The full text of remarks By First Minister-Designate, Michelle O’Neill, at Sinn Féin’s Wolfe Tone Commemoration, in Bodenstown, County Kildare on Sunday, 19 June.
Dia daoibh a chairde agus chomrádaithe, agus tá fáilte mhór romhaibh inniu.
You are all very welcome here today. Isn’t it fantastic to be back in person here in Sallins as we gather to honour republican patriot, Theobald Wolfe Tone?
For over 200 years this sacred place has been one of political pilgrimage for generations of Irish Republicans who have gathered here on the nearest Sunday to 20 June.
The political thinking of Tone and his associates was strongly influenced by the democratic principles of the French revolutionary ideals of ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’.
He was the most radical thinker and fervent advocate of his time, who wanted ‘to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to substitute the common name of Irishman and woman in place of the denominations of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter’.
I like you am proud to be an Irish republican in the tradition of Tone.
Our primary political objectives therefore remain an end to partition, an end to the union with Britain, the construction of a new national democracy - a New Ireland - and the reconciliation of our people.
We have never been closer than we are now, to achieving our objectives.
Ireland is changing. And the demand for change is growing in every town, village and city on our island.
Ireland needs republican politics now more than ever. The politics of fairness and hope. And the politics for prosperity and equality for all.
The demand on politicians from north and south is a very simple one. They want those elected to government to make politics work. To make real improvements and real difference in their life’s.
Sinn Féin’s vision for a new society is better than anything that has come before.
Six weeks ago, the people of the north gave Sinn Féin an overwhelming endorsement for our vision for change, and the future.
Our performance reflects changing public attitudes and the progressive shift in politics on our island.
Irrespective of religious, political or social backgrounds our commitment is to make politics work through partnership, co-operation and delivery working with others who want progress.
Sinn Féin wants to work together with others to deliver for people. We are ready to form an Executive now.
We need to put over £400 million into people’s pockets to help deal with the cost of living, and an extra £1 billion into the health service to reduce waiting lists, support cancer and mental health services, and recruit more doctors and nurses.
Workers and families are struggling. They need our help now. The DUP need to stop blocking an Executive, so we can give people that help right away.
The outworkings of Brexit and the decision of the DUP to support it; the shift in the balance of power at Stormont, the irreversible loss of the unionist political majority and their perpetual veto has created a political landscape which many within the leadership of the DUP and the Tory party seem incapable of reconciling themselves to. But the people have spoken loud and clear.
We know that the Irish Protocol is being used as a proxy for political unionism to undermine the Good Friday Agreement and shift the goalposts, because they cannot bring themselves to accept the new realities in which we face.
It is an irrefutable fact that the Protocol is working, and that Boris Johnson is incapable of accepting in a straightforward, honest and truthful way that this is the case.
The attempts this week by Boris Johnson to sabotage the Protocol in plain sight have sounded the alarm bells right across Ireland, Britain, Europe and America, awakening all those who value the Good Friday Agreement and who care deeply about safeguarding our peace and progress of the past quarter century.
It is not taken lightly that this British Government discards international law at a whim in such a reckless way, and only ever in their own selfish interests.
Boris Johnson knows that to gamble the Protocol is to jeopardise the British Governments agreement with the EU on their withdrawal and future trading relationship with colossal political and economic impact.
The Tories have no mandate on this island. However, a majority of those MLAs recently elected do, and there is a majority in the Assembly who support the Protocol because it is working, giving us continued access to the European single market, creating jobs and economic benefit.
This week Boris Johnson also attempted to deport those seeking Asylum in Britain to Rwanda.
Thankfully however those human rights defenders ably representing those being dehumanised and treated like ‘prisoners’ won, by having the European Court of Human Rights intervene to stop the deportations.
And of course, the British Prime Minister’s response was to threaten to disapply the European Convention on Human Rights, in order to maintain his cruel and shameful policy.
The Council of Europe has also raised its criticism relating to the introduction of Amnesty legislation to protect British Army veterans giving them immunity from prosecution and walking away from the Stormont House Agreement on Dealing with the Past.
The British legislation amounts to a judicial blackout with the denial of truth and justice for scores of families impacted.
The Human Rights Commission in the North have characterised this legislation as ‘fatal and flawed’. We will stand with all victims and survivors of the conflict and continue to campaign for their right to truth and justice. We too will never give up.
A chairde, it is no understatement to say that the Good Friday Agreement is under a full-frontal attack and that the human rights framework in which citizens and society at large rely is being grossly undermined.
The Tory government have abandoned any pretence of ‘rigorous impartiality’ in the discharge of their responsibilities.
The approach of this British Government represents a head-on collision with the Good Friday Agreement, and importantly everyone who cherishes, values and depends on it across this island, and beyond. Everyone should be alert to that danger.
This country has seen enormous social change occur over the past number of years, not least with the monumental successes in securing marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights.
And in the North Sinn Féin have been on the frontline, along with grassroots communities and campaigning organisations, which has forced the British Government to legislate for these same rights, and an Acht Gaeilge in the North which is being legislated for at long last. But the job now is to ensure these rights are realised and delivered!
This party will stand firm on basic rights and entitlements. These are not up for discussion or negotiation. We are well past that time.
I very much welcome President Michael D Higgin’s intervention this week where he spoke truth to power reflecting precisely the disastrous impact of the government’s housing policy on the very fabric of Irish society.
A chairde, the recent elections have ushered in a new era of change. The rallying call of Wolfe Tone and the Society of Irishmen and women of “Equality – it is newly strung and shall be heard is my clarion call in 2022.
I am the First Minister elect, and I shall be heard as I champion difference and inclusion, and oppose division.
I will provide leadership which is inclusive, which celebrates diversity and which guarantees rights and equality for those who have been excluded, discriminated against and ignored in the past.
These are my values. These are our values. This is a defining moment for our politics and all of our people.
It presents us all with an exciting opportunity to re-imagine relationships in this society on the basis of fairness, equality and social justice. As a First Minister for All I intend to work with those from all political perspectives, through partnership - not division.
I want to create as much opportunity for our young people in Ballymurphy, as I do for those children and young people on the Shankill Road. I want to get to work now, and tackle the cost of living crisis bearing down on people.
I am very proud of our place on this island, and these islands, which is a rich tapestry of languages, a vast heritage and cultures, including the orange, green and rainbow of cultures, and multiculturalism.
The scale of what has been accomplished since the advent of the Good Friday Agreement 24 years ago has resulted in the transformation our society, and in particular border communities, but we have much, much more to do in order to prosper and reach our full potential.
This includes advancing peace and reconciliation, and eradicating the cancer of sectarianism in our society. Our society has suffered. We must heal the wounds of the past.
Sinn Féin seeks partnership, not division with unionism, but we also want to work and serve all those who are of neither a unionist nor nationalist political tradition too. We want to show respect, and to be shown respect whether we’re British, Irish, or neither.
I see no contradiction in declaring and delivering on our firm commitment to a power sharing Stormont Executive, while at the same time making the case for constitutional change on the island.
I believe that we are in a Decade of Opportunity, and Sinn Féin will not miss this moment.
As a party we are representing communities right across the 32 counties, with a new generation of republican leaders, making a difference where it counts.
The political and electoral strength of Sinn Féin and our message of change resonates with all those who want a more ambitious future for this island.
Sinn Fein will continue to lead this change in government North and South in the next short period ahead with Mary Lou McDonald as a future Taoiseach, and I as First Minister in Belfast.
We must plan for Ireland’s future beyond this Brexit chaos.
When we look at the present realities there can be little doubt that Brexit has, and continues to be, a huge catalyst for constitutional change, and will undoubtedly lead to the ending of the Union with Britain.
A stark choice has opened up between the narrow, inward-looking vision of Brexit Britain and the open, inclusive vision of a New Ireland.
Many of those of a British or unionist identity are now considering the merits of reunification – not to become republicans, but to remain European.
I firmly believe that within this decade the people will have the freedom to freely choose new constitutional and political arrangements on this island, as underpinned by the provisions of self-determination in the Good Friday Agreement.
Far from diluting unionist tradition or British identity and culture in any future arrangements these rights like others must be guaranteed.
Everyone who has a stake in this transformation from across this island must be involved in designing what shape that takes.
There must be space created for mature dialogue where nobody feels they are being asked to compromise or surrender their identity or allegiance.
The old Ireland cannot and will not be the New Ireland. We want reunification not just for republicans, but for everyone. This is not about victories. This is about something better for us all.
We need re-entry back into the EU for All of Ireland. We need an Irish national health service, free at the point of entry. We need to tackle the climate crisis on our island. We need to end the duplication of public services. We need to maximise the full economic potential and opportunities for everyone who shares this island.
For many people the frustration, impatience and urgency for change is growing.
There is a direct challenge and responsibility on the Irish Government of the day to plan for constitutional change. In order to avoid the dangers, jeopardy and pitfalls of the Brexit referendum in Britain.
Since May last year, the Scottish Parliament has had a clear majority of members who are in favour of independence and committed to giving the people of Scotland that choice in a second referendum.
This week First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who I had the pleasure of visiting in Edinburgh last month to discuss our shared priorities, launched the Scottish government’s first paper in the ‘Building a new Scotland’ series, focusing on independence.
So, it cannot be ignored that a national public discourse is now well underway on this island and in Scotland, and this is welcome.
However, structured dialogue led by the Government through an All-Ireland Citizen’s Assembly is necessary and should be established without further dithering and delay.
This is a defining moment in the history of Ireland. And the decisions we make now will shape the direction of our country for the next generation.
We have lived a century apart, and partition has failed. Our mission is to bring all the people who share this country together. We face many challenges, but we also face enormous opportunities.
If Brexit and the continuing exploits of the Tories demonstrates anything it is that the British Parliament has never, and never will, act in our interests.
To conclude, let me quote the great Wolfe Tone himself;
‘From my earliest youth I have regarded the connection between Great Britain and Ireland as the curse of the Irish nation, and felt convinced that, whilst it lasted, this country could never be free nor happy.
‘My mind has been confirmed in this opinion by the experience of every succeeding year, and the conclusions which I have drawn from every fact before my eyes.’
Let’s make this the moment we turn the tide for workers, for families and for Ireland. Let’s make history. Let’s fulfil the ambition for change felt across this country.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go leor.