Presidential Address Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2012
Presidential Address Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2012

A chairde,

Tá failte romhaibh uilig chuig Ard Fheis Sinn Féin i anseo i gCill Áirne, contae Chiarraí. A special céad míle fáilte also to our Friends of Sinn Féin from the USA, Canada and Australia, to our comrades from the Basque country, from South Africa, Palestine and Cuba and to all foreign dignitaries.

Yesterday was Africa Day when that continent celebrated its freedom from colonialism.

But today western powers haggle while 20 million people in the Sahel region of north Africa face a severe famine.

Thus far the international community has not provided the money urgently needed.

This Ard Fheis extends solidarity to the suffering people of Africa.

We urge our government to do its best to encourage the international community to help the people of the Sahel.

Solidarity also to the people of the Middle East and comhghairdeas to the Palestinian hunger strikers who secured a deal on prison conditions.

Everything is relative but in Ireland we also have our difficulties.

Over half a million are unemployed - almost 450,000 in this state.

Many citizens cannot pay their bills or mortgages.

Youth unemployment is especially high, north and south.

I recently spoke to one woman who told me that three of her brothers, all married, left two weeks ago for Australia.

Her distress was plain and is shared by tens of thousands of other families.

The policies of Fianna Fáil, and now Fine Gael and Labour are responsible.

Forced emigration is one of the huge damning failures of this state.

Citizens are angry.

Angry at the political and banking elite and the developers – the golden circle – that enriched itself through corruption, greed and bad policies.

Angry at the government for failing to hold these elites to account.

Angry at broken promises by Fine Gael and Labour not to pay one more red cent to bad banks and then handing over €24 billion.

Many citizens thought they were voting for change in last year’s General Election.

But what happened?

Tweedle dum has been replaced by Tweedle dee and Tweedle dumber.

Fine Gael and Labour were elected to change the disastrous policies of Fianna Fail leaderships.

Instead they embraced these policies.

They have cut public services and wages.

Attacked the rights of the most vulnerable.

And introduced new stealth taxes.

The household charge, water charges; septic tank charges; VAT and fuel increases.

What is the point of the Labour Party in this government?

What would James Connolly think of the Labour leaderships’ implementation of right wing austerity policies?

What would he think of the promises made and broken by the party he founded?

My commitment to you this evening is that Sinn Féin will not make any promises we will not keep.

When Sinn Féin makes a commitment – as we demonstrated often during the peace process – we keep our commitments.

Creideann muidinne gur féidir le hÉirinn, idir Thuaidh agus Theas, theacht amach níos láidre agus níos rathúla as an ghéarchéim seo. We live in a great country.

Our history is replete with challenges, adversity and great injustice.

But our people have come through it all.

And in every generation brave men and women have come forward.

From 1798 to 1847, from 1913 to 1916 to 1981.

Visionaries have shown the way.

They made a stand.

Today workers at Vita Cortex in Cork, La Senza, Wilsons, in Game shops, and at Irish Cement have made a stand.

Today Lagan Brick workers are 164 days on strike.

Parents defending their children with disabilities, hospital campaigners, carers, teachers, health workers, defenders of our schools, turf cutters, citizens who are standing up for themselves and their families and communities, are showing the way.

So too are citizens who work in the community and voluntary sector, in our sporting organisations, in the arts, in environmental groups, in defence of our language, in support of our young people and our senior citizens.

Citizens who are supporting victims of abuse, including drugs and alcohol misuse and suicide prevention, are holding our communities together.

These active citizens, compassionate carers and community activists are the real Ireland.

Tá siad ag seasamh an fhóid do achan duine.

Tá siad ag seasamh ar son Éireann.

Agus tá muid fior buíoch daoibh.

We have to follow their example, all of us and demand our rights as citizens.

The right to a job, to a home, to a decent health service and education, to a clean environment, to civil and religious liberties, and to top quality public services.

We have to break the cycle of austerity and inequality.

We need to get citizens back to work.

We need fair taxation.

We need to eliminate wasteful public spending.

And yes, it is crucial that we deal with the banking debt.

But these policies must be accompanied by a plan to get citizens back to work.

And austerity won’t do it.

In the North, the absence of fiscal powers and cuts by the British Tory government, have made the Executive’s task more difficult.

In this state the government gives fiscal powers away!

This state needs a government led job creation strategy.

There are funds available – in the National Pension Reserve Fund, in the European Investment Bank, in the Private Pension sector and in NAMA.

Sinn Féin proposes a €13 billion stimulus.

This stimulus would run over three years creating approximately 130,000 jobs directly.

The projects are there.

Vitally needed schools, crèches, roads, regeneration projects; broadband and a water system that needs to be modernized.

Sinn Féin supports inward investment but we will also champion Small and Medium enterprises and homegrown businesses.

Upward only rent reviews, and the denial of credit by banks for our small and medium sector, doesn’t make economic sense.

It does make economic sense to replace imports with home-produced products and to target specific sectors for export.

It does make economic sense to expand the agri-food sector.

It does make economic sense to build on the potential of tourism.

Sinn Féin advocates a joined up all-island strategic approach to fully exploit this potential.

Sinn Féin will also change social protection to introduce a safety net for the self-employed.

Ireland does have the visionaries to develop our own industries.

That vision must be matched by government action.

Ní dheanann déine é sin.

Ní hí an déine an reiteach.

Caithfidh muid daoine a chur ar ais ag obair.

In a real republic there is a duty to provide the highest quality of public services.

Better services delivered more fairly and paid for by direct taxation.

All citizens, throughout their lives, should have access to education at all levels based on their ability but the cost of educating their children is increasingly a challenge for many parents.

Education must give children, all our children, the best start possible. That also is good economics.

Tá Sinn Féin tiomanta do leasuithe sláinte – agus do infheistíocht in ár seirbhís sláinte poiblí.

A public health service, free at the point of delivery which provides for citizens from the cradle to the grave, and also funded by direct taxation, is good economics.

The number of sick children awaiting hospital admission and on trolleys had increased by almost 700% in three years.

In the first four months of this year 26,106 citizens were left on hospital trolleys.

Almost 60,000 patients – adults and children - are on waiting lists - a 50% increase on 2010.

After one year of this government the health service is worse now because this government is doing exactly the same thing as Fianna Fáil.

And patients and their families are paying the price while those at the top award themselves obscene salaries and huge bonuses.

Citizens need to stand together against this. It is wrong.

It must be stopped.

Rural Ireland is also under attack.

Rural schools, post offices and Garda stations are being closed.

Rural people are told they can no longer cut turf where it has been cut for generations.

They are being compelled to pay septic tank and household charges.

Unemployment is driving young people to far off foreign shores.

In Leitrim I was told that half of those between the ages of 22 and 26 have left.

The heart is being torn from communities as a whole GAA generation leaves for Canada and Australia.

In this state around 70,000 people are emigrating each year.

That’s nine citizens every hour.

Mothers and fathers wonder who will leave next.

Rural Ireland, and especially the west is being devastated.

Forced emigration is not a life style choice.

But it is an indictment of the two men from the west who lead this bad government.

Shame on you Taoiseach.

Shame on you Tánaiste.

Sinn Féin is engaging with people across rural Ireland and listening to their hopes for the future. We are looking at what rural Ireland has to offer rather than how it can be targeted for cuts.

There is anger too in Gaeltacht communities.

Gaeltacht schools are being targeted.

The 20-year strategy for the Irish Language is not being implemented.

Sinn Féin has recently appointed an Irish language officer to strengthen the use of Irish within our party and to direct our Irish language strategy.

Our Minister Caral Ni Chuilin is doing trojan work to support and develop the Irish Language.

This Ard Fheis commends her successful Liofa campaign.

I want to turn now to the Austerity Treaty.

When considering what way to vote people need to ask themselves if the austerity of recent budgets led to jobs and growth?

The answer is obvious. The answer is no.

If you accept that, you should vote No.

Austerity isn’t working now and won’t start working on 1st June.

Neither will it bring stability or certainty.

Austerity means more cuts.

And increased charges.

Right now if you do not like the policies of the government you can sack them or re-elect them.

You won’t be able to do that with unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in Frankfurt and Brussels.

That is undemocratic.

Don’t give up your power.

Don’t give your democratic rights away.

And don’t write austerity into the constitution.

Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil have not offered any positive arguments in favour of this Treaty.

The Taoiseach won’t even debate the issue!

That’s not leadership!

That’s not showing citizens the respect they deserve!

Instead Mr. Kenny, Mr. Gilmore and Mr. Martin are trying to scare people into voting Yes.

Whether it was British rule or a domineering church hierarchy, Irish citizens have had enough of being ruled by fear.

We are done with that.

The Irish government is also out of step with the rest of Europe.

Other EU states are delaying ratification because they know the mood in Europe is changing.

But not our government.

They settled for much less than anyone else, despite Sinn Féin’s clear warning about the foolishness of accepting this bad Treaty.

When the Taoiseach endorsed it in the Dáil he never mentioned growth or jobs.

Not once!

Or a write down of Bank debt.

The truth is Mr. Kenny and Mr. Gilmore are out of their depth.

This Government simply cannot be trusted on this Treaty.

It claims we will be locked out of funds if citizens vote NO.

That’s not true!

The legal mandate of the ESM is very clear.

Funding will be provided, and I quote, where it is ‘indispensable to safeguard the financial stability of the euro area as a whole and of its Member States.”

So don’t be fooled.

Remember what Fine Gael and Labour said during the election.

Remember all Fianna Fáil’s promises.

Don’t be fooled. Be wise.

Join with the millions across Europe who are demanding an end to austerity.

It is a good and patriotic and positive action to say NO to a Treaty that is bad for you, bad for your family and community, bad for society and entirely without any social or economic merit.

Next Thursday. Vote No.

It is five years since the historic deal between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

The business of delivering for citizens is continuing.

There are still outstanding issues including on the Irish Language, a Bill of Rights and other equality issues.

The British Secretary of State has also made a number of unhelpful and unwarranted interventions, including his decision to revoke the licences of Martin Corey and Marian Price.

The British Secretary of State should go back to England where he belongs.

Marion Price and Martin Corey and Gerry McGeough, should be released immediately.

The political institutions in the North need to move to the next stage – the transfer of fiscal power to the Assembly and Executive.

The continuing exercise of fiscal power by the British Treasury will lead to more cuts in the block grant and more right wing welfare policies being imposed on us.

Despite the difficulties a huge effort by the Executive has resulted in jobs being retained and new jobs created.

Unemployment in the North has fallen and at 6% is less than half the level in this state.

Despite the lack of fiscal autonomy the Sinn Féin Ministerial and Assembly team have stood against cuts, and used public funds to invest in jobs and growth.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has ensured funding for the A5, the new road linking Monaghan, Tyrone, Derry and Donegal, the expansion of Altnagelvin and Omagh hospitals and the freeze on Student Fees.

There are many good positive cross border developments.

For example, the new cancer unit at Altnagelvin in Derry will serve patients from Donegal.

And I want to commend DUP Health Minister Poots for ensuring that the new hospital in Enniskillen will be open to patients from Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan.

Sinn Féin Ministers have created a social investment fund to tackle disadvantage.

We have capped the domestic rate, established an Executive sub-committee on Welfare Reform to alleviate hardship and introduced new measures to address Youth Unemployment.

And at a time of tight budgets a Winter Fuel Payment was made to citizens

Sinn Féin refused to introduce water charges.

We stopped the privatisation of water services.

Education Minister John O’Dowd is progressing reforms to break down the social, economic and regional barriers to education.

These include free school meals, school uniform grants, extended youth services and early years provision, and an almost five percent increase in the budgets allocated directly to schools.

As well as growing the North’s agri-food sector to create jobs Agriculture Minister Michelle O Neill is also tackling rural poverty and isolation.

I want at this point to pay tribute to our outgoing poll topping MEP for the Six Counties, Bairbre de Brún.

This Ard Fheis thanks you Bairbre for your work in many leadership positions over many years.

Tá muid fior buíoch duitse.

Agus beidh muid ag obair le chéile arís sa todhchaí.

And I thank Martina Anderson for her work as a Junior Minister and wish her well as she prepares to take up new challenges as an MEP.

I commend our Leinster House and Assembly teams, our MPs and Councillors and all our activists.

Across Ireland Sinn Féin is building the political fightback against austerity.

Sinn Féin TDs and Seanadoirí and our other activists in Leinster House are leading the political opposition to this government.

But I want to single out and commend and thank Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Mícheál Mac Donncha who have just completed 15 years in the Dáil.

Go raibh maith agat Bríd.

I also want to pay tribute to Martin McGuinness for standing in the Presidential election.

It was a tremendous campaign for Irish Republicanism.

A decisive and defining intervention at the beginning, and most importantly at the end.

Tá athrú mór tagtha ar an Tuaisceart go háirithe le blianta beaga anuas mar gheall ar an proiséas síochána. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement the British Government has agreed to end its jurisdiction if a majority of people vote that way.

All of us — north and south, nationalist, unionist and others, need to plan for that.

In this state more and more people realize we do not have a real republic.

Sinn Féin wants to demonstrate to unionists that a united Ireland is also in their interests.

A United Ireland makes sense.

A single Island economy makes sense.

It does not make sense on an island this size and with a population of six million, to have two states, two bureaucracies, two sets of government departments, and two sets of agencies competing for inward investment.

Harmonising our systems will save money, improve efficiency and create jobs.

A new, agreed united Ireland will emerge through a genuine process of national reconciliation.

Through a cordial union.

Sinn Féin is for a new republic where the interests of citizens come first.

A new Republic that is inclusive and pluralist.

A new Republic created democratically and peacefully.

Sinn Féin is about nation building.

A nation rooted in harmony, equality and justice.

The people of Ireland are entitled to social justice.

Equality is achievable.

Irish people have the genius and the right to demand it.

In our time.

For all citizens, for all our communities.

So, now is the time for courage.

For commitment and patriotism.

For hope.

For all our children.

For our great country.

For Ireland.

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