Today we are holding an internal party conference in Dublin. Those taking part are our new elected representatives and the party leadership. It has been a really good day and is preparing the party for the work to come.
This is my speech.
Fáilte romhaibh go léir.and the part
Ar dtus , ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeas a dhéanamh le na ceathrar MEP’s, nua tofa – Martina Anderson, Lynn Boylan, Matt Carthy agus Liadh Ní Riada, agus na dhá céad seasca is a ceathar (264) comhairleoirí a raibh tofa sa Thuaisceart agus sa Dheisceart ar an darna lá is fiche (22ú) agus tríú lá is fiche 23ú Bealtaine.
That is a significant achievement. But for Sinn Féin elections are not about simply playing the political insiders game.
If citizens want to judge Sinn Féin it cannot be just on how many votes we have. It has to be on the changes that we bring about. That is the only way to judge what we have achieved in the last 30 or 40 years. And on what we will achieve in the upcoming period.
For us electoral politics are about transforming society on this island, north and south. It is about putting the interests of citizens, as opposed to elites, at the top of the political agenda. All of you in this room are the elected representatives of the Irish republican ideal. That is both a challenge and a great honour.
So, let us always be clear on who we are, what we stand for, and who we represent.
We need to know our core values. Our beliefs.
We need to be the very best that we can be at promoting these core values.
We need to know how to win support for these core values.
Initially this support may be passive. Most people become passive supporters before they become activists. It is our responsibility to convert passive support into active support so that citizens are empowered. So what does Sinn Féin stand for?
Sinn Fein stands for equality, for fairness, for economic justice — for the right of citizens to a home, to an education, to a job, to healthcare, to the pursuit of happiness.
We are freedom, equality and solidarity. We are against austerity.
Sinn Féin is for a united Ireland and we have the strategy to bring it about.
We are for the unity of Orange and Green, for civil and religious rights with tolerance and respect for all citizens.
And we are for the promotion of the Irish language as the common heritage of all on this island.
We are for an independent Ireland in a Europe that respects the rights of nation states and is based on principles of social solidarity.
Tá polasaithe Sinn Féin bunaithe ar na bunluachanna poblachtach seo.
As Sinn Fein continues to grow, we must always remember that our project is not about any one of us as individuals.It’s about the republican cause.
There was a time, not so long ago, when it was very dangerous to be a Sinn Féin representative. Our leaders, councillors, election workers and their families were subjected to a brutal campaign of assassination. For some it remains dangerous.
Last week Martin McGuinness’s car was damaged. Others in the party get regular death threats. When Sinn Fein Councillors in the north were first elected they were denied their rightful entitlements, as were those who voted for us.
And for decades in this state Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour combined to exclude Sinn Féin Councillors from committees and delegations on councils. Indeed we were denied the use of public buildings for Ard Fheiseanna, including in my own constituency of Louth. They are still at it today.
Witness the alliance of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour conniving to carve up council positions for each other. It’s time Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil stopped pretending they are different. They are not. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are conservative soul mates. They should be in government together.
The challenge for Sinn Féin is to decide where we want to be in the medium to long term and chart a course toward this. That means we have to be very clear about our objectives and our strategies. That means we need to be more cohesive than ever before.
What we are trying to do is unprecedented. It hasn’t been done before and arguably it hasn’t been tried. Because what we are trying to do is to build in two parts of a partitioned island a national struggle that transcends the border; that doesn’t succumb to partitionism; that is cohesive and continuously moving forward even at times at an incremental pace.
It means supporting each other and working together as comrades and equals. It means working our party structures and ensuring that none of our elected comrades, especially new councillors are left to muddle through policy matters. This is a two-way process. It means Councillors coming to us. It means Head Office and leadership providing support.
A lot of work to do
I said earlier that we need to decide where we want to be in the medium to long term. That is a subject we have to return to in a process of engagement across the party so that we can get a democratic consensus on these questions. So I won’t elaborate on that too much today.
But we can look forward to the immediate future. For example, two years from now we will have contested at least two by-elections, a Westminster election, a General Election and an Assembly election. We will have commemorated the centenary of the 1916 Rising.
We will have had to deal with huge challenges in the peace process and political process and ongoing negotiations. There is a large onus on us, who want Irish unity to persuade those who are unionist of the merits of this position. We also have a strong view that outside the issues of political allegiance there is potentially huge common ground between working class unionists, loyalists, nationalists and republicans.
Notwithstanding the shortcomings of unionist leaders, Sinn Féin needs to engage with unionism in all its forms and sectors. Across the island and indeed internationally our position on social and economic issues is essentially a republican one. That is that, citizens have rights and society must be shaped on these core values in a citizen centred, rights based dispensation as opposed to privileges for the elites.
For this reason we are anti-austerity and pro public services. We need to popularise these core values by developing policies, which can win public support. So there is a lot of work that needs to be done over the next two years.
Sinn Féin has just come out of very good elections where483,113 people voted for the party and elected a record number of councillors and MEPs in addition to our team of TDs, MLAs, Senators and MPs. We are now the largest party on the island. There is growing support for our pro peace process/anti-austerity message and our all Ireland politics.
We need to deliver. There will be an additional onus on us to do this where we hold power. We need to be radical and innovative in delivering for communities against the backdrop of the current economic crisis.
The centenary of 1916 has the potential to have a significant influence on politics on the island. It creates an opportunity to focus on the question of Irish Unity and the real need for changing politics. We need to step up our work for the decade of centenaries.
We also need to keep building our party and to address some organisational weaknesses across the island. There are 3 Councils across the island where we didn’t get any Sinn Féin representative elected and 19 Local Electoral Areas (LEAs) in the 26 Counties where no one was returned.
There is also a growing disenchantment with the political process in the 6 counties and a decreasing turnout in the 26 Counties. This needs to be tackled.
Today we will discuss our national strategic objectives and start putting in place our political, electoral and organisational strategy and workplan for the next 2 years.
Our immediate priorities are:
· Negotiations and dealing with difficulties in the political process and peace process.
· By-elections and Westminster elections.
· Preparations for a General Election and Assembly elections.
· Preparations for the centenary of 1916 with a strong focus on Irish Unity.
· Engage with unionism in all its forms, on issues of common ground.
There is now widespread concern about the situation within the DUP. It is quite clear that the DUP does not appear to have the appetite for the challenge of dealing with the outstanding issues of flags, parades and the past in any serious way.,
Sinn Féin demonstrated very clearly during the Haass negotiations our seriousness and determination to find a way forward. We made compromises during those talks.
For any process aimed at resolving these issues to succeed unionist political leaders need to show a similar willingness. That has not been evident so far.
Despite this there does exist a window of opportunity to resolve the issues of flags, parades and the past. Sinn Féin will meet separately with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British Prime Minister David Cameron in the next few weeks.
Party leaders in the Executive have agreed an intensive round of talks and Sinn Féin is engaging positively in this process. However to be successful the Irish and British governments must become more engaged in upholding and fulfilling their obligations
We also need the continuing support of the US Administration, of political leaders on Capitol Hill and of Irish America.
Since the elections, Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and media commentators say they will subject Sinn Féin’s economic policies to greater scrutiny. Tá muid an sasta faoi sin.
It would be great to have a real discussion about the need for a different economic approach. During the period of the Celtic Tiger Sinn Féin and especially our small dedicated group of TDs, pointed out the dangers of the developing property bubble and the potential for an economic crash.
We warned of the over-reliance on taxes from the property sector; of over dependency on construction; of the danger of auction politics. Others tried to outdo each other with promises of tax cuts.
Sinn Féin argued that the wealth of the Celtic Tiger should be used to create sustainable jobs, build infrastructure, and be invested in health and education.
We were ridiculed by the same people whose flawed greedy self serving policies collapsed the economy, forced hundreds of thousands out of work and almost half a million of our young people overseas. Sinn Féin was right then and we are right now.
We believe that it is possible to make the necessary deficit adjustments without harming families or frontline services by creating jobs, asking the wealthiest to pay more and by cutting waste from public spending.
The Property Tax, Water tax, removal of medical cards, cuts, mortgage distress and lack of social housing have pushed working people to the limit.
So, let’s see some scrutiny of the policy of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil which says that for decades to come that our children and our grandchildren should be forced to pay for the greed of the bankers, developers and corrupt politicians.
This Fine Gael/Labour government promised a ‘democratic revolution’ but has delivered the same stale, old politics of the previous Fianna Fail-led government. They appoint cronies to state boards. Ministers favour their own constituencies for funding. They seek to control the banking inquiry by stuffing it with government TDs and Senators.
They ignore the hardship endured by the most vulnerable as a result of austerity. They take medical cards from the most vulnerable, fail the homeless, and cut services for the elderly, the sick and the young. They have betrayed the electorate.
Fianna Fail cannot provide a credible alternative to the Government because the government is already implementing Fianna Fail policy. Fianna Fail does not disagree with the Government on any of the major issues facing our citizens. Fianna Fail is an integral part of the 'Consensus for Cuts'. The Water Tax, for instance, was Fianna Fail’s idea.
Sinn Fein in government
For our part Sinn Fein needs to be ready for government in this state on our terms, agree our policy priorities and political platform and our commitments need to be deliverable.
We are ambitious for change and believe we can deliver on jobs, housing and health. But we will not do what the Labour Party has done — we will not enter government merely to give cover to the agenda of conservative parties.
That’s the old failed political system. Citizens want fundamental change. Sinn Féin seeks to offer a viable, do-able, political alternative. This will not be achieved by the creation of yet another right-wing conservative party offering repackaged versions of past failed policies.
Despite the fervent wishes of the conservative media this state does not need a ‘PDs Mark 2’, led by disgruntled Fine Gael TDs. The reality is that some combination of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil has been in government since the foundation of this state.
But just as one-party Orange rule in the North is gone, the failed two-and-a-half party system in this state is going also. Today's gathering is further proof that Sinn Féin is now a major player in both states with policies and an expanding organization, which transcends partition.
It is time for a realignment of politics. Let those on the Irish left who really believe that a government without Fine Gael or Fianna Fail is possible begin working together towards that end.
Building new politics
Sinn Féin is committed to a new Republic, with new politics that puts fairness and equality at the heart of government. As we spearhead the building of a real political alternative throughout this island, we must remain radical, rooted, relevant and republican.
People are increasingly looking to us for leadership and to provide hope for the future. That is our task comrades. That is your task. Let us get to it. Ar aghaidh linn le cheile!