Sinn Féin Presidential Address Ard Fheis 2019

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The following is the full text of the address by Mary Lou McDonald to the Sinn Féin annual party conference in Derry last weekend.

 

A cháirde,

Tá failte romhaibh uilig chuig Doire d’Ard Fheis Shinn Féin. Táimid ag bogadh ar aghaidh chuig an todhchaí.

Welcome to Derry, the birthplace of Civil Rights, capital of the North-West, a city that has seen conflict and division, a city that has led from the front, building peace and unity.

The hometown of Martin McGuinness. Never forgotten. Always inspiring us. Home also to our very own Derry girl – Elisha McCallion MP – a champion for all the people of Foyle. The strongest voice to represent Foyle. Go raibh maith agat, Elisha. Go n-éirí leat.

Greetings to our friends throughout the world and welcome to our international guests and dignitaries.

We send love to our friend and leader Rita O’Hare. Rita will soon leave her role in the US having done Trojan work for the Republican cause for twenty years. But fear not. Rita will return home to help us build the new Ireland she has dedicated her life to achieve. Republicans don’t retire. So you can be absolutely certain that Rita will never retire.

To the people of Palestine and of Catalonia we restate again our solidarity with you as we look forward to the day when our three nations together enjoy freedom, independence and unity. That day is coming.

We also send our solidarity to John Downey. John is a supporter of the peace process. He shouldn’t be in jail. He should be at home with his family in Donegal.

Friends, We stand on the threshold of a new decade. A decade of opportunity. An opportunity to turn the page, to write a new chapter. The last decade was a lost decade. Dominated by the destructive politics of austerity, of cuts and of division.

People were the collateral damage in the economic collapse. The rich got richer and the people picked up the tab. The coming decade must be different. The people must take centre stage.

And our progress must not be measured by how well the few are doing. But rather by how you – the many – are getting on. Measured by our determination to win the race against climate change. By our success in achieving Irish Unity.

I believe we have the talent and resources to redefine Ireland. But to do this, things must change. The old ways have not worked. The old ways have failed you and your family. The old ways have fuelled economic uncertainty and an environmental emergency. The old ways have held people back.

We must make sure those old ways – the broken politics and narrow thinking – do not rob us of the promise of the next decade.

Ireland’s future will be defined by economic equality and climate justice.

And let the message go loud and clear, to Government Buildings in Dublin and to No.10 Downing Street that this new decade is the one in which we will finally end partition to achieve a new, united Ireland.

Caithfidh muid bogadh ar aghaidh ón am atá imithe agus a bheith feacháint ar an am atá le teacht. Caithfidh muid sochaí a chruthú ina bhfuil gach uile saoránach agus teaghlach beo i dtír atá cothrom. Sin an cinéal sochaí a theastaíonn ó Phoblachtaigh a chruthú.

To everyone watching who haven’t enjoyed any economic recovery yet; who pay a second mortgage in childcare fees; who are ripped-off with rents; to you who cannot afford a mortgage, to carers, to citizens with disabilities and your families; let me say this; you are entitled to a good life, a full life that you can afford.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have short-changed you. You deserve a new deal. A better deal to tackle the crushing cost of living, raise your income and build an equal, prosperous society that serves you and your family.

Sinn Féin offers a New Deal, an all-Ireland deal that gives workers and families a break. Let me share with you some of the common-sense principles and solutions that we would deliver.

A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Sinn Féin will make the living wage the law. We want secure work, workers’ rights and trade union rights protected in law. We want our taxation system to be fair and progressive. That means ending tax holidays for the banks.

And just as you have the right to decent work, you also have the right to retire on a state pension at the age of sixty-five.

Sixty-five year olds should not be sent to stand in the dole queue. These measures will support workers but also boost industrial productivity and social prosperity.

A home – a secure roof over your head. If we are serious about solving the housing crisis we need to get back to building public housing led by Councils and increasing the supply of affordable homes.

This is something that will never be delivered by Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael because their policies are about developers and landlords making profits.

In Cabra, where I live, we still enjoy the legacy of housing schemes from the 1930s and 1940s. If it could be done then it certainly can be done now.

In previous generations a family with one income could buy their own home – today families with two incomes can only dream of home ownership. And young people feel they have no chance.

My commitment to you is that Sinn Féin will deliver the largest public housing building programme that Ireland has ever seen. We will also increase the supply of affordable homes.

And by affordable, I mean affordable to average workers. Over the last five years, rents have sky-rocketed. Renters need a break and security. We will cut rents.We will reduce rents by up to €1,500 a year through a tax relief and a three-year rent freeze.

It’s time to stop the scandal of tenant eviction into homelessness. It’s time to stop the scandal of children and families calling B&Bs home.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are bad for your health.

We have an emergency in our hospitals. This year, so far, one hundred thousand people have suffered the indignity of lying on a trolley.

Tory austerity is bad for your health.

Across Ireland, we have a crisis in mental health services.

But Healthcare is a right. That means public investment. It means more beds. It means more staff. It means a real commitment to public health services.

Our system is broken. We need an Irish National Health Service. That is the future.

Let’s send a message of support to the striking nurses here in the North. Just like nurses in the South, they are the people who will defend our public health services and Sinn Féin stands with them.

It’s time to make childcare a public service.

Childcare can mean stress for families. Securing a place, the costs that make you question your decision to go out to work, worry about failings in the childcare system. I was that parent when my children were younger and I want to change the system for you.

We currently have the worst of all worlds. Childcare workers are low-paid, their employment is insecure, yet fees rise higher and higher. It’s time to take a big step forward. Secondary education was not a public service until fifty years ago. Within a decade participation rates doubled. We need a similar bold move in childcare. This would slash the costs for parents and ensure childcare workers have decent pay and job security.

Our children have the right to an education – a free education. Sinn Féin has shown how school budgets can be increased, books and school meals provided for and “voluntary” contribution fees eliminated.

This decade, must see the delivery of truly free education. From the first day of school to graduation. This means scrapping third level fees.

Is dúshlán ollmhór an t-athrú aeráide don ghlúin seo. Ní mór dúinn plean a chur lé chéile anois. Ní féidir aon mhoill a bheith ann.

A Green New Deal for Ireland will be at the centre of our work. Policies to deal with the climate crisis, policies to build the economy of tomorrow, that work for the people and the planet.

We need to change how we talk about climate policies. Too often, the focus is on cost and not investment, on the individual and not the system.

A Green New Deal for Ireland means zero emissions targets; a just transition, sustainable jobs; state investment in infrastructure and skills.

Anyone living in the North-West knows full well that we need to revolutionise our public transport and our infrastructure.

In the coming weeks, Sinn Féin will publish radical proposals on the watch of David Cullinane TD and Caoimhe Archibald MLA.

A Chairde, the days of partition are numbered. Change is in the air. Brexit has changed everything. Many people, for the first time, are now considering their future in a United Ireland.

The Irish government and all who say that now is not the time to speak of unity are wrong. A referendum on unity will happen, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. It is not a question of if, but a question of when.

Déanann Éire Aontaithe ciall. Is é an rud ceart le déanamh agus caithfidh muid ullmhú chun go dtarlóidh sé. Caithfidh an obair sin tosú anois.

Now is the time to prepare.

The Irish government must convene an All-Ireland Forum; to map the transition to a United Ireland, to involve all the people, to plan for our economy and our public services.

And then the referendum must happen in the next five years. Let the people have their say!

Sinn Féin’s New Deal represents an ambitious agenda based on common sense. It is progressive, modern and, above all, it is achievable. A deal for everybody who calls Ireland home. Nobody will be excluded.

I pledge that no community will ever be scape-goated for the failures of those in power no matter the colour of your skin, your gender, your sexual orientation, no matter where you come from, no matter where you live.

There is no contradiction between working for Irish Unity and seeking the restoration of the northern institutions.

Three years on, we have no assembly and executive. This is unsustainable.

There is an immediate challenge to restore government in the North. To bring accountable government for all the people. Government of respect and equality leaving discrimination and exclusion to the past. We are ready to do business.

Sinn Féin has never been the obstacle to power-sharing or good government or doing a deal.

I challenge the DUP and both governments to step forward. To resolve the issues and get government back in action.

We don’t need a drawn-out talks process. The issues have been well-rehearsed. We need a good faith, purposeful engagement by political Unionism. Sinn Féin negotiators stand ready.

In Dublin, those who lament the absence of Sinn Féin from government in the North are determined to keep us out of government in the South.

We are not part of their cosy club that has run things for almost a century.

These parties align themselves with the golden circles – the banks, the landlords and the vulture funds.

They are the reason why governments come and governments go but the old problems remain. There are some who believe we should never talk to other parties about government.

Those fears are understandable. But I believe the housing crisis will only be solved with Sinn Féin in government.

I believe we will only see a proper health service and a fair, just economy with Sinn Féin in government.

Following the general election, we have a choice to make. Not about being in government for the sake of it. But about how we best implement our policies – our solutions.

In arriving at this decision, we should be guided, not by our distrust of other parties, but by our confidence in republicans.

After the election, we will talk and we will listen. Our preference is for a left-led government. Let the other parties tell us if they are willing to implement a republican programme for government.

If we have the chance to deliver housing and healthcare, to stand up for people and deliver a fair deal for families, to deliver on Irish Unity. Then that is the only basis on which Sinn Féin would enter government.

On November 29th, by-elections will be held in Cork, Wexford and Dublin. This is an opportunity to pass judgement on the Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition government – that is what it is – week in week out, Fianna Fáil TDs line up to back Fine Gael.

Leo Varadkar, Simon Harris, Eoghan Murphy lead one of the most out of touch governments the state has ever seen – they haven’t a clue about the reality of towns and villages in rural Ireland struggling to survive.

They haven’t a clue of what it is like for working families afraid that their landlord is going to sell their home.

They haven’t a clue about parents fighting for access to services for a child with special needs.

If you are tired of the northside of Cork being left behind, then vote for Thomas Gould. He will stand up for you and get things done.

If you live in Clondalkin or Lucan, in Swords or Rush and you want decent housing and healthcare, vote for Mark Ward in Dublin Mid-West and Ann Graves in Dublin Fingal.

If you live in Wexford and you are alarmed by the lack of mental health services, angry that the second regional Cath Lab has not been delivered, then vote for Johnny Mythen.

On December 12th, we face a defining Westminster Election.

We stand on a strong, anti-Brexit platform. The DUP as architects and champions of Brexit. So there’s the clear choice. The people will have to call it. Between the future and the past. Between Sinn Féin and Mé Féin.

The people of North Belfast will have to call it. Between John Finucane and Nigel Dodds.

Some claim they will enter Westminster to stop Brexit. Those making this claim need to give themselves a shake.

No Irish elected representative can stop Brexit. That’s the fact.

Rather than indulging in the politics of delusion and blind-alleys, Irish elected representatives must act to protect Irish interests where it matters.

Far from the chaos of Westminster – in the Dáil, in the Seanad, in the European Parliament, on Capitol Hill. That is what Sinn Féin has done.

No Irish republican would swear an oath to the crown. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael feel differently. They have very strong views on entering Westminster. Mind you, not strong enough to come up here and contest the elections.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have abstained from the North for almost a hundred years. We take no lectures from those parties who looked the other way, who opted out and who abandoned this part of Ireland.

Friends, We face into a decade of opportunity. The past was for those who seek to divide. The future is for those of us who seek to unite. The old guard can have yesterday. Tomorrow is ours. The next stage of our struggle beckons. The road to Irish Unity runs through it. The road to economic equality runs through it.

Friends, the road to the republic runs through it. It is a road we walk together. Confident. Resilient. Determined. Always looking to tomorrow. Always working hard in our communities. Always standing up for people. That is the Sinn Féin way and that will never change.

So join us in shaping and defining Ireland’s future. This is the decade in which we will deliver this new Ireland. In which we will unite our country. This is the decade in which we will win the republic.

Ar aghaidh linn le chéile. Ar aghaidh linn le Sinn Féin.

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