13 December 2007 Edition
SF conference Engaging Modern Ireland - Shaping our republicanism for Today's Ireland
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP delivered the keynote address to the Sinn Féin conference Engaging Modern Ireland, in Dublin last weekend. Here we reprint an edited version of that address.
2007 was a year packed with hard work, significant progress and some disappointment for Irish republicans. But as the year comes to an end Sinn Féin has emerged stronger and better prepared to make more advances in the time ahead.
Last January a special Ard Fheis overwhelmingly mandated this party to engage with the PSNI, and to hold that organisation to democratic account. And while there is still a lot of work to do, already the benefits of this engagement can be seen in many parts of the North.
Only a few months after that Ard Fheis, negotiations between Sinn Féin and the DUP opened the way for the re-establishment of the political institutions. In the Assembly election that followed, Sinn Féin won 28 seats and Martin McGuinness was asked to lead our Ministerial team in a power-sharing government with the DUP. Many observers, including elements of the Irish government thought such a development could never happen. But it did and it has and it was this party which made that possible.
There are huge challenges ahead. Just this week Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley led a joint delegation to the USA to secure much needed investment. Building the economy is a major priority for our party. We are also leading the way in bringing about fundamental change.
As part of this Caitríona Ruane has grasped the nettle of a failing education system, and especially of the 11+, and set out a vision for education in the North which will place children’s needs at the heart of that new system. These are major achievements. And none of it would have been possible without the support of tens of thousands of citizens who vote for this party; and the drive and energy, the negotiating skills, the commitment, and patience of party leaders, workers and supporters across this island.
It is not long since 2002 when five Sinn Féin TDs were elected to Leinster House. Then in 2004 Mary Lou McDonald in Dublin and Bairbre de Brún in the North won seats in the European Parliament, and we made major advances at Local Government level. These were all significant advances which made it clear to the establishment parties that Sinn Féin was a serious political and electoral threat. Our successes were a wake-up call to the conservative parties.
Most of us expected to see a continuation of that success in the 2007 General Election. We were disappointed when we failed to build on our Dáil representation and when we lost the seat held by Seán Crowe, one of our most hard working and dedicated representatives, in Tallaght and Dublin South West. Since then we have engaged in extensive consultation and critical analysis inside and outside the party. This process has been as intensive as the period during the run up to the Policing Ard Fheis and will be viewed as a critical juncture for Sinn Féin in the time ahead. These discussions produced some key conclusions which provide vital lessons for our future work:
• Our party is not strong enough on the ground in many constituencies.
• Our party leadership needs to be expanded to be seen to be truly national.
• We need to widen our political appeal by effectively setting out our alternative policies and solutions to the challenges facing modern Ireland.
• We also need to present our message in a better, more coherent way.
We have also undertaken a deeper analysis – exploring the more fundamental issues that influence and generate political change in this country, and re-assessing what contribution our party can make to that process of change.
The election result was a wake-up call for us. We now need to do things differently. But we can take succour from how well we did in many constituencies. Where we were properly organised our party avoided the squeeze which wiped out other parties. These are positives on which we can build. They include the success in Cavan/Monaghan, Louth, Kerry and Dublin South Central and the overall rise in our vote particularly in places like Donegal where we came close to taking seats.
We need a major re-organisation of our party structures, something which is already underway and which was planned before the last election. We need a well presented political programme, and a widening of our engagement across society. And we need to be as comfortable with words like ‘prosperity’ and ‘economic opportunity’ as we are with ‘equality’ and ‘independence’.
Republicans need to apply the same determination and commitment we brought to the peace process to the task of advancing our national objectives and delivering sustainable economic prosperity and equality.
Today, the frontline of the struggle is here in the South. That means adopting and developing new strategies and tactics to meet the challenges facing republicanism in this part of the island. These challenges are easily stated. They are:
• Irish re-unification;
• Building the economy to deliver strong public services;
• and tackling crime, drugs and anti-social behaviour which is devastating so many communities
• Promoting the Irish language.
Our first priority is achieving national unity and independence and an end to the partition of our country. This goal did not end with the formation of the Executive and Assembly and the all-Ireland Ministerial Council and other institutional arrangements.
While others pay lip service to their republicanism, Sinn Féin has a detailed strategy for ending partition, for the re-unification of Ireland, for political independence and national sovereignty.
In only a few short years Ireland and the Irish diaspora will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. The Proclamation is our mission statement. It sets out the republican vision of a free and independent Ireland, a national republic, and a democratic and equal society.
I believe we should now establish a dedicated group to develop a programme of work to celebrate 1916 and properly mark all of the great events that led to the Rising – including the 100th anniversary of the Great Lock-Out here in Dublin in 1913.
The celebration of those actions, and the example set by the activists of that generation, can provide an opportunity to generate a national debate on the future direction of this island; as well as putting a spotlight on the Proclamation and its relevance in the Ireland of today.
Our task from this day onward is to broaden and deepen our roots in communities, in the colleges, the villages and towns, in every parish in every county on this island.
We can only do that through shaping our republican politics and policies to address the needs of people in their daily lives and by making republicanism relevant to these needs.
Sinn Féin activists should be engaging with local communities and working with them in seeking to achieve change.
We stand for a republic in which citizens have rights – a republic which is fashioned around people – citizens – and not political or economic elites.
To further this ambitious programme we will need to build alliances with like-minded people, and perhaps at times, with those who are not so like minded.
We need to develop a new working relationship between our party and those who are trying to build their businesses and economic projects; particularly in the indigenous small and medium sized business sector and the trade union movement.
We need to work together to deliver the next generation of jobs that will drive the economy forward and sustain economic prosperity.
At a time when the economy is facing so many challenges we will demand absolute accountability and value for money when it comes to the use of public funds. And we will insist that those in greatest need are the priority in fiscal and taxation policy.
During the General Election I said very clearly that Sinn Féin is not a high tax party. I also said that, given increasing economic uncertainty, it was irresponsible of the other parties to promise massive tax cuts as they could not be delivered. We were correct in this analysis.
The budget saw Fianna Fáil renege on many of the promises that saw them elected in the first place. This budget is particularly disappointing for ordinary families struggling on low and medium incomes. They are once again bearing the brunt of the inequity in our public services. This is particularly the case in health and education.
Stop anyone in the street and ask what the problems in the health service are, and they will tell you – inept planning and management; inflated wages for a minority – low wages for the majority; nursing and medical staff overworked and undervalued; and a Minister who is incapable of delivering any positive change.
The fact is this government is about privatising the health services. That is what is driving government policy. That is why there has been a systematic running down of the public health services, while countless private health clinics are opening up across the state.
The reality in the Ireland of 2007 is that there is a huge gulf in incomes and living standards between a small number of hugely influential people and the rest of Irish society.
There were no innovative budget proposals to help people to move from welfare to work, or to re-skill those who have lost jobs, or to give real support to those trying to start new businesses. There were no proposals to tackle the scourge of death through suicide.
The fact is that those at the top seem oblivious of the difficulties facing ordinary people.
A few weeks ago the Taoiseach took a yearly wage increase of €38,000 – that is 52 times what pensioners were awarded last week. And their basic income is only a fraction of that paid to the Taoiseach.
If this government or the other leaders had any principles whatsoever they would decline this latest wage increase. It is not fair, it is not money well spent and it is not compulsory.
As our economy has grown, many people from Europe and Africa and beyond have come to Ireland to make our country their home. We need to engage with these new communities, who now make up more than 10% of the population.
Many of these people are in danger of being marginalised and ghettoised in parts of our towns and cities. The danger of an imploding racism, particularly as many workers find themselves out of jobs or their wage levels under pressure by unscrupulous employers using cheap immigrant labour, is unfortunately real as the economy slows. Sinn Féin will continue to actively campaign against racism and for workers’ rights.
In a few months Sinn Féin will be the only significant party campaigning against the Lisbon Treaty referendum. But I believe that we will be standing with the majority of people on this island who share our concerns about the direction of the EU and the power of the larger states.
I believe that Ireland’s place is within the European Union. Many benefits have come as a result of our membership but moves towards greater integration are not in this country’s interest.
The Lisbon Treaty will involve the most substantial transfer of powers from member states to the European Council and Commission to date. The influence of smaller states will be reduced as the dominance of the larger states is consolidated. It significantly accelerates the militarisation of the EU, and advances an economic agenda based on a race to the bottom for wages and workers’ rights.
I want to call on everyone on this island who will have a vote to come out and oppose this Treaty. I want to make a particular appeal to supporters of the Labour Party and the Green Party to join with us in the coming months in opposing this treaty.
Republicans have always been internationalists. We have always taken a close interest in international matters and have spoken out in solidarity with oppressed peoples.We should especially seek to constructively share, if and when asked, our experience in conflict resolution to assist others. In this regard I believe we should encourage any settlement that guarantees a viable state and return of their lands to the Palestinian people. We also look forward to an early withdrawal of US and other foreign forces from Iraq.
Finally I would like to address the issue of community safety and policing. Communities the length and breadth of this country are being badly let down.
There are huge concerns at the failure to respond to rising crime and there is a renewed drugs epidemic which is having devastating consequences. It is time that this government took on the gangland bosses and put them out of business. The Gardaí need sufficient resources to do their job properly and people in the community need to actively support them. I encourage all of you to work with the relevant accountable policing authorities to ensure the public safety of all our citizens.
Today is a new starting point for this party. There is enormous goodwill for Sinn Féin in every part of this island. We have to build on that; build on our republican roots and policies; shape them to take account of the political realities of Ireland today, and move forward confidently. We have to grasp the major political opportunities which are now open to us. The fact is that we are now embarking on the most difficult but potentially most rewarding phase of our struggle.
Today marks the beginning of our campaigns for the European and Local Government elections which will take place in less than two years.
Two hundred years ago the founders of Irish republicanism had a vision of a new kind of Ireland – sovereign, free, in which the rights of citizens are paramount and with equality as the bedrock of society. That new Ireland is needed as much today as it was then. Genuine republicanism is as relevant today as it was then. Our mission is to engage with and to deliver for modern Ireland.
Déanfaidh muid sin. Bígí linn. Agus go raibh maith agaibh. Ádh mór agus Nollag shona daoibh. 2008 here we come.