrats across our continent to build a Europe of equals where all states, regardless of their size or wealth or power, respect one another’s sovereignty and co-operate together in tackling the common problems of Europe and the wider world.
Sinn Féin is opposed to further EU centralisation and challenges those in the Irish political establishment, who despite their sham battles, are shamefully subservient to Brussels. And to Frankfurt.
When the Euro was introduced Sinn Féin warned against giving away the state’s ability to make monetary policy. Our position has been vindicated by the disastrous developments since then. The European Common Currency project - or the Euro - is in deep crisis and citizens have the right to know what the government is going to do.
The Irish people also have a right to know if the government has a contingency plan if the currency collapses?Fine Gael and Labour are not being honest. In the teeth of the current crisis Sinn Féin warns against any attempt to hand over further economic power to the EU.
The raising and spending of taxes goes to the heart of how societies are organised. It determines the funding and quality of public services, the distribution and redistribution of wealth. These must be the democratic prerogative of the Irish people through their representatives in the Dáil or the Assembly.
Isn’t it ironic that as Sinn Féin campaigns for the transfer of fiscal powers from London to Belfast, in Dublin these fiscal powers are to be given away to the EU by the Irish political establishment.
A President for Ireland
I want to commend the work of outgoing President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin - both citizens of this city. Next month the people will elect a new President of Ireland. But once again citizens in the north will not have the right to vote.
This must change. Citizens from all parts of Ireland must be able to vote in Presidential elections. Irish citizens living abroad – as is the case with many other states – should have the right to vote also. The Presidency is not a trophy for the political establishment.
Uachtarán amháin, Oileán amháin.
[One President, one Island.]
Across this island more and more people are looking to Sinn Féin for leadership. In my view Sinn Féin should support the nomination of a candidate to be President of Ireland.
A candidate who is capable of winning the support of progressive and nationalist opinion. And who will reflect the broad republican spirit of the Irish people at this time. The incoming Ard Chomhairle will consider this matter.
This year saw a significant electoral advance for Sinn Féin. I want to thank all of those who have entrusted us with their vote. And I would ask everyone in Dublin West to come out and support Paul Donnelly in the upcoming by-election.
I want to congratulate all our new TDs and Senators and their families.
Sinn Féin is now the leading voice of opposition. We are standing up for Ireland. We have put forward an alternative. We have consistently challenged the bad decisions of the government.
Our TDs and Senators have raised issues of significance, including the sell-off of our natural gas and oil resources, the punitive social charge, the crisis around suicide and self-harming, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, and we have highlighted the governments lies about the health services; introduced a Bill to cut the wages of politicians, fought to protect the rights of low paid workers, and brought forward costed, comprehensive job creation proposals.
We will continue to fight on all of these issues. Unlike the others Sinn Féin will do exactly what we promised during the elections.
Tá Sinn Féin ag seasamh le muintir ár dtíre. Tá muid soiléir agus cinnte faoi sin. Agus caithfidh muid seasamh le chéile – láidir agus aontaithe agus ag gluaiseacht ar aghaidh.
[Sinn Fein is standing with the people of our country. We are clear and certain about that. And we must stand together - strong and united and moving forward.]
I also want to congratulate all our new MLAs and councillors and Paul Maskey the MP for west Belfast, and their families, and in particular I want to thank the Ministers who served in the last term.
Chonaic muid fosta, tar éis na dtoghcháin Níall Ó Donnghaile, an méara is óige a riamh ar Bhéal Feirste – agus tá sé ag déanamh sar obair.
[We say already, after the election of Niall O Donnghaile, the youngest Mayor ever for Belfast - and he is doing great work.]
This year saw a historic step change in the politics of this part of Ireland with the completion of the first, full term of an inclusive power-sharing Executive. In this new term the Assembly must deliver for all our people.
Sinn Féin Ministers will continue to take the lead and tomorrow Martin McGuinness travels to the USA to secure more direct investment and jobs.
In the time ahead we will work with our Executive colleagues to confront sectarianism and racism. Our Ministers will continue to tackle rural poverty; to transform education; promote the Liofa initiative; transfer the headquarters of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to west of the Bann; and drive towards a ‘Team-Ireland’ approach to the upcoming Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy negotiations.
We look forward to significant progress on the Long Kesh site.
Let me give clear warning that the checks and balances, and the accountability mechanisms for policing and justice must be fully implemented. And the malign influence of the NIO and the securocrat old guard must be ended. The St Andrews Review needs to be completed and the British government also has to face up to its responsibilities.
Financial cuts and the refusal to implement key aspects of the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements, like a Bill of Rights and Acht na Gaeilge, may be Tory party policy, but it is not acceptable to this party and the people of this country.
Sinn Féin is from that democratic tradition which believes that the British government never had any right to be in Ireland; does not have any right to be in Ireland and never will have any right to be in Ireland.
The best thing a British government can do - and will do as our strategy advances peacefully and democratically – is to leave the people of this island to manage our own affairs.
This means Republicans reaching out to unionists. This requires us and them to recognise each other’s integrity and to live in peace. We have to understand how we have hurt one another and we must listen to each other. We need to be patient and to seek to find common ground on which we can celebrate our difference as diversity. And as equals.This is a personal priority for me and a political priority for Sinn Féin.
Partition created two conservative states ruled by two conservative elites.
Tá daonra na hÉireann cothrom le leath an daonra i Nua Eabhrac agus go fóill tá dúbailt de gach rud againne. Tá dhá stáit againn. Dhá rialtas.
[The population of Ireland is equal to half the population of New York and yet we have a duplication of everything. We have two states. Two governments.]
Dhá sheirbhís phríobhaideach phoiblí. Dhá chóras airgeadra. Dhá chóras cánach, reachtaíocht agus rialúcháin. Mar thoradh ar seo níl páirt ar bith d’ár dtír saor ó thionchar an teorainn.
[Two public services. Two financial systems. Two tax, legal and administrative systems. As a result of this, there is not a single part of our country free form the effect of the border.]
Uniting Ireland makes economic sense; it makes political sense; it makes common sense. We live in a wonderful country and our people are great people.I have trust in the Irish people.
Sinn Féin’s vision of a new Ireland – a New Republic for the 21st century is both pluralist and inclusive and based on equality and citizens rights.
The new Republic must be built by Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.
I believe there are many people who share our goals.
There are many people across this island who want rid of outsiders ruling us whether from London or the IMF or the EU. Many people want a real republic, a new republic.
This will require the active participation of citizens. I call on you to join Sinn Féin. There is now an entirely peaceful way to bring an end to British rule in our time. Our duty is to develop democratic ways and means to achieve Irish reunification and to unite behind the leadership and the campaigns which will bring this about.
Sinn Féin is clear about our strategy, clear about our goals and clear about the road map to the future, a better future and we have the spirit and confidence to work with others to achieve this.
Seasfaidh muid le chéile, gualainn ar ghualainn
[We stand together, shoulder to shoulder]
We go forward in hope, with confidence in the future.
Let us make history and in the words of the blanketmen and Armagh women, tiocfaidh ár lá [our day will come].