6 March 2008 Edition
Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2008 : Presidential Address by Gerry Adams MP, MLA
‘We can build the united Ireland our people deserve’
BELOW we reprint an edited version of the Presidential Address delivered by Gerry Adams MP, MLA to the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis at the RDS in Dublin on Saturday, 1 March.
SINCE we last met here in the RDS, the political situation has been transformed. The unimaginable – some would say the unbelievable – has happened: Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness are sitting as equal partners, in a power-sharing government in the North.
Today, Sinn Féin ministers are placing equality at the heart of decision-making in the North for the first time.
The all-Ireland political institutions are up and running and are starting to make a real impact.
A few weeks ago, led by An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, 11 ministers from the North – four of them Shinners – and 11 from the South, discussed a range of matters affecting all the people of this island. And there wasn’t an English minister about the place.
Forty years ago, in 1968 (when I was much younger), the Civil Rights Movement in the North took to the streets. It united republicans, nationalists, socialists and other progressive forces around basic demands. It became organic and spontaneous and won mass support in a way which is an example for us today. The attack on that movement in Derry in October of that year was the beginning of the slide into a conflict which lasted for more than a quarter of a century.
It took republican initiatives and a republican peace strategy to create the conditions in which a political agreement could be forged 10 years ago this April.
While others played their part, republicans played a key role in putting together the Good Friday Agreement. And we have played an even bigger part in working for its full implementation.
So, for very good reasons, we stand by the Good Friday Agreement: it was endorsed by the people of Ireland, North and South; it addresses many of the causes of the conflict and provides a peaceful political path towards Irish unity for those who support that objective. But it is work in progress.
There are still outstanding issues around the rights and entitlements of Irish speakers. There is no Bill of Rights in any part of this island and regional disparity in the allocation of investment is a fact of life, North and South.
Effective targeting of areas of greatest social need has not been realised. And sectarianism continues to be a dreadful scourge.
There is still a lot of work to do.
Last year, we took the historic decision to endorse policing structures in the North. I commend our elected representatives who have taken their places on the Policing Board and local District Policing Partnerships.
Already, a significant difference is being made. The next necessary stage in this process is the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Executive and away from the British Government.
Let me be clear: we expect the British and Irish governments to honour the commitments they made at St Andrews.
The DUP have said they will not agree to this at this time. And they have advanced a number of spurious reasons for this. They claim that there is not sufficient public confidence – that the time is not right. I disagree strongly. I believe that the majority of people, nationalist and unionist, want these powers transferred now.
Thirty-six years ago it was unionists who collapsed the Stormont regime because the British removed law and order powers. It is ironic that nowadays it is unionists who are objecting to the return of these powers.
But we cannot lead unionism. Only unionist leaders can do that.
Most people were uplifted, if a little taken aback, by the visible signs that Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley have a civilised working relationship. Others within unionism, who are opposed to this process – including some within Ian Paisley’s own party – have an opposite view. They are against power sharing. They have been actively seeking to bring it to an end. And that is the context for the refusal to agree the transfer of powers on policing and justice at this time.
It is a sad commentary on the state of unionism that the focus of some is to force a situation where Paisley must go.
The DUP has to fulfill its obligations on a range of issues, including policing and justice powers, and the Irish language.
The process of conflict resolution is far from over. Many families, republican and unionist, are still grieving and are still seeking answers regarding the deaths of their loved ones. They all deserve the truth. We remember them and all those who lost their lives during the course of the conflict.
Go ndeana Dia trócaire orthú uilig.
Sinn Féin is committed to the establishment of a truth recovery process that delivers for all victims and survivors.
But there is a serious question over the British Government’s commitment to such a process. They refused to co-operate properly with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; they won’t hand over files in relation to the killing of Pat Finucane and others; and they wilfully stalled and obstructed the Saville Inquiry, delaying justice for these families.
It is time for the British Government to stop the cover-up and to take responsibility for their role in the conflict. And it is the time for the Irish Government to stop letting them off the hook.
I believe that we are closer to bringing about Irish reunification than at any time in our past.
Despite ingrained partitionism within the Irish Establishment, there is growing support for Irish unity and there is a growing awareness of the importance of the all-Ireland economy to this nation’s future.
But none of this will happen by chance. We need to set out how we reach this historic goal, how we create the conditions for a united Ireland.
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising we are asking the Irish Diaspora to put its full weight behind a renewed campaign for Irish reunification.
I invite others of like mind to come on board and to make it a genuine movement for change over the next number of years.
We need to set out in detail the benefits of a united Ireland and ensure that practical arrangements are accelerated. We need the involvement of ordinary people across the island.
We need to continue our engagement with the unionist people, many of whom now accept that an end to British Government engagement in Irish affairs may be no bad thing.
The benefits of the all-island economy – cross border co-operation, the harmonisation of taxation, the greater efficiencies and improved standards that can be delivered in health, education and other public services – are becoming more evident.
The Lisbon Treaty envisages deeper Irish involvement in EU Battle Groups, in the European Defence Agency, in the Partnership for Peace military alliance, and in NATO. These are being introduced by stealth without any real debate on their consequences.
The Lisbon Treaty gives EU institutions too much power.
These proposals are about reducing the political clout of the Irish people, including the right to stop EU laws that are not in the Irish national interest.
Irish people are being asked to vote for a reduction by half in our voting strength on the Council of Ministers, the highest decision-making body of the European Union.
The Irish Government failed to stand up for the national interest in the negotiations on the Lisbon Treaty. Dustin the Turkey would have done better. The result is a bad deal for Ireland.
The question now is what can we do about it. The first step is to vote ‘No’ in the referendum. This will bring EU leaders back to the table. We then need to ensure that the three Government parties negotiate a better deal.
The electorate is being threatened that if the Irish people vote ‘No’ we will be marginalised across Europe. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, Ireland’s place is secure. But Ireland can do better.
No matter what the ‘Yes’ camp says, Irish citizens can support Europe and be against this treaty.
The Irish are seen by many as honest brokers in areas of conflict, particularly in regions that have suffered from colonial and imperialist domination.
This government is out of step with this nation. The vast majority of Irish people have a principled position in global politics which is not subservient to whatever big power happens to call the shots.
What is the Government doing to oppose the appalling treatment of the Palestinian people who are entitled to their own viable state? Nothing. What is the government doing about the unjust invasion and occupation by the US and Britain of Iraq? Nothing. The occupation of Palestinian territories must end. The war in Iraq must end.
Last week, on your behalf, I extended best wishes to President Fidel Castro on his retirement. This Ard Fheis extends solidarity to him – hasta siempre, a chara.
In order for Sinn Féin to succeed in making our voice heard, we need to grow as a party. To achieve that we need to deepen our roots in communities. We need to work with others who want positive political and economic change.
Let’s be clear about the dangers facing our society.
If a two-tier system is allowed to further develop in education and health and housing, it will deepen divisions in society and contribute to even greater levels of crime and poverty.
If the rich and super-rich are sheltered by government tax concessions, or allowed to avoid their tax responsibilities, ordinary people will become more and more disillusioned.
How effective can any democracy be if hundreds of thousands of people don’t vote and if there is a growing scepticism about the whole political process, if graft and sleaze and corruption are the order of the day?
I support the work of the tribunals but I believe that much more is required. Public representatives should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to anyone who might influence them in the carrying out of their duties. Public office should never be used for private gain or personal advantage.
Earlier this month, Sinn Féin and the Labour Party sponsored a joint motion in Leinster House calling on the Irish Government to enact legislation to protect the rights of agency workers. Several weeks ago, Mitchel McLaughlin proposed a Sinn Féin motion in the Assembly to address this issue. It received all-party support. This week, the Minister for Employment and Learning has introduced new and tougher regulations on this. This is an example of our party’s all-Ireland approach.
We will continue to campaign on this issue and work with the trade union movement and others. We must also build alliances on other critical issues.
Republicans understand the need for a strong economy to provide the essential health and education and other public services that citizens have the right to expect in the 21st Century.
Sinn Féin is not anti-business; Sinn Féin is pro-business. Neither are we a high tax party; we are a fair tax party.
We are against exploitation in the workplace. We are against industry that pollutes the environment. But we are very much in favour of building businesses that are integrated with their communities, providing necessary employment and goods and services that are essential to our people’s needs.
Sinn Féin ministers are heading up departments which play a huge role in the development of the economy. We have firmly put job creation at the heart of the Executive.
We must upskill for the next generation of jobs and invest for the future. This is what our Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, is determined to do in the North. When she took on the challenge of education, Caitríona knew that she had to bring in fundamental reform.
Too many of our children are being failed by the current system. Sinn Féin refuses to accept this. The 11-plus had to go. And it has gone. And we are pleased and proud that our party and our ministers got rid of it.
In the coming months there will be discussions on a new social partnership plan. The Irish Government expects workers to tighten their belts at a time of economic uncertainty. This is totally unacceptable.
It is unacceptable that mental health services are under funded, North and South, and that there is no all-Ireland or effective regional strategy for suicide prevention.
It is unacceptable that there are such horrific waiting lists for hospital beds while huge amounts of public money are being thrown at a booming private health service.
It is unacceptable that children are taught in ill-equipped, unhealthy classrooms.
It is unacceptable that the state pursues families and children through the courts because of the Government’s failure to meet their basic educational needs.
Sinn Féin also rejects the notion that the quality of life of ordinary PAYE workers, whose tax is deducted at source, should be suspended while others are allowed to use a range of loopholes to avoid paying their fair share.
It is long past the time that dozens of the wealthiest Irish people can avoid paying their fair share of tax due to a residency loophole.
This should be scrapped once and for all along with all other measures that benefit the super rich and deprive hard-pressed tax-payers of basic public services.
There is also an urgent need to ensure that people feel safe in their communities, that anti-social behaviour is dealt with before it spirals out of control, that there is adequate policing, and that older people, in particular, are not afraid to leave their homes and enjoy their lives.
Citizens in cities such as Limerick and Dublin have paid a very high price for the failure of successive governments to take on criminal gangs destroying local communities. These criminal gangs need to be put behind bars.
In order to make progress on all of these issues, Sinn Féin needs to increase our influence and strength. Sinn Féin is more than a party of public representatives. We are a party, a movement of activists. Therein lies our strength.
I want to commend you all for the great work you do. I especially want to commend the work of An Phoblacht and encourage everyone to read this fine newspaper. An Phoblacht Abú mar a deirtear.
Sinn Féin is one of the great political movements of our time, organised throughout this island and a constant in the life of this nation for over 100 years.
I want to appeal to more citizens to join Sinn Féin. And I want to make a special appeal for women to join our ranks. Women particularly need to be increasingly part of our decision-making processes.
Mairéad Farrell put it well:
“I’m oppressed as a woman but I’m also oppressed because I’m Irish... It happened before where women took the back seat. But women today have gone through too much, no way will they allow that to happen and I hope I’m alive because I certainly won’t allow that to happen. Once we remove the British Government that isn’t it. That’s only the beginning.”
So, friends, if we are disciplined and hard-working, if we promote intelligent policies, if we are dedicated to our vision for Ireland, then the women and men of Sinn Féin can meet the challenges ahead and make the big changes. We have come a long way and there is still a road to go.
I believe this party has a great future. I look forward to working together with you all to build the new, united, peaceful and prosperous Ireland – the united Ireland that our people deserve.
The full text of this speech is available on the Sinn Féin website at http://www.ardfheis.com/news/7421. A podcast of the speech can be downloaded at www.sinnfein.ie/news/podcast. It can viewed on the web at www.rte.ie/news/2008/0301/newsspecial.html.