26 February 2009 Edition
Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2009 - Presidential Address by Gerry Adams MP
A sense of hope and purpose
THIS was one of Gerry Adams’s most powerful performances in this writer’s 27 years of attending Sinn Féin Ard Fheiseanna, BRENDAN KERR writes. I really recommend that readers view it on the web to capture the spirit of a reinvigorated Sinn Féin ready to face the challenges and with real answers to the crisis affecting the whole of Ireland, North and South.
The Presidential Address – televised live by RTÉ and BBC on Saturday evening – can be seen online at www.sinnfein.ie, as can other speeches by delegates from all parts of Ireland and many photos..
Restricted by space, here is an edited version of Gerry Adams’s speech, A sense of hope and purpose, on Saturday to the 2009 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis.
THE economic crisis, Sinn Féin in government in the North and a call for unity amongst left-of-centre parties and community bodies to build a progressive alliance made up the backbone of Gerry Adams’s speech to the Ard Fheis.
“Our economy is in a mess. Global circumstances may have contributed but the decisions and policies of the Fianna Fáil/Green Party Government, and its predecessors, and the greed and dishonesty of some bankers, developers and speculators, have shaped this crisis and left Irish workers and their families desperately vulnerable to its effects.
“Businesses are closing at an alarming rate and hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. These are the ordinary men and women who helped to build the Celtic Tiger economy. These are the people with families to rear and often with elderly relatives to care for.
“This government protects its wealthy friends and targets the sick, the elderly and children.
“This government has failed the people. It has opted to pick their pockets and to mug lower and middle-income earners.
“The Government should go.”
And he pointed out why the Government should go.
“At the same time the Government is giving billions of euros to the banks with almost no strings attached, it is spending public money, the people’s money, to bail out its property developer friends in Anglo Irish Bank, despite the way Anglo Irish and Irish Life & Permanent cooked their books.
“Little wonder that this state is again being linked internationally to corruption, cronyism and cosy cartels.
“Woody Guthrie once wrote: ‘Some rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.’ Criminality of any kind is unacceptable. All categories of gangsters or banksters must face the full rigours of the law.”
Gerry Adams said that, in the boom times, Sinn Féin urged for investment in public services and in policies that would build for the future. Sinn Féin warned of the consequences of ill-conceived government policies. These policies and the economy they sustain serve private greed. “Our warnings were ignored.”
He castigated the Government and Fine Gael for their economic policies.
“The boom times presented a historic opportunity to build society that was squandered by Fianna Fáil, he said. Now we face ongoing waiting lists for essential hospital treatments and queues in A&E departments, thousands of children being taught in pre-fabs while the government withdraws special teacher support from those with special needs and a housing list that grows longer while thousands of unsold housing units fill empty sites across the country.
“Fianna Fáil in the last election made outlandish promises they knew they couldn’t keep. Lest the electorate forget: Fine Gael made the same implausible promises as Fianna Fáil.”
Gerry Adams reiterated Sinn Féin’s positive proposals to turn the situation around and urged people who feel angry but powerless not to be worn down by the scandals and ongoing revelations.
“Twenty years ago, understandably enough, they probably thought peace was impossible. But peace is possible. We have proved that. Everything is possible my friends. What is needed is political will, determination, tenacity and organisation and strategies.”
Look at the North, he said.
“There the DUP is working with us – this is a party established to block civil rights reform, a party which opposed power sharing and the Good Friday Agreement. The DUP is now working all-Ireland institutions.
“But this is not to say that everything is rosy. Working with the DUP is very difficult and very challenging. Holding that party to its commitments and ensuring that the equality agenda of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements are delivered is hard work.
“But we have made progress in the transfer of powers on policing and justice, in tackling fuel poverty; in securing additional funding for economic investment and for tackling rural poverty, and in deferring water charges.”
And Education Minister Caitríona Ruane is carrying out the most far-reaching and fundamental reform of the North’s education system in 60 years, he said, and explained why Sinn Féin is committed to getting rid of the 11-Plus and removing academic selection.
“Look at last year’s figures for children transferring from primary school to grammar schools: On the Falls 44; on the Shankill 10; on the Malone Road 214. We want all children to do as well as the young people on the Malone Road.”
The enthusiasm, energy and discipline of Sinn Féin ministers like Michelle Gildernew in Agriculture, Conor Murphy in Regional Development, Caitríona Ruane in Education, and Gerry Kelly demonstrate a commitment to this process and a determination to make it work, Gerry Adams said.
ENGAGING WITH UNIONISTS
“For our part we fully understand the need to persuade unionists of the desirability of a shared, united Ireland.
“Republicans and democrats believe that the union with Britain is a nonsense, even in these more enlightened times. Under the union, unionists make up fewer that 2 per cent of the Kingdom. They would constitute 20 per cent of the New Republic. They would be citizens, not mere subjects. They would have rights, not concessions. They would belong. They would be welcome. We have to persuade them of that. So too does the Irish Government.
“The British Government also has its obligations. The democratic imperative demands. They must be based on the ending of British jurisdiction on this island. For our part we are the nation builders.”
“And as the nation builders republicans have a responsibility to ensure that unionists are comfortable and secure in a new Ireland.
“It is their Ireland also. So it must be a shared Ireland, an integrated Ireland, an Ireland in which unionists have equal ownership.”
It is not enough for us to criticise governments or the conservative parties, Gerry Adams argued, encouraging people to do something about it in the European elections and the local elections and two Dáil by-elections in the 26 Counties.
“In the Oireachtas, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Arthur Morgan and Aengus Ó Snodaigh have also brought forward constructive propositions. Senator Pearse Doherty and Martin Ferris TD have both published comprehensive reports on social and economic development in the west of Ireland, and on the future viability of agriculture and fisheries in that region.
“We are bringing all these ideas to the people. We need to listen to their ideas also.
“All over this island people in the voluntary and community sector, including sporting organisations, residents associations, credit unions and carers, are the glue holding our communities together.
“They are the real experts. We need to listen to them and support them.
Sinn Féin are not Eurosceptics, Gerry Adams affirmed.
“We are for a European Union of equal states; a Europe of democracy and transparency; a social Europe.
“We objected to the last Lisbon Treaty because, unlike others, we read it. And we realised that it represented a dilution of democracy, an assault on workers’ rights, a more militarised Europe, a more centralised bureaucracy in Brussels and a transfer of power from the smaller member states to the larger ones.
“The electorate agreed with us.
“But all the signs are that the ‘Yes camp will attempt to foist the same flawed treaty on the people. They will try to link the current economic difficulties to last year’s treaty rejection. But such arguments are spurious and dishonest.
“Ní bheidh muidne sásta seasamh siar agus ligint don rialtas dalladh mullóg a chur orainn ná ar an phobal. Dúirt an pobal cheana nach raibh siad sásta leis an Conradh Lisbon. Caithfidh an rialtas Conradh nua a fháil. Gan sin beidh muid ag rá níl arís.
“It is an insult to ask citizens to consider the same treaty again.
“A new treaty is needed – a new treaty for new times.
“This is what Sinn Féin will campaign for.
“And we will base our campaign on what we consider to be in the best interests of the Irish people and the people of Europe.”
A NATIONAL REVIVAL
Although these are hard times, he said, we are especially called upon to come forward, to be positive.
“Now is the time for another great national revival of our language and arts, our culture. Now is the time to build national morale. To ensure that the Irish language flourishes.
“Tá obair maith ag dul ar aghaidh sa pháirtí le cur chun cinn na Gaeilge, go háirthe leis na cumainn gaelacha. Ach tá a lán le déanamh go fóill.
AN CHÉAD DÁIL
This year marks the 90th anniversary of An Chéad Dáil Éireann – the first and only freely-elected parliament of all the Irish people – Gerry Adams said, maintaining that the core principles and aspirations of the Democratic Programme are as relevant now as they were then.
“Bhailigh muid le chéile sa chathair seo ceithre seachtain ó shin – sa Teach Ardmhéara do cheiliúrú ar an Chéad Dáil, nócha bliain ó shin. Oíche speisialta a bhí ann má bhí tú ábalta fáil isteach! Bhí an áit plodaithe.
“Sinn Féin is guided by the ideals of public service and patriotism of those who assembled in Dublin’s Mansion House in January 1919. The First Dáil Éireann set out a visionary Democratic Programme of social and economic goals based on equality.
“It is as relevant to the crisis in Ireland today as it was 90 years ago.”
The Democratic Programme declared that Irish society would be governed “in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality and Justice for all”. And it committed the Republic “to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children” and to ensure that “no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter”. The Democratic Programme also declared “the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the nation’s labour”.
Highlighting all these elements, Gerry Adams quipped of Fianna Fáil:
“It is little wonder the Government forgot to book the Mansion House for the 90th anniversary on January 21st. The First Dáil was not about political elites, gombeen men, golden circles or cosy cartels.
“It was a genuine and collective national effort to improve the lives of our people and the fortunes of our country. This was patriotism in action. This is the type of patriotism that must enthuse and reinvigorate the Irish nation now.”
Genuine republican values and republican politics have never been so relevant or so necessary as they are today, he said.
A NEW ALLIANCE FOR CHANGE
“This great country and its people are at another historic crossroads,” Gerry Adams said. “We have decisions to make about the core values of our society; about how we as an island people wish to live our lives.
“Sinn Féin says that our society needs core values based on social justice, fairness, equality and decency. Ireland needs the determination and commitment that achieved peace out of conflict.
“There can be an egalitarian alternative to the politics of greed, inefficiency, waste and corruption. These have been the hallmarks of governments in this country for too long. Their arrogance should be a call to action for the people of Ireland.
“It is a call to revitalise the social movements and for our young people to engage in meaningful and fulfiling political activity. It is a call for a new phase of citizenship and a new generation of peaceful political struggle. I believe the time is right for a new alliance of all people and parties that want real and fundamental change.”
The replacement of the current coalition at some future election by another coalition with Fine Gael as the main party would be like replacing Tweedledum with Tweedledee, he said.
“In my view, the Labour Party has a duty not to prop up either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Instead, Labour should explore with us and others the potential for co-operation in the future.
“I invite all these potential allies to come together to forge a stronger, more united progressive and democratic movement for our country – one that aims to meet the needs of all citizens.
“I include parties like Labour, the Greens (if they can survive the fall-out from their participation in this right-wing government); other smaller parties; the trade unions; the community organisations that are on the frontline in the struggle for equality; Gaelgeoiri; rural agencies and organisations, including farming bodies and fishing communities; women’s groups; the students; youth organisations; and those who speak for the disabled, the poor, the unemployed, the homeless and the marginalised in our society.
“Sinn Féin is ready to join with all of those who want real change and who recognise that the road to real change requires unity of purpose, of ideas and of energy.”
A SENSE OF HOPE AND PURPOSE
“Of course, the forces of reaction, of conservatism, of cynicism are strong. But that should not put us off.
“If we believe, if we have hope, if we work together, if we draw upon our strengths, if we really want fairness and decency and equality, we can change our society. Peacefully and democratically. That is what Ireland wants today. Ireland needs citizens to step forward. To make a commitment.
“To share and create a common purpose based upon our rights as citizens. And our pride and confidence in Ireland and in our people. That is what Ireland needs today.
“And that is Sinn Féin’s commitment. Mary Lou put it well last night. The day of mé féin politics have failed. Now is the time for the politics of Sinn Féin. Bígí linn.
“An Phoblacht Abú!”
The full text, podcast and video of this speech and many other speeches are available on the Sinn Féin website at:http://www.ardfheis.com/
FACES IN THE CROWD: Author and playwright Ulick O'Connor and SIPTU General President Jack O'Connor listened to Gerry Adams's address