Kearney and McGuinness address Sinn Féin Ard Fheis: reconciliation & dialogue #sfaf16

In a brief press conference before the Sinn Féin ard fheis began in the sun-soaked Convention Centre Dublin on Friday evening, party president and TD Gerry Adams said that he was “well satisfied” with the party’s performance in the Irish election. He said that he would give the other parties “the grace of another short while” to conclude negotiations before he would start to call for a fresh election. He added that his experience of talks teaches him that a deadline needs to be set “to focus the minds of negiators”. It was a topic Mary Lou McDonald returned to in her speech.

2016 Sinn Fein ard fheis (Friday night) in Convention Centre DublinSinn Féin chairperson Declan Kearney remarks to the few hundred delegates centred around reconciliation and he began by looking back to 2015:

Ten weeks before last year’s Ard Fheis the Stormont House Agreement was signed. I said then that if fully implemented it could be a catalyst for reconciliation. In subsequent months the North descended into a very serious political crisis. Thankfully political stability has since been restored with the establishment of the Fresh Start Agreement. But many challenges exist …

A major impediment to progress is the impasse on dealing with the past due to the British Government’s veto on maximum information disclosure. Its refusal to do so, or engage seriously with Sinn Féin’s proposals to resolve this impasse confirms for me that powerful sections of the British State have decided there should be no progress on dealing with the past.

And that position comrades is unacceptable to Sinn Féin and victims’ families and representatives. The British government should lift its veto and allow the mechanisms agreed for dealing with the past to begin working. This Party is absolutely committed to ensuring our society’s legacy of suffering and pain is addressed, and a process of reconciliation and healing is established.

There has been much suffering on all sides and we must begin to heal those hurts and divisions because the politics of hatred and resentment will only serve to imprison our society in the past.

So, there is a choice to be made between reconciliation, or engaging in endless recrimination. Republicans have made our decision. Reconciliation must be this society’s future.

He added:

Republicans have stretched and challenged ourselves to develop the Peace Process. And we have done so in pursuit of reconciliation and healing. But now it is time that others began to do the same.

You see, reconciliation is the right thing to do, but it is not a one way street. Just like the Peace Process, reconciliation is inevitable. But the question is whether we want it to be achieved sooner, or later. It has to be a collective, shared and inclusive process. It requires partnership, and a willingness to take risks.

That was exemplified last year in the deeply historic and symbolic meeting between the leadership of Sinn Féin and Prince Charles, against the backdrop of his own personal pilgrimage to remember his uncle killed by the IRA. That particular meeting powerfully underlined the importance of leadership in taking forward reconciliation.

Just as a few extremists have always been hostile to the Peace Process, some state and political interests did not want that meeting to occur, or for the symbolism of its message to be seen or heard. They were – and they are – wrong. Because there is a bigger picture.

He spoke of public and private dialogue:

Those of us who share a strategic vision for the Peace Process must reach out to each other and encourage an inclusive national conversation on reconciliation. That is, an authentic public discourse on reconciliation between republicans and unionists; green and orange; Irish and British; and, those of no tradition, or faith.

The private dialogues which Sinn Féin and others have diligently pursued over many years, on the way forward, now need translated into actions.

It is time for the silent majority to challenge itself, and be heard. It’s time for the Prophetic voices to start speaking out, for civic leadership to take public responsibility. And it also long past time, for all political and governmental leaderships to step up to the mark.

A broad based coalition for reconciliation could generate the momentum which would open a new phase of the Peace Process. The symbolic words, gestures and actions now have to be built upon. Reconciliation has to be moved from being an aspiration to become a concrete reality in peoples’ lives.

He commented Sinn Féin’s new policy document “Towards an Agreed and Reconciled Future” [not yet available online] to the delegates. [Ed – so hot off the press that one delegate later noted that it’s late inclusion in the conference packs meant it was produced to late to be considered by the ard fheis.]

The policy was “a substantive contribution to designing a road map towards making reconciliation the new phase of our peace process”.

In a move that sounded familiar from speeches at previous Alliance party conferences [Ed – a good idea is a good idea no matter who suggests it first] the Sinn Féin chairperson said that the party “wants reconciliation placed at the heart of government in the North and across Ireland”.

The new northern Executive, Assembly, and North-South Ministerial Council have leadership roles in advancing reconciliation. We as a party will be seeking a clear reconciliation focus from all government departments, public bodies and local councils.

All major policy decisions should be reconciliation proofed against equality, anti-sectarian, and good relations benchmarks. That approach should become central to all aspects of public policy in the North. Reconciliation should also shape the policy framework from which legislation is drafted and brought forward to tackle and eradicate sectarianism.

We will seek the adoption of a dedicated national reconciliation strategy under the auspices of the North-South Ministerial Council. Both the British and Irish governments have strategic obligations to ensure that reconciliation becomes the new positive dynamic driving the Peace Process.

He finished:

The Fresh Start has now become a New Start for going forward: towards new human and political relations; towards an end to sectarianism in all its toxic manifestations; towards equality, respect and parity of esteem; towards new opportunities for all of our citizens; and towards the achievement of a new, agreed, united Ireland.

Martin McGuinness addresses 2016 Sinn Fein ard fheis (Friday night) in Convention Centre DublinHalf an hour later, Martin McGuinness took to the stage.

One hundred years ago, the men and women of 1916 raised the flag of freedom in this city and they declared a new Republic of equals, a Republic that would shine amongst the nations of the world as a beacon of justice and equality where all the children of the nation could be cherished.

It was a vision which inspired a freedom struggle, not only in this country but in nations across the globe. It was the spark which would eventually engulf the British Empire. That’s how momentous the Easter Rising was and we should never forget that.

Neither should we forget that the vision of 1916 remains unfulfilled in the nation which inspired it. We don’t live in an Ireland of equals. We don’t live in an Ireland where all of the children are cherished equally. We don’t live in an Ireland which is united and free from malign foreign influence.

The deputy First Minister spoke of his pride in Sinn Féin’s record in government.

We have led the way in decentralising an entire government department to the north west, and we have directed additional funding to the most disadvantaged schools. We are revitalising the Irish language community through investment in Irish medium education and the Líofa Project. Unemployment in the north has fallen by 26,000 and levels of foreign direct investment are at an all-time high.

We have led on the progressive measures taken by the Executive, ring-fenced health spending, transformed the schools estate across the north, created 40,000 jobs as well as blocking water charges, keeping student fees affordable and protecting free prescriptions and pensioners’ travel.

He added:

We have faced these challenges head on while others walked away and we delivered. We delivered half a billion pounds to support those most in need in our society. While others called for the Assembly to be collapsed and all powers handed back to the Tories we stood up for public services. We achieved an extra 500 million pounds for our public services and another 500 million shared [between] education and integration.

He commented on smaller parties …

We achieved this despite the relentless negativity of smaller parties who opposed the Fresh Start Agreement and who, only weeks from the election, can’t tell the electorate if they want to be in the government or in the opposition. Parties which have set out endless uncosted and unfunded election promises they will never deliver. Parties, which call for joined-up government, while preparing to walk out of the Executive.

It’s long past time to move beyond this narrow, self-serving point-scoring. We need a more responsible, a more mature approach to politics in the Assembly because we know when we have worked together collectively we have made progress.

Martin McGuinness addresses 2016 Sinn Fein ard fheis (Friday night) in Convention Centre DublinOn Brexit:

We also need to ensure that we oppose any move by the little Englander mentality towards a Brexit from the European Union as that would be a hugely retrograde step in my view. The prospect of border controls, the withdrawal of European subsidies and trade agreements would be disastrous for the socio-economic prospects of this island.

Martin McGuinness turned his comments to those causing bloodshed and the need to build a better society.

We must also continue to face down the extremes within loyalism and so-called dissident republicanism who would seek to drag us back to the dark days of the past. All they have to offer is fear, intimidation and pointless bloodshed. We have seen that in recent days and weeks with the murders of Michael McGibbon and prison officer Adrian Ismay in Belfast and the shooting of Harry Boyle in my own city of Derry.

The people who carried out these acts are waging war on our communities. But their campaign – which couldn’t by any stretch of the imagination be called a military campaign – is not only futile it is absolutely without public support.

What is the purpose of these gangs? The only purpose of these gangs is to see British military occupation of areas like the Bogside, East Tyrone, West Belfast and South Armagh. They have been rejected by the people of Ireland and we will not allow them to do that.

It is the Sinn Féin national and democratic project which citizens are embracing. In increasing numbers, they are voting for us to build the peace and to promote consensus. They are voting for an agreed Ireland, an Ireland of equals. We are for ending division and I am pleased tonight that we have launched a document on reconciliation. I commend that document to all.

It’s an important step in setting out the republican vision of achieving a better and fairer society founded on tolerance and inclusivity. That means standing up against racism, standing against homophobia and standing up against sectarianism and of course delivering marriage equality to the North.

On unionist outreach:

We have a responsibility and a duty to reach out to the unionist community and to do it with a spirit of generosity. I know that some people are uneasy at times about me reaching out to others. But if we are to remain true to the spirit of the women and men of 1916 then we must continue this work. Others don’t always reciprocate but that is not a good enough reason to stop doing it.

He finished with an election call:

On May 5 let’s take another step forward and return the strongest Sinn Féin team possible to the Assembly.

You can read more speeches – including Mary Lou McDonald’s commentary on the post-election “farce” – on the Sinn Féin website.

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.

  • Teddybear

    Sorry but there’s nothing Sinn Fein can say that will turn a unionist’s head. Perhaps the young people but old ‘uns like me have a long memory

    I do get a sense from the ground that young people from the RC community see SF as just another party of suits. It’s the Greens, PBP and the like who will emerge big from the sidelines in coming years. SF have hit a plateau and their rhetoric is sounding a little trite, fork tongued and a little old hat.

  • By the way, isn’t “agreed Ireland” Humespeak?

  • Teddybear

    Haven’t we already an agreed Ireland via GFA?

    Or is ‘an agreed Ireland’ doublespeak for a United Ireland?

    As for unionist outreach, it was a poor show that SF didn’t send a single rep to the recent East Belfast hustings. Nor did SDLP.

  • Hugh Davison

    ‘old ‘uns like me have a long memory’.
    Ah, the good old days, when uppity taigs and prods with a conscience marched for human rights. Look what that got them.
    I’d suggest the Shinners don’t have a monoploy on ‘forked tongues’ ..

  • Roger

    Totally agree….Consider these words from the long speech quoted:

    “…[we] must begin to heal those hurts and divisions…”

    They’re talking about “beginning” nearly 20 years after GFA and the entry by SF-IRA into the local government executive in UKNI….

    Old hat for sure.

  • Granni Trixie

    I’m interested in what you say. However, why, I wonder
    is not the Alliance Party with its USP of cross community not attractive to young people, according to your logic?

  • Teddybear

    Good question but the answer is similar but are Alliance doing work on the ground or sounding as fresh and vital as Greens, PBP etc? Alliance are a party of east Belfast and north down. They’re pretty non existent elsewhere and frankly, they don’t seem t try or care

  • Teddybear

    The IRA didn’t win civil rights. I’m sure their uppity victims and their families would agree that civil rights weren’t exactly the IRA’s strong suit.

  • Lee

    Thankfully there at long last appears to be the green shoots of a new generation, PBP, Greens and even the Labour NI who are rejecting the toxic illusion of nationalism, and supposed socialism that SF pretend they are, and can see through the tribal games and sainthooding of a sectarian violent history. Gives hope that a new generation want normal left-right politics irrespective of constitutional arrangements and will not be held prisoner by the same. Real socialism and left of centre politics as opposed to republicanism masquareding as socialism.

  • Zig70

    You are right but not that it is double speak. An agreed Ireland for SF is a united one.

  • Lee

    which unionists won’t agree to. (definitely not while SF are driving the nationalist bus)

  • Hugh Davison

    Now where did the IRA get that from, I wonder? And ‘IRA’? How did that creep into the discussion?

  • Lee

    why does Alliance not properly stand in west Belfast? they take east, south and north Belfast seriously and have success in all 3, but never venture much beyond a paper candidate in recent times in west Belfast. Why is this?

  • Zig70

    Actually, we’ll never know if civil rights would have been achieved without it. I’m not convinced the British government would have moved without being forced. They have a history of dragging.

  • Lee

    they just don’t seem to try to get a foothold in nationalist places.

  • Lee

    the vast bulk of civil rights were achieved by the early 70’s. Fair employemt, Housing, voting reform. It was never about socialism for Sinn Fein. It simply wasn’t legitimate. Never could the indiscrimate bombing eg of Bloody Friday ever be for the people in the name of the people. The sooner Sinn Fein get reduced in size and power the sooner the future generations can go forward with a reasonable chance of stability.

  • Hugh Davison

    Well, I really hope you’re right about this. Some of the older generation are already suffering from defective memories. Perhaps they always were.
    Again, it always seems to come back to SF and no-one else to carry the burden of the past. Defective memories again.

  • Teddybear

    Parties campaign as radicals and govern as Tories

  • Neil

    The SDLP and Unionists would like SF to wither and die, I get that. It may even happen. Can’t help but feel you’re getting a bit ahead of yourselves though. Unionists have been fantasising about their demise for decades. SF are suffering a bout of voter apathy, I personally haven’t made it to a polling booth in a few elections now. That’s the problem with mandatory coalition, it’s all a bit pointless. I would submit that the SDLP have enough problems to be getting on with, given their increasingly poor election results, to be writing other party’s obits. If Derry goes wrong, you’ve got a real problem on your hands.

  • Teddybear

    I remember in the early 80s the Alliance had 2 councillors elected from upper Falls and one of them was a Protestant ex UDR man ! (Will and Pip Glendinnig)

    All this was pre hunger strike though. Alliance used to have councillors in Omagh and elsewhere but those days are long gone.

    I think the Belfast centricism of Alliance started during the time of the Alderdice leadership

  • Charlie Farlie

    Is it beyond the realm of possibility that many of the young generation vote for SF because of their ideological policies rather than their ties to the past? It is a bit insulting to suggest that anyone who votes for them do so simply because of this! Perhaps their vision for the future appeals to them on an ideological level and the older generation, because they cannot look beyond the past cannot fathom this. SF for all their ties, are taking an ideological stance. Some agree with that. It doesn’t mean all are looking backwards, quite the contrary.

    It is a fact that many of the young people I know don’t vote for the SDLP simply because they do not take a strong enough ideological position on some of the issues that matter most to them i.e. Irish Language, Abortion, United Ireland etc… There is nothing about these things relating to the past. SF are the only all island party. That matters to some.

  • Hugh Davison

    I think you misunderstood my comment. Lots of people on here blame SF and only SF for all their woes. As I said, defective memories.

  • Hugh Davison

    SDLP, Unionist? Me? Where is this coming from? I was responding to Lee and Teddy, and the perpetual negativity about SF from contributors to this site.

  • Jollyraj

    “Half an hour later, Martin McGuinness took to the stage.”

    I thought he’d left the stage.

  • Zig70

    That’s still against a backdrop of IRA violence. On your last bit, careful what you wish for. SF are a barrier to Irish unity as they bring a narrow political outlook and nationalist voter turnout is dropping.

  • tmitch57

    Adams in one part of his speech talks about combating sectarianism and in another about a “malign foreign influence.” Go figure. Is it any wonder that his efforts at reconciliation fall flat?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    SF gave up on East Belfast a very long time ago thus the Short Strand Kid’s exile to ‘Dublin Town’ (At least he won’t have to travel on that hard rocky road) as for the SDLP they never even tried in the first place !

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Because lets be honest who in West Belfast is going to vote for Water Charges ?

  • Redstar

    What planet are you on!! Fair employment by the early 70s!!!!

  • Redstar

    Well put and so appropriate for SF and Dup

  • Gingray

    It was never about civil rights for the provos. While violence is to be abhorred, at the start it was defensive, and they initially saved and protected nationalist areas. Once it moved to offensive they destroyed any chance for peace, assisted all the way by the not an inch hard-line unionist politicians.

  • Gingray

    It is indeed

  • Neil

    I was replying to yourself and Lee. I think you’re an SDLP supporter? If I’m mistaken, my apologies. The Unionists bit was aimed at Lee…

  • Lee

    Oh absolutely. But I think certain things are almost inevitable. Nothing stays stuck in the mud for too long. Once a movement becomes conservative the new radicals will form. It will be interesting to see whether enough of the new radicals want socialism within NI without the nationalism bit.

  • Reader

    Lee is wrong, most civil rights reforms were achieved in 1968, though the fair employment act wasn’t until 1976.
    However, since the IRA regarded Civil Servants as legitimate targets in the 70’s, it’s clear that fair access to jobs wasn’t a priority for the IRA.

  • Reader

    Hugh Davison: And ‘IRA’? How did that creep into the discussion?
    I expect the IRA is part of this discussion as SF cannot claim any political achievements in the 1970s, during which period they acted purely as cheerleaders for the IRA.
    Therefore chuckie revisionism has to claim everything as an IRA achievement at least until Danny Morrison’s “Armalite and ballot box” speech in 1981; when SF enters the political picture.

  • Gopher

    I think that is changing people still want representation without their vote being solely about the border, I think where you find private housing you will find Alliance of every background. The next step for Alliance is holding their vote from a Westminister election to an assembly election and winning 2 in South Belfast. If they win two in South Belfast is that a blow to unionism or nationalism? If they put a score on the boards in North Belfast or Upper Bann, who will be sweating? Who misses the votes if Alliane break 1000 in Foyle?

  • Hugh Davison

    Well, I’m not. But no need to apologise. I can understand the confusion, however. Last night when I posted, comments were in chrono order. My interest was piqued by a remark by Teddybear, followed up by Lee. Today I’m looking at this thread in ‘Best’ order and the conversations are all over the place. Perhaps I should give up posting at 3 in the morning

  • Katyusha

    I have to wonder if any young socialists would see any sort of appeal in being dictated to by a Tory administration in Westminster that no-one in NI voted for.

    Maybe if Corbyn looked remotely like he could win power and defend himself against the new-labour career politicians that make up his parliamentry party, it would be more attractive.

  • Lee

    I think when the young socialists look at the block grant and general bail out arrangements from London that helps sway them so long as the block grant is adequate. I also think have to be careful about term socialist as I think quite a number may be less radical, merely left of centre and just want centrist things like good funding for the NHS etc and if they get this then they are happy enough. (ie Labour in power rather than Corbyn suits them well enough).

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I spotted that too. It made me laugh … as if any nation state is/can be/should be immune to foreign influence whether malign, self interested or otherwise. Step inside the Shinner bubble cos that’s the only place whence you kick the Brits out. it’s a kinda passive/aggressive ‘if we’re mean about them maybe they’ll go away’

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    It’s Perfidious Albion again doing what it does best if you care to look long enough.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Yes, except that SF doesn’t want a UI. They know what’ll happen to them if one comes about. It’s just a further continuation of saying one thing, e.g. anti austerity and maintaining the opposite. It’s the gullibility of the electorate that SF et al thrive on.

  • Gingray

    Granni – if you look at where Alliance are stong (0 MLAs in constituencies that are majority Catholic, only 1 MLA in a constituency that elects more than 1 nationalist), you will see that the cross community thing does not hold water.

    Yes, they do well with Catholics in areas that are majority Protestant, with very few exceptions. Even then the proportion of vote is largely Protestant, and the majority of MLAs elected are largely Protestant.

    Not to dismiss all the good work, but they have always felt like the liberal wing of the UUP, good decent people, but with a USP of being only able to pick up seats in the most unionist constituencies (East Antrim, South Antrim, East Belfast, North Down, Strangford, Lagan Valley) and Anna Lo.

    BTW, previous conversation, I had mentioned UCUNF candidates standing for Alliance this time, and you only thought there was one, which one was it?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    The AP’s neutrality is not muscular enough to be sexy. It needs to be a lot bolder and daring. In short the wishy washy, garden centre prod image problem overrides its usp. Something radical along the “tribalists of the wee 6 unite: you’ve nothing to lose but your chains” is needed imo.

  • submariner

    I dosent matter if Unionists agree. All is required is 50% +1. It matters not a jot how that figure is made up

  • Charlie Farlie

    I’ve seen many things levelled at SF recently but I have do say this is a new one. What are you basing this on just out of interest?

  • Neil

    Ha, funny enough, I was as drunk as a skunk when I posted myself. Bloody rum. Far too much punctuation. 🙂 I have a rule not to post under the influence but every so often I catch myself out.

  • Hugh Davison

    Many good writers have done their best work under the influence :}

  • Skibo

    Please tell me more! where does it say SF does not want a united Ireland?
    They are the only all Ireland party. Others talk the talk, they walk the walk.
    While we have to work with Westminster in the north, we have a budget set for us. The only to change that is to impose greater taxes rather than adjust the tax mechanism imposed by UK.
    While the two parts of the Island are governed in different ways the policies cannot be the same. Unify the island and problem solved.

  • Skibo

    Chuckle chuckle ha ha! Ah sure a wee bit of comedy doesn’t do too much harm.

  • Skibo

    Neil voter apathy is a serious problem. I get that alot of voters have switched off, waiting for the baby boom to catch up. Lethargy will be a problem but between this Stormont election and the next I can see strides made. Had John McAlister went with Basil in designating neutral, Stormont would have had 50% representation Unionism. Belfast went the same way.