Yesterday was an important day. The first formal day of the new Dáil. The enhanced Sinn Féin team of 14 TDs arrived to play our part. We gathered under a blue sky at the Mansion House in Dawson Street around 10.30am, the site of the meeting of the historic First Dáil in January 1919.
Earlier I had attended a ecumenical service in Saint Anne’s, the church where Wolfe Tone was married. We walked the short distance along Molesworth Street to Leinster House. The Sinn Féin TDs were accompanied by scores of smiling family members and constituency party activists who were there for the occasion. Everyone was in good form. There was a very real sense that Sinn Féin had achieved a remarkable success and that we are now going into the Dáil stronger and more experienced than at any time since partition.
The Dáil chamber was packed. It’s smaller than it looks on television or in photos. But it is much bigger than the chamber at Stormont. It was interesting watching Fianna Fáil trying to poke holes in the government’s programme while at the same time claiming all the work as theirs.
The Sinn Féin team robustly set out our stall.
Behind the excitement and good humour of the day there was also a real sense that the election is now well and truly over and it’s down to business.
The battle lines for the 31st Dáil have been drawn.
In all the day was a bit surreal. It is easy to see how parties and TDs can and do become divorced from the impact of their decisions on citizens.
The Dáil is in its own little bubble in which peoples lives are reduced by some to bald statistics and where some politicians talk in terms of billions of euro without, it appears to this blog, really understanding the human or financial cost to the state of the decisions they are taking.
I took the opportunity to remind them of previous republican TDs Kieran Doherty who died on hunger strike in 1981 and Paddy Agnew and others, like Martin Hurson and Kevin Lynch and Mairead Farrell who stood in that famous election of June 81.
And this blog made it plain that Sinn Féin is about Irish unity and we will use the opportunity now available to us to advance this goal in the time ahead.
For those readers interested I am including my remarks to the Dáil.
A Cheann Comhairle,
Tá mé fíor bródúil as bheith anseo inniu mar Theachta Dála don Lú agus oirthear na Mí agus mar cheannaire ar Shinn Féin.
Is mór an onóir dom guth a thabhairt dóibh siúd nach bhfuil ionadaíocht acu ins an Dáil.
Ar feadh 30 bliana rinne mé ionadaíocht ar son pobal Iarthar Bhéal Feirste.
Ach go dtí seo ní féidir le daoine as an taobh sin tire bheith tofa anseo.
So, I am very proud to stand here as an Ulsterman and an Irish republican from County Antrim.
It is a great honour to represent Sinn Féin in any capacity but it is especially gratifying to receive a mandate from your peers.
Ba mhaith liom ár mbuíochas a thabhairt do achan duine a thug a vóta do Sinn Féin agus achan duine a d’oibrigh ar son Sinn Féin.
I especially want to commend our candidates, including the republican TDs here today, and our families,
For almost 30 years I represented the people of west Belfast.
I am humbled and appreciative of the heroism, the generosity and courage of that community.
I am equally honoured to represent the citizens of Louth and East Meath and alongside our councillors there I will continue the pioneering work of my predecessor Arthur Morgan in that Dáil Ceanntair.
It is also a great honour to be part of the Sinn Féin team in the Oireachtas and we will build upon the project started here by Caoimhghín in 1997.
Sinn Féin is an Irish republican party. Our primary political goal is a United Ireland.
Our focus in the new Dáil will be to advance this goal and to deliver on our manifesto to the very best of our ability and to hold the government to account.
Ní mé an chéad duine ó Bhéal Feirste a toghadh mar Theachta Dála.
30 years ago this June my friend Kieran Doherty, a political prisoner on hunger strike in the H Blocks of Long Kesh, was elected as TD for Cavan/Monaghan.
Paddy Agnew was elected for Louth.
And others, including Kevin Lynch, Martin Hurson and Joe McDonnell received very sizeable votes in other constituencies.
Agus mo chara Mairead Farrell, whose anniversary is this week, stood in Cork north central.
Bobby Sands was returned as MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone.
So, a Ceann Comhairle, Sinn Féin is part of a proud continuum of struggle for a real republic, for freedom and equality, and against oppression which goes back to 1916 and beyond.
The oppression visited upon our people by a foreign government in past times was unacceptable.
The economic oppression suffered by citizens under a native government in these times is just as unacceptable.
Caithfear stad a chur leis.
Níl mórán difir idir polasaithe Fhine Gael agus polasaithe Fhianna Fáil.
An bhliain seo chaite tugadh cibé cuid a bhí fagtha de sobharnacht an stát seo don EU agus don IMF.
In the election for the 31st Dáil the people voted against corruption, sellout and economic oppression. They voted for change.
The Fine Gael party in particular benefited from that desire for change.
But the reality is that Fine Gael and Labour’s Programme for Government implements Fianna Fáil’s policy.
Despite their promise of ‘new ways, new approaches and new thinking’, this government offers little of this.
The Fine Gael and Labour programme is a far cry from the Democratic Programme of the 1st Dáil.
That document declares that sovereignty extends, ‘not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions, the Nation's soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation.’
Our natural resources, especially our oil and gas which are worth billions, have been given away.
As Luke Kelly put it ….
“For what died the sons and daughters of Róisín?
Was it greed
Was it greed that drove Wolfe Tone to a paupers death in a cell of cold wet stone?
Will German, French or Dutch inscribe the epitaph of Emmet?
When we have sold enough of Ireland to be but strangers in it”
To whom do we owe our allegiance today
To those brave men and women who fought and died that Róisín live again with pride?
Or the faceless men who for Mark and Dollar,
Betray her to the highest bidder”
That is the big question facing this 31st Dáil.
The First Dáil was committed to a Programme to improve ‘the conditions under which the working classes live and labour.’
There is no whisper of this in the 2011 Programme for Government.
The reality today is that more than 100,000 children in this state live in poverty.
450,000 people are unemployed.
Braitheann teacht ar sheirbhísi poiblí atá riachtanach ar nós seirbhísí cúraim leanaí, seirbhísí sláinte agus oideachas ar chumais íocaíochta seachas ar riachtanais shóisialta.
1000 citizens a week are forced to emigrate.
Families who cannot afford their mortgage repayments, fear eviction.
Sinn Féin will oppose any eviction of any family from their home!
Social protections have been slashed to satisfy the diktats of our new international masters.
The Universal Social Charge, welfare cuts and stealth taxes mean people can’t pay their weekly bills.
The ghost estates that litter our countryside stand as monuments to corruption and greed.
The Programme for Government produced by Fine Gael and Labour does not tackle any of this.
It is a right wing Programme driven by a resurgent, right wing Fine Gael.
It commits the government to implementing Fianna Fail’s austerity programme and to the madness of pouring public money into toxic banks.
Access to vital public services such as healthcare, childcare and education is determined by ability to pay rather than social need.
There is no meaningful jobs stimulus to push the economy out of recession.
There are increased charges on low and middle income families in the form of water and property taxes.
There will also be a sell-off of strategic state assets to multinational companies whose sole interest will be profit.
And Irish citizens will pay the price !
This government will cut 25,000 public sector jobs and further undermine our public services and our small and medium native businesses.
In short this is a Fine Gael Programme for Government supported by the Labour Party.
Voters were told ‘Gilmore for Taoiseach’. Sinn Féin said if you vote Labour you will get Fine Gael. This is what happened.
Mar shampla tchifidh teaghlaigh atá ar mheán ioncaim agus ar ioncaim íseal íocaíochtaí i bhfoirm uisce.
Ach, tá bealach eile ann. Sé sin seasamh suas ar son muintir na hÉireann agus ar son Éire.
Caithfear saoirse eacnamaíochta a bhaint amach don tír seo !
Tá saoránaigh ag lorg polaitíocht nua.
There is an alternative.
Citizens are looking for a new kind of politics.
A politics that empowers and includes them.
A politics that doesn’t pander to the elites and the greedy and seeks to build a new kind of Ireland.
It means making a stand for Ireland, standing up for our country and our people.
If politics is reduced to this chamber then it will be the old politics.
Sinn Féin will campaign on all these issues in and out of this Parliament and across this island.
I am calling on citizens to make a stand for themselves, for their neighbours, for their communities, for the vulnerable, for the disadvantaged.
This is a time for active citizenship, for democratically and peacefully asserting our rights as citizens.
It cannot be left only to this parliament.
There is no more important time; no more relevant time for republican politics and core republican values.
The people of this island are no mean people.
We live in a great country.
There is a genius, a brilliance, a wisdom and culture, there is history and tradition in our communities.
Caithfear tógáil ar na buanna iontacha seo.
Agus déanfaidh muid teaghlaigh tuaithe agus cathrach a chosaint.
Sinn Féin will oppose Fine Gael efforts to downgrade the Irish language.
We will defend the interests of working families, both urban and rural.
We will demand that this new Government hold a referendum on the banking bailout.
We will campaign for the abolition of the Universal Social Charge and we will hold Fine Gael and Labour to their promise to reverse the cut to the minimum wage.
And Sinn Féin will oppose, tooth and nail, the introduction of household water charges and property tax on family homes.
We will oppose attempts to sell off or privatise state assets or public services, including the health service.
Cuirfidh muid in aghaidh aon phríobháidiú ar an seirbhís sláinte.
Sinn Féin will continue to put forward constructive proposals to create jobs.
Politicians should lead by example.
Sinn Féin will introduce legislation within 100 days to cut Ministers salaries by 40% and TDs salaries by 20%.
Sinn Féin will also raise issues of importance to people in the north and we will expose the economic and political damage being done by partition to both states on this island.
Partition makes no economic sense and is a barrier to the creation of jobs.
A United Ireland makes sense.
A single island economy makes sense.
It makes economic sense.
It makes political sense.
Déanann sé ciall Éire a h-aontú!
Above this chamber flies our national flag. The flag of this nation – all 32 counties of it.
Green, White and Orange.
The future unity of the people of this island is represented in those colours.
Sinn Féin is proud of the leadership work of Martin McGuinness and our team in the Assembly.
This government must actively support the peace process and the historic mission to make friends with our unionist neighbours on the basis of equality.
Sinn Féin’s commitment, as we seek to repair the damage done by a bad Fianna Fáil and Green Party government, and confront the bad policies that this new government will seek to implement, is to make progress on all of these fronts.
The Taoiseach talks about recreating our proud republic!
That means giving expression to the words of the Proclamation – Forógra na Cásca and the Democratic Programme of an Chéad Dáil which demand freedom, and equality and sovereignty and the empowerment of citizens across all 32 counties of this island.
It means moving beyond rhetoric.
Taoiseach change never comes easily.
Like politics and life it is a matter of choices.
Those of us who stand by the Republic, the real Republic, a new truly National Republic, will have our work cut out in this institution.
But, out there, despite the distress, there is a vitality which cannot be extinguished.
The Irish people may be bruised but we are not beaten. We are not broken.
We are unbowed. So there is hope. And because of that everything is possible.