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4 October 2001 Edition

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Freedom's fight can be won, If we all stand as one

Or·id an Uachtar·in    Presidential Address
Ard Fheis Shinn FÈin 2001
Delivered by GERRY ADAMS, Saturday 29 September

If the issue of arms is to be dealt with effectively the unionists and the British need to get real and return to the Good Friday Agreement. This means the arms issue has to be dealt with as an objective of the peace process and not as a precondition to the political process
I want to begin by extending solidarity and condolences to the victims of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Two years ago I visited the north tower of the World Trade Centre. Some Irish/American friends who are associated with Friends of Sinn FÈin and who work at the World Trade Centre and in the Mercantile Exchange adjacent to it, had organised lunch in the Windows on the World restaurant. Sadly, tragically, one of those who organised our visit is now dead. Others we met that day or on other occasions, are dead also.

Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this terrible time and I have sent deepest condolences and sympathies on my own behalf and on your behalf to the people of the United States. I welcome the US Ambassador Richard Egan to this Ard Fheis and I welcome the President of the Friends of Sinn FÈin in the US, Larry Downes.

Seeing the Irish names on the list of the dead, particularly among the firefighters and the New York police, reminds us of the close ties between us and America and of the millions of US citizens who proudly trace their roots to Ireland. The people of Ireland owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Irish American community, to Congress and to the US Administration, who devoted time, energy and resources to help the peace process here.

Sinn FÈin in particular has benefited from the generosity of Americans who want to bring about peace, justice, equality and a United Ireland. The support of Irish America has enabled us to bring about real change in Ireland.

The backbone of our fundraising effort in the US is the construction industry and workers in New York. Many of them have suffered grievously in these atrocities. That is why we have endorsed the Friends of Sinn FÈin recommendation to dedicate the proceeds of the annual November fundraiser in New York to the families of the construction workers who lost their lives.

It is right that we express solidarity and sympathy with the people in the US and that we repudiate these atrocities. But we have to go further than these expressions of our sorrow, shock and denunciation.

Crisis in the Peace Process

We are working for the day when all armed groups, including the IRA, cease to be. But we will not be part of any effort to criminalise or to deem as terrorists those men and women who fought when they considered they had no other choice and who had the integrity, courage and wisdom to support a peace process when they had that choice
Our own peace process is in a mess and it must now be obvious to everyone that the political institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement are going to collapse unless the unionists lift their threats and work with Sinn FÈin and the other parties, as they committed themselves to do under the Agreement.

The institutions will collapse because unionists are refusing to administer them except on their own terms. They have prevented the all-Ireland institutions, and ironically the British-Irish Council, from functioning. They have vetoed the work of the Minister of Education and the Minister for Health and now they are moving a motion to exclude Sinn FÈin from the Executive.

All of this has been greatly influenced by the manner in which the British government approaches the process. That approach has been characterised by making all other issues secondary to that of IRA arms. In other words, the issue of IRA weapons has been made a precondition for progress on all other issues. This is in direct breach of the Good Friday Agreement.

The British government may protest that this is not the case, or insofar as it is the case, that it arises from David Trimble's resignation and from the price which Mr. Trimble has put on the future stability of the political institutions.

But this is not the whole truth. The whole truth is that resistance to change in the north of Ireland comes not only from those within unionism, but from within the British system also.

This goes back much further than the current crisis. Indeed, it has been an historic factor in every effort to deliver equality, justice, and peace.

In this phase, it goes back to the private assurances in the side-letter that Tony Blair gave to David Trimble hours after they had endorsed the Good Friday Agreement three and a half years ago. It is his government that is responsible for permitting a virus to enter and to remain at the heart of the Agreement.

The fault line in the Agreement and of every crisis in it can be traced to that point. That letter showed a willingness on the part of the British government to pander to unionism and to create the space for Mr. Trimble to commence his effort to hollow out the Agreement.

It is worth reminding ourselves that there would not have been an IRA cessation if this matter had been made a precondition. None of the opportunities which have been opened up in the last eight years would have been possible.

I believe the issue of arms can be resolved. We in Sinn FÈin have done our best and enormous progress has been made in the past six years, particularly in relation to IRA arms. But, as I have said many times, I do not believe that the issue of arms, all arms held by all armed groups, including those held by the British state forces, will be resolved on British government or unionist terms, or on the basis of threat, veto or ultimatum.

Some accuse Sinn FÈin of being opposed to the decommissioning of arms and of not doing enough to achieve this. This is untrue.

In stark contrast to the continued use of loyalist and British weapons, IRA guns are silent and the IRA cessations are now into their eighth year. The IRA has acknowledged that the issue of arms has to be dealt with as part of a conflict resolution process, and last year the IRA leadership set out a context in which it would put its weapons verifiably beyond use.

In addition, as a confidence building measure it took the unprecedented initiative of agreeing with the two governments the appointment of two International Inspectors and allowing them to examine its arms dumps to verify that their weapons have not been used.

Last month, in an historic breakthrough, the IICD announced that it had agreed a scheme with the IRA to put arms completely and verifiably beyond use. And the IRA is presently engaged in ongoing discussions with the IICD.

These are not small, unimportant events. These are huge developments, which, in the proper context, point the way to a future free of IRA weapons.

The Sinn FÈin leadership helped to create the conditions that made this possible. We did so because of our commitment to a lasting and just peace settlement on this island.

The UUP response to this progress has been to ignore Sinn FÈin's democratic mandate, the mandate of the other parties, the referendum, the Good Friday Agreement itself and their responsibilities and obligations.

The British government have not done much better.

Many republicans are angry at a Unionist leadership that frustrates, belittles and undermines this progress, while at the same time doing absolutely nothing to end the daily bomb and gun attacks by loyalists on Catholic families.

They are angry at a British government which underpins the UUP position, in breach of the Agreement, and which has remilitarised nationalist and republican heartlands.

Universal Rights

If the issue of arms is to be dealt with effectively the unionists and the British need to get real and return to the Good Friday Agreement. This means the arms issue has to be dealt with as an objective of the peace process and not as a precondition to the political process.

Moreover, the democratic rights and entitlements of nationalists and republicans cannot be conditional. These rights are universal and affect all citizens.

In the Good Friday Agreement these matters, policing, the political institutions, demilitarisation, human rights, the justice system and the equality agenda, are stand alone issues - to be resolved in their own right. They cannot be withheld or granted or subjected to a bartering process.

Mr. Trimble has protested that it is not his responsibility to influence republicans on the arms issue and he has dismissed the suggestion that he and Mr. Blair have a pivotal role to play. This is a huge mistake. Republicans and nationalists want to be convinced that unionism is facing up to its responsibilities. They want to believe that a British government wants to right wrongs and usher in a new dispensation based upon equality.

For the unionists to reject the IICD determination as they did and for the British government to suspend the institutions, as it has done, not once, not twice, but three times, is hardly the stuff of peace making.

The Only Direction is Forward

There is no easy way to sort out these issues and for my part I want to reiterate my total commitment to playing a leadership role in bringing a permanent end to political conflict on our island, including the end of physical force republicanism. I say this conscious of the dangers, risks, and history of such departures.

I have no illusions about any of this and I know my commitment is shared by the Sinn FÈin leadership. From within the broad republican constituency we are working for the day when all the armed groups, including the IRA, cease to be.

But we will not be part of any effort to criminalise or to deem as terrorists those men and women who fought when they considered they had no other choice and who had the integrity courage and wisdom to support a peace process when they had that choice.

Forgotten Ten

I want to welcome the steps being taken by the Irish government to re-inter the ten IRA Volunteers buried in Mountjoy jail and to urge people to attend their State funeral on 14 October in Dublin.

S˙ineas sioraÌ do Kevin Barry, Thomas Whelan, Patrick Moran, Thomas Bryan, Patrick Doyle, Frank Flood, Bernard Ryan, Thomas Traynor, Patrick Maher and Edward Foley. I measc laochra na nGael go raibh siad.

We know the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist. And that the second can be an agent of a government and a foreign one at that. There are elements on this island who say there should be a repudiation of those who used force to win freedom and that Ireland should apologise for our patriots.

I am sure that even at this serious juncture America is not going to apologise for George Washington. Who would expect them to? Neither should the Irish nation apologise for Wolfe Tone, or Padraig Pearse or James Connolly, or Maire Drumm, or Mairead Farrell or Bobby Sands or Kevin Barry.

Building Political Strength

Many republicans and nationalists are disillusioned with the pace of progress and frustrated by the hypocrisy and cynicism of anti-republican elements who have sought to use events of this summer to gang up on Sinn FÈin or to relaunch their anti-republican agenda. Following the arrest of three Irishmen in Columbia and the atrocities in the US, it was almost like the bad old days of vilification, demonisation and media disinformation once again. While loyalist paramilitaries threw over 250 bombs, while their murder campaign intensified daily, while young Catholic school children were blockaded on their way to and from school, there was an unrelenting agenda to pressurise, marginalise and blame Sinn FÈin for all of this. And the hypocrisy and opportunism wasn't limited to the usual anti-Agreement elements in the British and unionist establishment.

Could it be that what all these elements have in common is a fear of the growing strength of Sinn FÈin? Could it be that many of those who railed against us in the old days - who were against the Hume/Adams initiative, who were for censorship - could it be that in June of this year they saw their worst nightmare starting to become a reality, and seized upon other events in an unprincipled and opportunistic attempt to batter us and to unnerve our support? This will not be successful.

In March I predicted that 'when our Ard Fheis finally meets later this year it will be to welcome Pat Doherty as the MP for West Tyrone'. F·ilte Pat.

I want on to predict significant gains in North Belfast, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh, Foyle, and all other parts of the north.

I want to commend Comhairle na SÈ Chondae for the outstanding achievement of putting forward the biggest number ever of local government candidates and achieving significant breakthroughs everywhere. I want to commend the people for making Sinn FÈin the largest nationalist party in the Six Counties.

I also pointed to the opportunities in the Nice Treaty referendum for Sinn FÈin to mount vigorous opposition and to put forward our policy against an EU superstate and the loss of sovereignty. I want to commend all those who played such an important role in a vigorous public campaign to mobilise opinion for the defence in Europe of Irish democratic rights, not the erosion of them.

In the face of all elements of the Irish establishment, including the government itself and all the establishment parties, the people's voice was heard. When the votes were counted, Sinn FÈin's voice was with the majority for democracy, sovereignty and economic and social justice. The government and the establishment were defeated. The people won.

And finally, in what was a deeply personal and emotional campaign for me, we put it to the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone that it would be a fitting tribute to Bobby Sands if they could elect Michelle Gildernew as their MP and the first woman Sinn FÈin MP since Countess Markievez. And the people answered a resounding yes.

We will see this growth continue in the months ahead. Nuair a thÈann an TD do Cabhan/Muineach·in CaoimhghÌn ” Caol·in ar ais go Teach Laighinn nÌ bheidh se ag si˙l isteach leis fÈin ach beidh daoine eile tofa mar TD ag Sinn FÈin.

All-Ireland potential

Sinn FÈin is the only meaningful and truly republican party on the island because we are the only party organised throughout the island which genuinely strives to give democratic voice to the sovereign people of the 32 counties.

* We are the only party that puts forward candidates in all elections held among the Irish people.

* We are the only party that has representatives elected to Westminster, to the Assembly, to the D·il, and to local authorities, north and south, and which sits in all but the first of these - for obvious reasons.

*We are the only party that nominates members of all-Ireland Implementation Bodies on both sides of the border.

*We are the only party which has the potential to have members of the all-Ireland Ministerial Council from both parts of this island.

* We are the only party which can influence membership from both Belfast and Dublin of the all-Ireland Joint Committee of the Human Rights Commissions.

* We are the only party which will be able to make an input to northern and southern membership of the 32-county Consultative Forum of Civil Society.

* We are the only party which will have participants from north and south in the Joint Parliamentary Forum.

* We are also seeking representation for northern MPs in the D·il and full membership as of right for nominees of northern political parties in the Seanad.

* We have campaigned for votes for citizens in the Six Counties in Presidential elections and relevant constitutional referenda.

Ending inequality

People are sickened by what they have seen from the Beef tribunal, through to the McCracken, Lindsay, Moriarty, and Flood Tribunals. We seem to have a prevailing political ethos which is all about legitimatising a two-tier society.

You walk through the streets of our towns and cities and you can see young men and women sleeping in doorways. There are others who are less unfortunate and conspicuous, but are still among the excluded and deprived.

21% of Irish workers live on low incomes. This is the second highest proportion in the EU. The 26 Counties also has the second largest gap between rich and poor in the EU. The income inequalities in the Six Counties are just as pronounced.

We need a coalition of all of those seeking an end to poverty, and inequality. We need a coalition across sectarian and racial divisions. We need a coalition of those in urban and rural communities who have been shut out of the increased prosperity of recent years. We need a coalition between republicans in the broadest sense and all those campaigning for real and lasting change in our country, including decent politicians of all parties.

Sharing the Wealth in the island economy

We must take steps across the island to create linkages and new structures that will rebuild an island economy and ensure that the Irish economy of the 21st century is one where everyone has access to a dignified standard of living, where they are employed in meaningful work, where they are housed adequately and educated in line with their needs, where health and other social services are delivered locally and with quality.

Most importantly, we want to construct a society where people decide, plan and deliver these issues for themselves. Sinn FÈin wants to help build a society that rewards those people who actually make the profits, the goods and the wealth.

We want to construct a society where decision making is increasingly taken out of the hands of central government and placed in the hands of the communities to decide for themselves the sort of local economy that suits their needs.

We want a decentralised Ireland where the east coast Dublin-Belfast power axis is replaced with regional government empowered to shape political and economic society. To stop the decline of rural Ireland. To rebuild the depopulated communities. To bring much needed resources and investment to deprived areas rural and urban.

This requires political will and competence, which is absent in the establishment political thinking of today.

Sinn FÈin has been spearheading the agenda for a just all-Ireland economy through our efforts in Leinster House, through the Assembly Committee on Trade and Investment, through InterTrade Ireland and through our representatives in local government.

Making Politics Work

This is the first Ard Fheis attended by Bairbre de Br˙n as Minister of Health and Martin McGuinness as Minister for Education.

Sinn FÈin is responsible for two of the most difficult Ministries in the Executive. And I want to commend Bairbre and Martin for the remarkable job they have done in conditions which no other minister in these islands has had to endure. Inside and outside their departments they have won the praise and admiration of many people, including some who are not Sinn FÈin supporters.


The cause of unionism is being disgraced daily on the Ardoyne Road, as it was previously at Harryville and Garvaghy Road. There is no excuse and no right to protest and blockade against children.

The leaders of unionism need to make that clear. Sinn FÈin has been working in North Belfast, not only to lower tensions but, while repudiating the protest, attempting also to deal with the fears of unionists in that part of Belfast city. I want to assure unionists that we will have no truck with sectarianism of any kind from any source.

We want to reach out to unionists. For republicans they are in the culture of everyday life, no less Irish than the rest of us. However if they or some of them, to one degree or another, do not choose to look at it in that way that is their entitlement. They should not be compelled into acknowledging what they do not want to, and we accept that narrow green conservatism has contributed at times to their sense of alienation from the community of Ireland which we desire them to embrace.

Unionism overall is locked into a leadership battle which is being fought out around the Good Friday Agreement and the changes which that Agreement involves. There is resistance to these changes and no unionist leadership has yet to emerge to actively and consistently promote an acceptance of them.

Despite this, a lot of progress has been made and our difficulties and our differences in many ways have been put in context by what is happening in other parts of the world. Our collective responsibility at this time is to settle our differences and I appeal to the leaders of unionism to join with us in doing that.

John Hume and the SDLP

I want to pay tribute to SDLP leader John Hume. His resignation as party leader and that of his Deputy Leader Seamus Mallon marks the end of an era.

They and we have a different analysis and different objectives. But it is to John Hume's credit that he responded to the invitation from Sinn FÈin to dialogue with our party in the late 1980s and reached out to work with us in trying to find a peaceful resolution of the causes of conflict on this island and between Britain and Ireland.

He was vilified, of course, including by some within his own party. But in a short period the Hume/Adams dialogue, as it became known, opened up the possibility of a new beginning. This gave all our people hope and led to an Agreement which was endorsed by rank and file unionists as well as nationalists and republicans.

That period of hope is often forgotten now as the peace process stumbles from one crisis to another. But that hope should be a lasting tribute to the finest hour of John Hume.

The new generation of leaders seeking to take up the mantle of John Hume have a choice to make as momentous as that made by John Hume when he joined with me in a search for genuine resolution of this conflict. The SDLP can play a vital role in delivering peace or it can retreat into 'post nationalist' fallacies and fantasies and a narrower, more negative agenda.

The decision is for them to take but I have to say that their move, taken in the final days of John Hume's leadership, to endorse the revamped RUC, which falls short of the basic Patten requirement, does not augur well for the future.

To support a failed police force when our shared constituency cries out for a new policing service is to attempt to impose an inequitable solution on a people who demand equality.

Sinn FÈin will not acquiesce to or be neutral about the need for a new beginning to policing. We are committed to continue the work to bring this about and to reject anything less than what people are entitled to. I appeal to the new leadership of the SDLP to join again with us and others who seek an end to the causes of conflict on these islands. This will require courage and it will require sacrifice but we owe this to our shared constituency and to the rest of the people of this island.

However, I am very conscious that there is a section of the SDLP which is virulently and obsessively opposed to us. The only thing that keeps it going is looking over its shoulder at Sinn FÈin. The problem is that it does not therefore see the future coming and is likely to bump into it, with even more unpleasant electoral consequences in the time to come.

These are all issues for the SDLP to sort out for themselves but people in the Six Counties will watch that space to discover if the SDLP is more about initials than ideas.

International Situation

I want to call on all political parties in Ireland to sign an anti-racist pledge and make a commitment that they will not play party politics with the race issue and that they will not tolerate racism in any form in their party.

Furthermore, we are calling for all of those asylum seekers who arrived in Ireland before 1 January 2001 to be granted an amnesty and for the government to take a more humane attitude to the issue of asylum seekers and refugees in general.

Sinn FÈin has consistently argued that the United Nations is the international institution with the responsibility to prevent armed conflict and to protect civilians. While nations have an individual right to defend themselves and their citizens we agree with Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, that only the UN can give global legitimacy to the struggle to eliminate terrorism.

Terrorism is ethically indefensible. Those responsible for the atrocities in the US must be brought to justice. What happened in New York and Washington and Pennyslvennia was, as the UN Human Rights Commissioner and former Irish President Mary Robinson said, 'a crime against humanity'.

Progressive struggles throughout the world have been set back by the attacks in the US. There is no justification for those type of actions. But neither should anyone truly concerned with world peace be deflected from that task or be carried away by the notion of a clash between civilisations. The real challenge is for dialogue, not retribution. That is the lesson of the peace process on this island.

* It is wrong that anyone should have to suffer because of their nationality, their colour, or their creed.

* It is wrong that the third world should be crippled with debt while the first world is affluent.

* It is wrong that an elite group of less than a billion people control more than 80% of the world's wealth.

* It is wrong that 1.2 billion of the world's people live on less than one dollar a day.

* It is wrong that armaments production and sales exceed by over 60 times the World Health Organisation's annual expenditure on the world's four main preventable diseases.

* It is wrong that 11 million children under 5 die each year from preventable causes. This is equivalent to 30,000 children a day

* It is wrong that at least one million civilians, half of them children, have died in Iraq as a result of the embargo imposed by the US and Britain.

* It is wrong that the British government sells weapons to Israel.

* It is wrong that the Middle East conflict has been allowed to endure for so long and that the people of Palestine have to endure illegal occupation by Israel.

* It is wrong that our environment and the protection of this planet, the protection of nature, has been destroyed at the whim of big business

* It is wrong that 5.3 million people in Afghanistan - that's the population of our island - are on the brink of starvation as the result of a three-year drought, in what the UN has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

* It is wrong that justice has not been brought to the various long standing conflicts that have troubled this planet for a very long time.

The Irish government takes responsibility for the Chair of the UN Security Council for a month. None of these great wrongs can be righted in that time, but we look to the Foreign Minister Brian Cowen to send a very clear message to the world, on behalf of the people of this island, that now is the time to strengthen bonds between people. It is time to strengthen and extend democratic international institutions.

This year has been proclaimed by the General Assembly of the UN as the Year of Dialogue among Civilisations. It is of the utmost importance that this dialogue takes place and that those of us who live in the west come to learn that we are not the world - we are only a part of it.

We need to build peace, freedom, human rights, tolerance and promote the idea of a international society based upon the rule of law, on justice and equality - a truly united human family.

The 1981 Hunger Strikes remembered

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike. I want to commend everyone who established and participated in the 1981 committees and who sought to celebrate the lives of the hunger strikers.

How do you explain the Hunger strikes? How do you come to terms with what happened? It can be understood only if we appreciate the incorruptibility and unselfishness and generosity of the human spirit when that spirit is motivated by an ideal or an objective which is greater than itself.

One of the greatest achievements of the hunger strikers was that they set a moral standard for the conduct of struggle. I'm sure that this was not their intention but it is a fact. Their generosity, commitment, idealism and unselfishness set an example for the rest of us to follow.

We Irish, all 70 million of us across this globe, are no petty people.

If our opponents, if our detractors, if our enemies want to understand us, if they want to understand our struggle, if they want to understand our commitment and our vision for the future, then let them come to understand the hunger strikers.

For the rest of us there is peace to be made, elections to be fought and freedom to be won.

As Brendan McFarlane sings in his song:

'We're stronger now,
You showed us how,
Freedom's fight can be won,
If we all stand as one.'

Comrades, let us stand together and move forward together as one. Ar aghaigh linn.

Keep up the good work - McLaughlin

Opening the Ard Fheis, Sinn FÈin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin commented on how "in many ways the political landscape has changed since we last convened here eighteen months ago".

He said that internationally the peace process in Ireland may seem inconsequential in the light of the tragedy in America, "but if we can reach a resolution of the remaining core issues then our process of conflict resolution will provide hope for those involved in other conflict situations.

Commenting on theb party's recent electoral advances, he said: "I am particularly proud and honoured to be chairperson at this momentous juncture."

He pointed out that party membership is also growing in every age bracket, but especially in the 18 to 35 age groups, making Sinn FÈin is the fastest growing party in the country.

"At this Ard Fheis we are launching four new policy discussion documents," he said, "which set out the radical vision of our party".

He warned against relaxing or becoming complacent. "We must garner the experience that we have gained in the North and apply it to the election that must take place here in the 26 Counties by next Spring or early Summer and also prepare for possible Assembly elections in the nort," he said.

"I have no doubt that our sitting TD, CaoimhghÌn ” Caol·in will be accompanied by a number of comrades when he enters the next D·il. How many, will be determined by the preparation, effort and tenacity with which we approach the election campaign."

He said that the peace process is "unstoppable and the momentum for change is in train. They may well slow it down or stall it but they must know that it cannot be stopped or reversed."

"Building an Ireland of equals," he said, "is not just about what we believe others should do or accept. It is also about what we need to do to convince others that our analysis is correct and non-threatening. Equality, justice, inclusion, freedom are all important words. They ring with a fundamental resonance. But they must be more than words. They must apply equally to our political opponents and to those who differ from us in any other way politically, culturally or ethnically.

"We have much work to do. There are many challenges to confront. It is time to roll up the shirtsleeves and take up those challenges."


Struggling for justice

The opening debate of the Ard Fheis was on issues of justice and the community, chaired by Louth County Councillor Arthur Morgan. Delegates spoke powerfully on issues of major concern to party activists on the ground: the scourge of drugs and the havoc wrought in communities, the injustice meted out to the travelling community.

DaithÌ Doolan and Marie Keane, both delegates from Dublin, spoke powerfully of the devastation to whole communities caused by drugs. "No drugs are harmless, be it hash or alcohol. They cause brain damage. Many people have died through contaminated drugs," said DaithÌ Doolan. He spoke of one of his constituents who had buried her fifth son to drugs, and he strongly condemned methadone programmes, which are so heavily promoted by chemical companies, but which, he said, hold no solution, only providing for a continual toxic addiction.

The debate centred on resolutions which called for the review of the party's policy on drugs, to consider the legalisation of cannabis and an end the criminalisation of cannabis users. Delegates endorsed resolutions for a review of policy.

Councillor Michael Ferguson, from Poleglass in Belfast, spoke about anti-social behaviour, which was not, he argued, primarily associated with young people, as is the common belief. "We are dealing with complex social problems which originate in deprivation and social exclusion, which cannot be collapsed simply into crime," he said. "Policing and punishment offer no solutions.

"If you think you can shoot this one away then you may make the doorways into every household in West Belfast wheelchair accessible. Instead, we need Community Restorative Justice programmes, which treat victims and wrongdoers with a degree of humanity, and reject the crime and punishment culture of retribution. And these programmes, which allow the people to take ownership of their community, need mainstream funding while we work strategically to design and implement social, economic and cultural regeneration."

Larry O'Toole, a member of Dublin Corporation's subcommittee on Travellers, addressed the appalling racism evidenced in the treatment of the 28,000 strong Travelling community in Ireland, who live in conditions far below acceptable standards for the majority of people in our society. "It is our test as socialist republicans that we speak up for and defend this community, and that we recognise their culture and nomadic way of life, and therefore their need to properly serviced transient sites," said O'Toole.

Public Inquiries

The debate also raised issues of gross injustice in the failure of governments to hold independent inquiries into the activities of the FRU and into the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings. The failure of the 26-County government to make the GardaÌ accountable through public and independent inquiry into the killings by the Emergency Response Unit was also raised.

Assembly member John Kelly spoke forcefully to resolutions calling for a full public inquiry into the killing of Portadown nationalist Robert Hamill and the prosecution of RUC officers who failed to intervene to save his life. He also renewed the call for an independent international inquiry into the assassinations of human rights lawyers Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane.

Dave Breatnach, a delegate from the Cole/Colley Cumann in Dublin, made a strong call for the accountability of the police. He supported a call for the full review of the cases of GardaÌ who have been convicted of crimes, and a call for a full independent public inquiry into the Emergency Response Unit and the killings of John Morris in June 1997, Ronan McLoughlin in May 1998, and of John Carthy in Longford in April 2000. Frances McCole made a forceful call on the Dublin Government for a cross jurisdictional public inquiry into the Dublin Monaghan bombings in 1974.

Brendan McFarlane then spoke to a Dublin C˙ige resolution which paid tribute to the commitment and sacrifice of the women prisoners in Armagh, who through their courage had inspired the Relatives Action Committees, which played so crucial a role in building the mass political movement at that time to defeat British Conservative government intransigence. He spoke "to pay a debt of gratitude to those who have worked so hard during this year to commemorate the lives of the hunger strikers and to pay the tremendous debt of gratitude we owe to these men who gave their lives in the H Block struggle 20 years ago".

Asylum Seekers and Refugees

CaoimhghÌn O Caolain TD, for the Ard Chomhairle, proposed for adoption the party's policy statement on the issue of asylum seekers, immigrants and refugees, "Many Voices, One Country: Cherishing all the children of the nation equally".

He declared the party's total opposition to racism in any form and demanded of government strong and fearless action to counteract the degree of ignorance and hostility which "is but one short step to racist attacks. Disadvantaged communities need solutions, not scapegoats."

DaithÌ Doolan from Dublin said that racism was used by sections of government and the media as a tool to divide. "The government needs to lead and communities need to be welcoming of our now multicultural society and all the cultural diversity and benefits this brings. Sinn FÈin must have the courage to challenge racism, in the schools, in the community and social life and in our own organisation."

The Ard Fheis endorsed a wide number of resolutions calling for the rights of refugees to work, to study, to proper accommodation, and to be treated humanely with proper, transparent and fair asylum procedures. Delegates backed an amnesty for those who are here. The Ard Fheis endorsed the call for legislation to deal with racially motivated physical and verbal attack and discrimination in employment, education, medical care, housing, and by service providers and retailers.

A resolution from several cumainn that "believing racism to be a growing cancer in our society and against every tenet of what republicanism stands for, that any members of the party who express racist attitudes or make racist comments be expelled from the party," was also resoundingly endorsed.


Towards a new Ireland


Dealing with the Peace Process and the issues of flags, policing, demilitarisation, loyalist attacks, northern representation and POWs, the 'Towards a new Ireland' section on Sunday was central to the Ard Fheis.

Dominick Molloy, from the Dungannon Cumann, South Tyrone Comhairle Ceantair, opened the debate defiantly, expressing anger at Sinn FÈin's stance on policing. "Let me be blunt and to the point. The people of Tyrone are sick to the teeth with Sinn FÈin reps in the media and in this Cl·r saying if only Patten had been implemented. Where does Sinn FÈin accept Patten? Can somebody tell me that now?"

Acceptance of Patten, unchanged, would mean acceptance of the RUC, he said. Oliver Molloy - also from the East Tyrone Comhairle Ceantair - asked when the party had accepted that Patten would provide a "new beginning" to policing. "If Patten was implemented ten times over, it would still be a Six-County force, defending the union."

Conor Murphy spoke on behalf of the Sinn FÈin Ard Chomhairle in favour of motion 230, on equality. The unusual length and detail of the motion, he said, was a clear indication of the struggle that still remains to implement equality.

"When unionist Minister for Equality, Dermott Nesbitt, claimed that they were 'winning the war' on equality, unfortunately he was not referring to how they were winning the war on inequality, but how they are using their executive positions to try to airbrush the reality of equality from the history of the northern state, and to deny its continuing existence," he said.

In this approach they have been facilitated, as usual, by the British government, he continued. Equality measures are viewed by that government "as a concession to be negotiated rather than a right to be enjoyed by citizens".

Speaking next, Martin McGuinness begun by extending his sympathies to the victims, friends and families of the attacks on New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania in the US.

As the events in America were unfolding, Gerry Adams, Gerry Kelly and he were meeting with the Taoiseach in Government Buildings, regarding the peace process, he recalled. "As the meeting was coming to an end, officials informed us of the news of the diabolical attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, and of course later we were to learn of the attacks on Washington and Pennsylvania."

There is an onus on Irish people to make their contribution to ensuring tha such a tragedy does not happen again, he said. "While world attention is focused on the repercussions of those tragedies and what form any response should take, it is important that we here in Ireland remain focused on the contribution that bringing our peace process to a successful conclusion can make to world peace."

Turning to the use to berate Sinn FÈin in recent weeks of the attacks in America and the arrest of three Irishmen in Colombia, McGuinness pointed out that some of those involved in these attacks were "at best lukewarm" towards the peace process from its very beginning.

"Others, faced with a strong electoral challenge from Sinn FÈin, are driven by party-political or even self-interest. Such attempts to achieve narrow political advantage from the terrible tragedy in the US are, I believe, quite disgraceful."

The Sinn FÈin negotiator said that it is his contention that the peace process has brought huge positive change, although this was not enough. Sinn FÈin's electoral rise is a sign that "nationalism is energised and empowered in a way that has never been seen before". Most notable, he emphasisied, was the election of Pat Doherty. "The election of Pat Doherty by the people of Omagh and West Tyrone, was the most powerful endorsement yet seen of our efforts over many years to bring about a just and lasting peace. Through the election of a Sinn FÈin MP, the town of Omagh, which has had more than its share of heartbreak and tragedy, told the world that it supported the approach to conflict resolution which Sinn FÈin has pursued and they mandated us to continue to pursue this approach."

Barry McElduff, who was elected as Assembly member also for the people of Omagh, quoted John Major's famous phrase, 'back to basics', to set the tone for his speech on policing.

"The RUC remains in effect, despite all the propaganda. Ronnie Flanagan, head of the Special Branch previously, who presided over the shoot-to-kill operations in North Armagh, is still in charge. Special Branch still collating intelligence on nationalists in the Six Counties. Barracks, still operational for joint deployment by the RUC, the British Army and the SAS. Powers, still vested by the British government in MI5. Big questions are still to be answered about the RUC's direct or indirect involvement in the murders of people like Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson and in my own county, people like Patrick Shanahan and Kathleen O'Hagan."

The SDLP's choice of candidates for the policing boards did not encourage him either. "God help Irish nationalists if we're to rely on the three nominess that the SDLP put forward to this policing board: Alex Attwood, who has said that even if there was 51% nationalists in the Six Counties, he wouldn't be up for a united Ireland at that point. Eddie McGrady, who wrote the very same thing in the Irish Times, and who commended the RUC for shooting Volunteer Colum Marks, in Downpatrick. And Joe Burns (check spelling), the lesser known of the three and who recently paid tribute to the RUC in Omagh and also the British Army in Omagh for being 'fair employers' of both sections fo the community - what a joke."

Orlaith Murphy, speaking on the issue of demilitarisation, was of a similar mind. The ”gra Shinn FÈin representative said that tokenistic gestures on the issue had been hyped immeasurably by sections of the media.

"Each minor change to the physical military presence in the North has been hailed as a major move on demilitarisation. Much was made of the closure of Gough checkpoint outside Newry - what actually happened? They took away a shed, leaving behind a military complex, buried underground, and the watchtowers above, bedecked with surveillance equipment which continues to spy on the local population, along with the other 30 spy-towers in South Armagh."

Other speakers echoed the sentiments of McElduff's and Murphy's speeches as regards the issues of policing and demilitarisation. Sinn FÈin's Mayo representative, Vincent Woods, read a statement from the IRA prisoners in Castlerea (printed elsewhere), while party Vice President Pat Doherty spoke on the importance of northern representation in Leinster House.


Solidarity from Castlerea

The following message to the Sinn FÈin ¡rd Fheis was read out on behalf of republican prisoners held in Castlerea Prison

A Chairde,

The republican prisoners in Castlerea Prison send solidarity greetings to our comrades in Sinn FÈin and to our fellow POWs who are incarcerated worldwide. We commend and salute the Sinn FÈin leadership in striving to achieve the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement as negotiated. We also send our congratulations to the many elected representatives all over Ireland and in succeeding in making Sinn FÈin the largest nationalist party in the Six Counties. The prisoners are completely behind the leadership of the Republican Movement and fully support their analysis of how best to move forward towards our vision of a democratic, non-sectarian, pluralist, united Ireland.

There are currently eight republican prisoners in Castlerea. Out of these, there are five prisoners who are commonly known as the Castlerea 5. Since 28 July 2000, they are the last prisoners to be held by the Irish (sic) government who clearly qualify fir early release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. By their stubborn refusal to release these men, the Irish (sic) government have broken the terms of this Agreement, and they have created a hierarchy of victims, while refusing to accept the fundamental fact that we are all victims of this conflict.

The Irish (sic) government encouraged a Yes vote in favour of the Agreement at the referendum. This was a Yes vote for all aspects of the Agreement, including Prisoner releases, including the Castlerea Five. They have no right to cherrypick parts of the Agreement they might not like or to hold people as political hostages for their own expediency.

In the aftermath of the recent talks held at Weston Park, the British and Fianna F·il led governments admitted that the prisoner release issue was not fully resolved, and I quote Item 20 of the document signed by John Reid and Brian Cowen: "Both governments recognise that there is an issue to be addressed with the completion of the early release scheme, for offences committed before 10 April 1998."

The Castlerea Five are being held illegally and should be released immediately.

We send greetings and heartfelt thanks to the POW Department and An Cumann Cabhrach, to prisoner solidarity groups around the world who have done so much over the years in highlighting conditions for republican prisoners. We would especially like to thank the many delegations who have taken the time to come to Castlerea to visit us. There are too many to name individually, but they have come from the 32 Counties, Europe and the USA. We salute, commend and deeply appreciate the support and dedication of our families who continue to suffer the effects of our imprisonment.

Sinn FÈin made the prisoners' issue an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement. It is Sinn FÈin who support our right to walk through the gates of Castlerea Prison as free men.

Tiocfaidh ar la.

Kevin Walsh, O/C Castlerea Jail


Health for all

The following address was delivered by Health minister Bairbre de Br˙n during the Health debate at the Ard Fheis.

"It is important that we have scheduled Health issues for lengthy discussion at our annual Ard Fheis. I welcome this and the publication of the Health Strategy paper. It represents a timely and significant step in the development of party policy. It is important that we see this as a first step. This is the beginning of a task not the completion of one. The Health Strategy paper is, in my view, an initial step in allowing us both to develop and realise our vision for the future of health and health care in Ireland. As someone charged by our party with the responsibility of serving on the north's Executive as Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the paper covers much familiar ground in terms of issues and the context in which they arise. At this point, I wish only to draw attention to two particular issues, the need for a public health strategy and the multitude of problems facing our hospitals.

The causes of ill health are as marked today as they were at the turn of the twentieth century; poverty, poor housing and other social and environmental factors still determine our health status. Compared with other regions in Western Europe, we die too young and too many of us suffer unnecessarily for years from painful and disabling conditions. This is unacceptable. Much of this premature death and disease is determined by social and economic inequalities. The evidence is clear. The better off you are, the healthier you are; the longer you can expect to live; and the less likely you are to spend the later years of your life suffering from a chronic disease or disability. Nowhere can this be more starkly seen than in the damning fact that a male member of the Travelling community has just over half the life expectancy of you or I. Poorer families have less to spend on the physical determinants of health, such as good food and comfortable housing. Their children are less likely to achieve the educational qualifications, which are the key to pulling themselves up the social ladder. They are excluded from the benefits of prosperity, which many take for granted. This health gap - the disparities in health status between rich and poor - is an affront to equity and social justice. We cannot allow these facts to be ignored.

We cannot depend on the health service alone to improve the health of our people. The greatest gains in our health over the past 100 years have been achieved through improvements in other arenas, including education, working conditions, housing, food safety, water supplies, waste management and physical environment.

Progress is dependent on a greater focus on the determinants of health.

The Executive in the north has initiated a detailed consultation on how this can be achieved in 'Investing for Health'. This deals with issues as diverse as teenage parenthood, mental health and smoking. We have ensured that the public health agenda is a priority in the Programme for Government and will continue to enhance and build upon it.

Scarcely a day goes by without a critical media focus on our hospitals. There is a particular focus, north and south, on waiting lists and waiting times. I am keenly aware that the increased numbers of people waiting for hospital treatment in the north demonstrates the depth of the problems that need to be redressed. The scale of our problems cannot by understated. Our hospitals and community care system are under enormous pressures.

Against this background, we have set ourselves the challenge of improving the standard and efficiency of health care service delivery and developing a strategic direction for health, social services and public safety which will deliver modern effective, accessible services and command public confidence. The underlying problem is under investment in health and social services in the recent past. The problems facing our health services require a substantial injection of resources. In the north we have succeeded in increasing the priority rating for Health in the ExecutiveÌs Programme for Government. Translating this into the required increase in public expenditure is our next challenge. While there are no instant solutions, the time devoted to this subject at this Ard Fheis is an indication of the seriousness with which Sinn FÈin approaches the issue."


Health is a right

The Sinn FÈin policy document Health for All was adopted as policy at this year's Ard Fheis. Hailed as an all-Ireland strategy to deal with ill health, the policy document outlines Sinn FÈin's public health strategy and looks at the reasons for ill health.

As such, one of the central tenets of the policy document is the belief that socio-economic factors have a major bearing on where people are placed on the health graphs. Evidence shows that poor people are more likely to suffer from ill-health than rich people.

"This situation is an affront to social justice", said Bairbre de Br˙n, who addressed the Ard Fheis and in her position as Health Minister in the Northern Executive commended the Health for All document to the party conference.

De Br˙n declared that ill-health was not just the responsibility of the Health Service, saying that a lot of work and education needs to be done so that the status of health can be improved.

She went on to warn of the underinvestment in the health service and of the long-term effects this was having on people's health.

In their motion to the Ard Fheis, Cork Comhairle Ceantair criticised the fact that over 35,000 people are on hospital waiting lists and slammed what they described as, "the principle enshrined in our two-tier health service that ability to pay is the sole determinant of speed and quality of treatment".

The motion pointed up the findings of an ESRI report which revealed that up to half the costs of private beds was being subsidised by the public sector.

The inadequate facilities and investment in treatments for women suffering from breast cancer was the focus of a number of speakers, with one Dublin delegate, Blanchardstown's Mary Lou McDonald, saying that the dilapidated state of the health service in the 26 Counties was comparable to some third world countries. She said the mortality rate of women from breast cancer in Ireland is on a par with that of Chile and Costa Rica.

Meanwhile, controversy surrounding the Hayes Review of Acute Services, regarding the delivery of hospital services in the North, was the focus of the health debate emanating from the North.

Speakers such as Barry McElduff and Francie Molloy from Tyrone and Gerry McHugh from Fermanagh all labelled the Hayes review as having "failed rural communities west of the Bann". Molloy was particularly vocal. His call for the Ard Fheis to adopt motions 49 and 50, which rejected the Hayes report, were accepted.


The great coalition question


  Would it not be ironic if, after more than 30 years of both the British and Irish establishments attempting to place us in a straight-jacket of their own manufacture, that we were to facilitate them by limiting and restricting our own options? 
- Martin Ferris

The difficult question of how Sinn Fein should use its mandate, likely to be significantly increased after the next 26-County election, was debated on Sunday afternoon during the section entitled 'Building Political Strength', when a number of motions on coalition with other political parties were put before delegates.

The debate was split between those who, mindful of the fate of other smaller parties that have entered into coalition governments, wanted to see any possibility of coalition ruled out altogether and those who, whilst certainly not advocating any coalition with either Labour or Fianna F·il within the foreseeable future, argued that the principle itself should not be arbitrarily discounted, on the grounds that taking such an absolutist position may in future tie the party's hands.

CaoimhghÌn ” Caol·in opened the debate by supporting a motion calling for the approval of a special delegate conference before Sinn FÈin entered into any coalition and by reminding delegates of the progress of the party and of its potential in forthcoming elections - and the alarm this has caused within the ruling political establishment.

"One of the issues of greatest concern to the political establishment in this State has been the steady growth in the political strength of Sinn FÈin in recent years" he said. "They did not like the rise of Sinn FÈin in the Six Counties - it reminded them too much of their abandonment of the nationalist and republican people of that statelet."

"But since the 1997 general election, when we have really blossomed throughout this island, the alarm of the leaderships of Fianna F·il, Fine Gael, Labour and the PDs is palpable. They can barely tolerate a resurgent Sinn FÈin in the North, but when we start to challenge them for local authority and Leinster House seats in this jurisdiction it is a different story. Now it is far too close to home."

This success, he went on, has led to deep antipathy towards Sinn FÈin from many in the 26-County political establishment, an antipathy which will continue as the election draws closer. He said: "We have challenged the decades of failure for which they all share the responsibility. We have challenged their cosy consensus politics which so often combined to exclude Sinn FÈin and to support censorship and repression. We have brought political leadership into disadvantaged communities abandoned by these parties. We are offering a real alternative to all the electorate.

"And how do we keep our policies at the top of the agenda and at the centre of debate? We do so by making clear that in the aftermath of a general election other parties will have to recognise the mandate given to Sinn FÈin by the electorate. Let them tell the electorate before the general election if they wish to return to the politics of exclusion and rule out Sinn FÈin participation in government on principle. Let us not rule it out on principle ourselves."

"I want to see Sinn FÈin in government. I want to see us in a government implementing our policies on health, education, childcare, social welfare, neutrality and sovereignty - a government actively pursuing Irish unity and independence. I do not believe we will see such a government after the next general election. I have met no-one in this party in the past year who has argued that we should enter a coalition government in this State after the next general election. But let us not allow our political opponents off the hook."

Councillor Chris McManus, Deputy Mayor of Sligo Corporation, warned that the party should not "allow ourselves to be dazzled by any possible short-term gains, no matter how tempting. The history of small parties who enter coalition is bleak and while republicans are not bound by history, we should learn from it."

"We must take a clear and unequivocal stance in relation to this issue. To ensure that nothing dilutes or weakens our republican beliefs it is obvious our policy must be one of non-participation in any coalition where we will be a minority party. Sinn FÈin must provide the real opposition in Leinster House and by so doing our party will be creating the climate guaranteeing increased electoral support at subsequent elections."

Councillor Sean Crowe, speaking in support of the motion for a special delegate conference, said that he does not spend his nights "dreaming of getting around the cabinet table with the likes of John O'Donoghue, Mary Harney or Michael Noonan", but does want Sinn FÈin "to be at the centre of the public debate on what sort of policies should shape the future of people living in Ireland".

He said he shared the abhorrence of those who wanted to rule out any future likelihood of coalition of "the corruption, the brown envelopes and the sheer incompetence and political mismanagement of all the establishment parties, including Labour, the PDs and Fine Gael as well as Fianna F·il."

But, he said, the people who will vote for Sinn FÈin at the next election will be voting for it in the expectation of change. "I deal every day with people trying to get a roof over their head, with people who are homeless, people living in atrocious rented conditions, young couples trying to buy a home. I cannot walk the streets without meeting many people who have been left behind by the Celtic Tiger. So what am I to say to those people of no property and, in many cases, no hope? Am I going to tell them that Sinn FÈin will not even consider the options after the election that might help change their lives?"

Martin Ferris, also speaking in support of the motion, reminded delegates that ultimately the membership of the party would have the final say on whether Sinn FÈin entered into any coalition and that such discussion would not mean a dilution of core republican principles. "While these principles are not there to be bartered, traded or sold," he said, "the tactics that we employ are intended to advance our struggle towards the goals that we, collectively, have defined. When choosing tactics, we are guided by our core beliefs and principles, those which will ensure that our policies reflect the republican ethos."

But, he said, "it would be extremely counter-productive for our party to place ourselves in a political straight-jacket, a move which our opponents would be only too delighted to see. Would it not be ironic if, after more than 30 years of both the British and Irish establishments attempting to place us in a straight-jacket of their own manufacture, that we were to facilitate them by limiting and restricting our own options?"

Delegates resolved that the party will not enter into any coalition government without the approval of a special delegate


The housing crisis

Opening the debate on housing in this year's Ard Fheis Sinn FÈin councillor Sean Crowe, who represents Tallaght, one of the worst housing black spots in the 26 Counties, stated that in every decade of the last century there had been a crisis in housing.

He castigated successive Dublin governments for their failure to address these crises. A paper on housing was launched, outlining the party's proposals to takle the hou


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