Over the last few years, Sinn Féin have made a clear shift to a party that is putting its energy into growing in the south. The NI Assembly and Executive – stable or unstable – no longer requires too much word count from the Ard Fheis stage.
Elected reps all got their chance to speak during the “live session” (a series of three-minute speeches that roll one after the other and are televised by RTE) or during the debate around motions. But other than a few objections to corporation tax being dropped in the north, few southern delegates addressed northern issues. At a practical level, 6 + 26 = 2 distinct halves of the party.
The upcoming Westminster election barely got a mention all weekend. There were no rallying calls for a surge of campaigning in Fermanagh & South Tyrone, or for the groundwork to be done in North Belfast or even South Belfast in order to reap the harvest of a seat in five years time (assuming Westminster can stay upright that long).
Which points to Sinn Féin knowing that they have more levers to control in Dublin than Belfast, both in terms of service delivery and in the shaping British/Irish policy.
As I said last night, Declan Kearney’s vision for a future reconciliation of dismantling barriers and building bridges (reprised quickly this morning) fell on closed ears as relatively few speakers picked up on his messaging. He’s going to have to write more articles, give more interviews and deliver further speeches to cement his welcome strategy.
From conversations with recent members of Sinn Féin – the late twenty/early thirty-somethings, not the students – I detect that their conversion to Sinn Féin is based on their work within communities rather than any form of republican idealism. They don’t share Sinn Féin’s traditional reluctance to extend equality to giving women “autonomy over their wombs”. [Party policy now supports availability of termination in cases of fatal foetal abnormality if parents choose, but no vote on further liberalisation.] New members in the south are either going to push to reshape party policies or become disenfranchised and leave quickly. A big challenge for Sinn Féin.
What was absent this weekend was a speech from Sinead O’Connor!
The proceedings finished up with the speech from the newly re-elected party president Gerry Adams. In the warm paper version of his remarks that were circulated before he started I counted five and a half pages about the north while the rest focussed on the south.
The audience roared as Gerry Adams took to the stage, introduced by Michelle Gildernew who quipped “we’re waiting for the boss … wouldn’t it be great if we were talking about Bruce Springstein!”
Go raibh maith agat Michelle. Thanks for all your work, especially with Micheal Colreavy and Martina Anderson in opposing fracking.
A chairde agus a chomráidithe, Tá failte romhaibh uilig chuig Ard Fhéis Shinn Féin.
A special Céad Míle Fáilte to Jim Cullen and Alan McConnell of Friends of Sinn Féin in the USA and Canada; and to our comrades from Australia, from South Africa, Cuba, the Basque country, Greece, Britain and to all our foreign dignitaries, including the Palestinian Ambassador.
Tonight, I call on the Irish government to act on the Sinn Féin motion adopted unanimously by the Dáil and to recognise the state of Palestine.
Mar a déarfadh Bobby, “It’s good to be back home in Derry”.
Taoiseach, if you’re watching – Dia duit – greetings from the north. Taoiseach, mar eolas duit, this is not a foreign country. This is Ireland.
Derry is a special place. The attack on the Civil Rights march at Duke Street 1968, the Battle of the Bogside, and Bloody Sunday – the beginning of the end.
Comhghairdeas daoibhse agus buíochas do mhuintir Doire Cholmcille; and in particular to the representatives of Bloody Sunday families who are with us this evening.
I also want to thank the representatives from the Londonderry Bands Forum. You are also very welcome at this Ard Fheis. The accommodation on loyal order parades here stands out as an example of what can be achieved when citizens have the will to solve problems. So let’s see the same approach to contentious parades in Belfast and elsewhere.
To Mitchel McLaughlin who recently became Ceann Comhairle of the Assembly and so another son of Derry, John Hume who was central to the peace process. And to Martin McGuinness for his continued courageous and visionary leadership. These qualities were demonstrated again during the negotiations that led to the Stormont House Agreement.
Despite the negative approach of the British and Irish governments, and a reluctance by some of the local parties, progress was made. And agreement was achieved. So I want to commend the hard work and dedication of Sinn Féin’s Executive Ministers and our MLAs and Assembly team.
Tá an-áthas orm go bhfuil moltaí faoi choinne Acht na Gaeilge foilsithe ag Caral Ní Chuilin, go bhfuil Michelle O’Neill ar chamchuairt faoin tuath ag buaileadh le muintir na feirme, go bhfuil John O’Dowd fós ag athchóiriú scoileanna, agus go bhfuil Jennifer McCann ag cosaint cearta daonna agus cearta leanaí.
During the Stormont House talks this party put in place additional protections for children and adults with severe disabilities, and for the long term sick. And we succeeded in protecting those on benefits. We negotiated that there will be no reductions to any benefits under the control of the Executive. That is fundamental to this Agreement and Sinn Féin will hold to that and hold other parties to that commitment.
Progress was also made on the issues of Parades, Flags and Emblems and the Past. Dealing with the past is very difficult. Yesterday was the anniversary of the Gibraltar killings. Today is Sam Marshall’s anniversary. Every day marks an anniversary for someone, for some family, for some community. I hope the Stormont House Agreement will bring closure to victims. That is the intention.
I want to extend solidarity to all of the victims groups campaigning for truth and justice. I want to welcome to this Ard Fheis the representatives of the Ballymurphy Massacre families. Failte fosta roimh Liam Shannon, one of the Hooded Men.
There are those who attack the Stormont House Agreement. They attack Sinn Féin. Let us be clear that Agreement did not resolve the issue of British government cuts to the block grant. Over one and a half billion pounds has been stripped away by London. Those who opportunistically attack us should focus on that.
Why should a British government of millionaires have the authority to impose economic punishment on citizens here? Sinn Féin will continue to oppose austerity – north and south. Those who argue that power should be handed back to London need to get real. That would be the road to disaster.
Instead there needs to be an island wide campaign to promote progressive policies and Sinn Féin will build a positive alternative, a positive alliance with everyone who has this position, including other parties, the community and voluntary sector and the trade unions.
Austerity is not the solution. It is part of the problem. Sinn Féin is not the problem. We are part of the solution. Beidh muid ag obair as lámh a chéile le daoine eile i ngach cearn den oileán seo chun bealach eile a chur chun tosaigh seachas an déine.
Supporting austerity in the north is a logical extension of Fine Gael and Labour’s policies. Their budgets have been among the most regressive in the State’s history. There has been a huge growth in social inequality. A third of our children now live in consistent poverty.
Public money which should be used to end the scandal of patients lying on trolleys; to house our citizens; and to create jobs is being used to repay private bank debt.
That’s Labour’s Way. That’s Fine Gael’s way. That’s Frankfurt’s way. That’s not the Sinn Féin way.
During the boom Sinn Féin called for the wealth to be invested in public services. We called for the wealth to be socialised. We were accused by the establishment parties of ‘fairy tale’ economics. They have delivered nightmare economics. They refused to socialise the wealth. But they have no problem socialising the debt.
Fianna Fáil wrecked the economy, drove hundreds of thousands out of work, and forced many of our young people to emigrate. Fine Gael and Labour made things worse by delivering Fianna Fáil policies. They made working people, senior citizens, patients and children pay the price for private banking greed.
To add insult to injury, hard-pressed citizens were told that the crash happened because “we all partied”. The Taoiseach said people went mad. Raiméis atá ann.
191 individuals held €62 billion of the banking debt. 50% of the Irish loan book of Anglo Irish bank was held by just 20 greedy people. They and their political cronies are the golden circle. It is corrupt bankers and corrupt politicians who should be in jail, and not water charge protestors.
When I suggested to the Taoiseach on numerous occasions that he should stand up for Irish people at EU summits he said, “We will not have the word defaulter stamped on our forehead”. He refused to negotiate on bank debt. Neither the Taoiseach nor the Minister for Finance have ever asked for retrospective recapitalisation of the pillar banks.
If and when Sinn Féin have the mandate we will work with others across the EU to find a sustainable long-term solution to the Eurozone debt crisis.
It took the government of Greece to break the conservative pretense that austerity is the only way. Failte romhat Euclid Tsakalotos of Syriza, the Greek Minister for International and Economic Relations.
Sinn Féin is the effective voice of opposition in Leinster House. We offer constructive and sustainable solutions and have held the Government to account. The Government claims that a recovery is underway. Now if there is, it’s an unequal and unfair two tier recovery.
Sinn Féin wants to deliver a fair recovery. The cost of the recession has been borne by those who played no part in the economic disaster and who are least able to pay. The economy should serve the people – not the other way around.
Sinn Féin is pro enterprise. We believe in a strong, competitive economy which creates real jobs with decent pay and conditions. A strong economy is required to pay for public services and a living wage for workers. To combat poverty, and to support those with disabilities.
For that reason Sinn Féin advocates a model of fair and progressive taxation and stable public finances where everyone pays their fair share. And where wealth is used to fund social equality. That means that in government Sinn Féin will abolish water charges.
We will scrap the Property Tax. Sinn Féin will introduce a Wealth Tax. We will bring in a third rate of income tax for those individuals earning over one hundred thousand euro; that’s seven cents on every euro over One Hundred Thousand Euro.
And Sinn Féin will take a further Two Hundred Thousand people out of the Universal Social Charge.
A fair recovery must be built on real investment in real jobs. Foreign direct investment is an important part of the economic mix for the island of Ireland. So are the arts – so is the social economy. But the biggest employers on this island are Small and Medium enterprises. They are the greatest source of future job growth.
Tá Sinn Féin tiomanta do na daoine seo a chuidiú.
We are also for the exploitation of our natural resources for the common good and not merely the profits of multi-nationals.
The economic crisis and austerity policies of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil have forced half a million of our people to leave. It’s time for our people to come home.
But emigrants should not be denied a voice in our democracy. Next week Sinn Féin will introduce legislation to extend the right to vote in Presidential elections to Irish citizens in the north and overseas as recommended by the Constitutional Convention.
Impím go láidir ar gach ball den Oireachtas tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille seo.
The Fine Gael/Labour Government has been a disaster for rural Ireland.
Rural Ireland needs a new deal. A new deal that will create and retain jobs in rural communities, protect rural schools and services, ensure access to health services and maximise support for hard pressed Gaeltacht and island communities.
That’s the thing about rights. You have rights no matter where you live. These have to include the right to a health service, to an education system, to quality childcare, to a home, to a job, to a clean environment and to civil and religious liberties.
Sinn Féin will invest in local authority housing and introduce rent controls to help stem the rising tide of homelessness. Families in mortgage distress need to be secure to be able to remain in the family home. Last year Sinn Féin introduced legislation to curb repossessions and to give other protections to families in mortgage distress.
The Government rejected our proposals. Instead they gave the banks a veto. Sinn Féin will end that veto.
Ní féidir le gach bean, gach fear agus gach páiste barr a gcumais a bhaint amach, ach amháin i bpobal atá cothrom.
All citizens whether they live in the Bogside or Baile Mhuirne, or on the Shankill or Southhill are entitled to equality before the law, regardless of background, sexual orientation or gender.
That is why Sinn Féin supports marriage equality for LGBT citizens.
Most people know a family member, work colleague or a neighbour who is gay, and we love them for who they are. Tá na saoránaigh seo i gceart Chothrom na Féinne. On May 22nd I am calling for a resounding YES vote.
The centenary of events from 1912 to 1922 – from the signing of the Ulster Covenant to the Civil War – provides a unique opportunity for all our people, north and south, nationalist and unionist, to critically examine our past.
The fact is that the revolutionary period was followed by a counter revolution. That’s why Ireland is partitioned. Two conservative states with narrow minded, mean spirited, selfish elites were created. Our people suffered, emigrated and died as a result. Our potential is stunted – our communities divided.
It’s little wonder that the response of the Irish Government to these centenaries has lacked ambition and substance. It is little wonder they don’t want to celebrate the Proclamation. For their part they are embarrassed by its relevance for Ireland today.
For our part the 1916 Proclamation remains the mission statement of modern Irish republicanism. The Government’s failure to protect the National Monument in Moore Street has also been shameful. “Mór mo náire. Mo chlann féin a dhíol a mháthair”.
In the year ahead, Sinn Féin will celebrate at home and abroad the courage and vision of those who participated in the Easter Rising. Sinn Féin’s goal, like theirs is to build a real Republic.
But Sinn Féin cannot transform politics or the social and economic conditions on our own. There are strong elements in both parts of the island who are against positive change.
These include unionists who see no alternative to the union; but there are others who are not so sure. They too have been politicised by recent developments. In particular the peace process. They are also learning that austerity is the price of the union.
Republicans have to listen and pay heed to constructive criticism of our alternative. The Unionist parties say they are against Irish unity but will support measures that are to the mutual advantage of both sections of our people.
That’s welcome and sensible. We have to build and hold them to that. Politics in both parts of this island is in flux. Many people now realise that that it makes no sense to have two economies, two education systems, two health systems, two tax codes, two currencies on one small island. The sense of one island, one Ireland can work for everyone.
I believe we need a national conversation on all of this. A conversation about the future.
I believe all genuine progressive social and political forces across this island, including unionists and working class loyalists, should develop a common platform for political progress.
A new Citizens’ Charter, encapsulating fundamental principles could take us towards a citizen-centred, rights-based society. It could be a new departure in Irish politics. Ní neart go cur le chéile.
The people of this island, whether urban or rural, from whatever background or tradition, share a common history and our futures are bound together.
We need reminded again and again that our flag is Orange. I’ll say it again, our flag is orange. Orange as well as green. Orange is part of what we are. That is our potential. And our challenge. To unite Orange and Green in equality and mutual respect.
The immediate period ahead will see elections to the Dáil, Westminster, the Assembly and a by-election in Carlow/ Kilkenny.
Is í Kathleen Funchion ár n-iarrathóir. Caithfidh mé a bheith soiléir. Tá muid ag lorg bua le Kathleen.
So let’s be ambitious not just for ourselves but for our people. On May 7th the people of the north will go to the polls. Good luck to all our candidates here.
The imposition of an unfair water charge has been the final straw for many families in the south. The huge demonstrations are proof of that. The water charge protestors should be released.
[Interrupts his speech to admit he can’t see the countdown clock on the teleprompter]
Sinn Féin has seen unprecedented growth in the last European and local government elections thanks to the work of our activists and especially our voters. Mo bhuíochas lenár n-iarrathóirí agus go háirithe leis na daoine a thug votaí dúinn.
I especially commend our MPs, our TDs, Seanadoirí, MLAs all of our Councillors and our MEPs Martina, Matt, Liadh, Lynn. Happy international Women’s day Matt.
As our political strength increases our opponents have become more strident. There has been a tsunami of untruth and smears against us.
It didn’t work. It didn’t work because of you.
Because people listened to the lies and they looked at you, their neighbours and family members, their work colleagues and they said, the Shinner I know isn’t like the one depicted in the Independent group of newspapers and by our political opponents.
So thank you for your steadfastness. Your diligence. And your work.
Little wonder that Enda and Joan are worried. They and their cronies will be even more strident in the run in to the election – so brace yourselves. They know the people want change.
Sinn Féin wants a mandate for government. I believe we can win that mandate. Sinn Féin will not prop up either a Fine Gael or a Fianna Fáil government.
Sinn Féin wants to lead the next Government. I am confident that when it comes to making a choice, the people will make the change.
The future hasn’t been written yet. Let’s write it together. Let’s make it happen! Let’s make the change. 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.