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15 March 2001 Edition

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Confident Sinn Féin in election year

Several hundred party members from Dublin attended last Saturday's Sinn Féin conference in the city, organised when the full Sinn Féin Ard Fheis had to be cancelled due to the Foot and Mouth crisis.

Good-time Charlie McCreevy has cut tax for the highest earners, creating a mé féin society where greed is great and need must wait - Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin
Speaker after speaker spoke of their continuing frustration with the peace process. Many spoke of the tremendous need, and opportunity, to develop a real alternative to the sterile corrupt politics of establishment parties. The conference also paid an emotional and very moving tribute to the hunger strikers of the H Blocks.

Pat Doherty, Sinn Féin Vice President, opened the conference with a welcome to all including several rows of representatives from Diplomatic Missions in Dublin.

``Sinn Féin has tirelessly tried to make the peace process work, only to be hampered at every turn by unionists and the British government,'' he said. ``People should read the IRA statement of last Thursday very closely. In particular the British government should read it, and read it again.''

``The British government knows what needs to be done. They admitted this past week that they have not honoured their commitments of last May. Why not?

``Is it lack of political will, an act of bad faith, is it simply the continuation of failed British government policy driven by securocrats rather than democrats? Only Tony Blair can answer.''

``We have developed a peace strategy which can take us beyond partition to a united Ireland. We want a chance to implement our policies for social reform and economic democracy, as well as women's rights, cultural development, children's rights, environmental protection, civil liberties, sovereignty and unity.

``Today we can succeed in delivering the republican objectives for which the hunger strikers gave their lives. A free and united Ireland with justice and equality for all our people. The struggle continues. It is a struggle we can win.''

Ó Caoláin slams two-tier society

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD gave a powerful speech condemning present and previous 26-County administrations for failing ``to fulfil the aims of the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil Éireann, which declared the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the nation's labour.

``The failure of this government is still greater because no previous government has ever had such resources at its disposal,'' he said. ``Instead of sharing the wealth, this government has rewarded those who need help least and has left those in greatest need waiting in line.

``We have 50,000 people on local authority housing lists yet local authorities or the voluntary sector are building only 8% of all the houses currently under construction. This is the lowest share for any period in the last century. The prices of homes are spiralling beyond the reach of most families. Yet this government still tells us there is no housing crisis.

``Never was the two-tier nature of our society more glaringly exposed than in the health service, where people have to wait months and years for hospital treatment. In command of the health services there is an elite of highly paid consultants who can make massive gain from private medicine while at the same time being paid from the public purse to work in the public sector.

``They dominate the health service bureaucracy and they are indulged and coddled by this government. Only root and branch reform of the health services can end this gross inequality. Access must be based on need and not on ability to pay and healthcare must be free to all who need it.

``I have repeatedly called in pre-budget submissions for the massive surpluses to be spent not on tax cuts for big business and the wealthy, but on providing services our people need - education, childcare, health and housing. Instead, good-time Charlie McCreevy has cut tax for the highest earners. This is creating a mé féin society where greed is great and need must wait.

Quoting Bobby Sands, he said `There are still too, too many who walk amongst the people bubbling with false enthusiasm, false patriotism and false concern... Political magpies and political opportunists and parasites. Equality and fraternity, can't, and never will be, gained whilst these parasites dominate and rule the lives of a nation.'

``The reality is that Sinn Fein is at the cutting edge of political change in Ireland,'' he went on. ``I think that my stretch in solitary is coming to an end. I am preparing for a break-in, by a number of Sinn Féin TDs to Leinster House very soon. The best response to the lack of willingness on the part of this government and this Taoiseach to challenge the British government and unionism on their violation of the Good Friday Agreement, is to elect a strong Sinn Féin team of TDs. It will be another very significant step on the long road to freedom, justice and peace.''

Remembering the Hunger Strike

There were numerous contributions from the floor on a range of issues before Rita O'Hare of Sinn Féin's Washington Bureau, introduced a powerful and emotional session in commemoration of the H-Block hunger strike. ``The hunger strike produced huge emotions, of anger, frustration. It changed the direction of Irish history.

``The H-Block hunger strike internationalised our struggle. It had begun to lift the cloud of British lies and censorship from a struggle of the human spirit for justice. It laid the basis for the Peace Process which has directed an international spotlight at Ireland. We have to build political strength to move the struggle forward to a united independent Ireland.''

She introduced Ella O'Dwyer and Gerry Hanratty, both of whom have spent many years as political prisoners, who read extracts from Bobby Sand's Diary.

This was followed by a very moving short film, ``Remembering the H-Blocks'', made for presentation at the Ard Fheis by Martin McAuley before Gerry Adams delivered the main address.


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