Gerry Adams says loyalists have much in common with republican neighbours and calls for dialogue

Gerry Adams closed the Sinn Fein ard fheis with his presidential speech. It was live on RTE (and the sinnfein.ie website) and will be repeated on BBC Two NI on Sunday at 6pm. The full text is available; below are some excerpts.

On a border poll …

There would be no peace process and no Agreement without the commitment, initiatives and political risks taken by Irish republicans. Or, without the great work of individuals like Des Wilson, Harold Good, Inez McCormack and especially Fr. Alex Reid.

It isn’t a perfect agreement. But Sinn Féin secured the removal of the Government of Ireland Act, under which the British government claimed sovereignty over the North.

The Agreement provides for a border poll on Irish unity. It’s no surprise that the two governments are saying No. But Sinn Féin is saying Yes. And more importantly nationalist and republican Ireland says Yes. And we now need to work together for a Yes vote. It’s time to let the people have their say on the future of Ireland. It’s time for a referendum on Irish unity.

On the Irish government …

This government, like the one before it, has failed the people. Its core values are those of austerity. It has refused to negotiate a write-down on the Promissory Note. It gave away our natural resources. It tore up the Croke Park Agreement and is now targeting frontline workers on low and average pay …

Over the last five years, Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil have taken €28 billion out of the economy in taxes and cuts. Cuts to hospitals. To schools. To garda stations. Taxes on pensions. On savings. And on homes.

Oddly Sinn Fein are happy to be imposing cuts as part of the NI Executive …

In October the Government will take another €3 billion. Next year, they will take €2.5 billion more. They have little thought for the social consequences of their actions, of the divided, polarised, unequal society they are creating. Of impoverished communities and families hurting from the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide.

But the bankers, developers and politicians who created the mess have been untouched. Despite all the election rhetoric from Labour and Fine Gael this is still the best small country in the world for big bankers, crooked developers or corrupt politicians …

The only way to restore our economy and rebuild society is to break with the self-serving politics of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil. They refused to share the wealth during the boom years. But they socialise the debt afterwards. They are taking from those who have least to benefit those who have most …

Fairness is at the core of Sinn Féin’s approach. Of course the deficit must be tackled. But those with the broadest shoulders must bear the heaviest load.

In a fair Ireland the weak, the vulnerable and the least well-off would be protected. If this was a real republic working people would not be punished for the greed and corruption of others …

Sinn Féin is offering a realistic alternative. We are committed to investing €13 billion in job creation and retention. And we have presented realistic and costed, alternative budget proposals to reduce the deficit, create growth, and protect families under financial pressure.

Is seo cloch coirnéal ár bpolasaí. [The cornerstone of our policy.] The mortgage crisis is a direct result of Fianna Fáil policy and this government’s failure to help struggling families.

Sinn Féin proposes the establishment of an independent mortgage distress body to adjudicate and enforce agreements on mortgages between banks and mortgage holders.

Gerry Adams agreed that “Mary Lou spoke for everyone on the day that the Magdalene report was published when she said it was time for a full apology to these brave women” and went on say that they needed justice along with “the victims of Bethany Home” and “the victims of symphysiotomy”.

People across Ireland have been moved this week by the reports from the inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar and by the grace and great dignity of her husband. I want to extend solidarity to Praveen and his family and friends. Savita’s death brought into sharp and tragic focus the failure of successive governments to legislate in the X case.

The people have spoken and firmly placed the responsibility upon their Oireachtas representatives to legislate on this issue. It is time doctors had legal clarity. It’s time for protection for pregnant women whose lives are at risk.

You could have fooled me but …

Sinn Féin opposes austerity across this island.

Despite £4bn pounds of cuts by the British government, Sinn Féin’s Ministerial and Assembly team under Martin McGuinness’s leadership, has prioritised finding money to maintain frontline services, protect those on lowest incomes and assist disadvantaged communities.

The so-called Welfare Reform Bill is another example of the English Tory Agenda. Sinn Féin is opposed to these cuts in exactly the same way that we are opposed to the cuts being introduced by our own Tories in Dublin.

We are also working for the transfer of fiscal power to the Assembly and Executive and a harmonisation of the Corporation Tax rate across Ireland.

Gerry Adams called for dialogue between Sinn Féin and loyalist communities.

The Orange marching season has begun. This year sees the added vexation about the flying of flags on public buildings. Playing party politics with these issues is dangerous and counter-productive.

There are many genuine loyalists and unionists, including former combatants, working in disadvantaged communities who realise the dangers and risks involved. They also know that it is citizens from these disadvantaged communities who will bear the brunt of any violent or disruptive actions.

These communities have more in common with their republican neighbours than they may realise. Dialogue between them and Sinn Féin is essential and there is an imperative on republicans, challenging though it may be, to build alliances on social and economic issues with working class loyalists and unionists.

The Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist people are not going away. And Sinn Féin doesn’t want them to go away. They are part of what we are and we have to get to know each other better, to listen and take heed of what is being said.

I commit our party, without preconditions, to be part of such discussions as we face into the Orange marching season, and to find solutions to contentious issues and to tackle economic disadvantage.

This is the only way to build a fair society. It is what the vast majority of citizens want.

The tiny minorities who espouse violence have been rejected. Tá siad greamaithe san am atá caite [They are stuck in the past] agus thart orthu tá Éirinn Thuaidh agus Theas ag athrú.

He echoed comments made a lot more forcibly in an earlier speech by Gerry Kelly

And there is still work to be done to ensure that policing is non-partisan and civic. Recent decisions by the PSNI have failed this test. And clearly there are elements in the NIO who are uncomfortable with the new dispensation.

A truth process is needed for events both north and south …

So, much work still needs to be done including the creation of a victim centred truth and reconciliation process. Dubhshlán mór a bheidh anseo. Almost 100 years ago the Tan War against British forces was deadly and vicious. But the civil war left a bitterness and a legacy that still shapes politics to this day.

77 republicans were executed during those terrible years by the Free State – among them six young men from the west who were executed in Tuam 90 years ago this week. Members of the Free State Army, of the Garda and civilians died too.

There was never any process of truth recovery or reconciliation after these events. Ba chóir dúinn foghlaim ón meancog sin. [We should learn from that mistake.]

During the recent conflict, Gardaí and other members of the state’s forces were killed by republicans. Republicans were killed also … the era of the Heavy Gang many citizens were brutally assaulted. Innocents were imprisoned. There was collusion between elements of the Irish establishment and the British system … All this needs to be faced up to.

Sinn Féin has argued for the establishment of an Independent International Truth Commission. The two governments; former combatants, and those in leadership across Ireland and Britain need to be part of such a process. There can be no hierarchy of victims.

I and others in the Sinn Féin leadership have met many victims and victim’s families in the north. I am prepared to meet with victims’ families in this state if they believe this will be helpful and I intend to do this in the near future.

He had advice for Labour …

Our history is replete with challenges, adversity and great injustice. This is such a time. A time for real leadership.

A real Labour Party with a principled leadership should not be in government with Fine Gael. If Fine Gael is set on implementing Fianna Fáil policy then let them do that with the support of Fianna Fáil.

Whatever the case for entry into coalition after the last election, there is now only one principled position for Labour. Fágaigí an bealach ag sloite na bhFiann. Stand by working people as Connolly and Larkin did. Leave this government and leave it now!

The speech finished …

In Ireland today parents defending children with disabilities, frontline workers defending each other and vital public services, carers, teachers, health workers, citizens who are standing up for themselves and their communities, are showing the way.

Sinn Féin believes in the people of Ireland. Join with us in building a New Republic. Sin é. Ar aghaidh linn le chéile

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.