Mary Lou McDonald thanked delegates who had voted at the special ard fheis for their trust in her and signalled her honour to be elected as Sinn Féin’s new party president, Uachtarán Shinn Féin.
In her speech she touched on “all those who have struggled for Irish freedom”, paid tribute to her friend and mentor Gerry Adams, and spoke of a desire to double the size of the party, cautioning that “the party we build must be reflective of the society we live in [which] will mean changes in how we operate [to] be open, flexible and enthusiastic in creating space for newer members and for the sharing of new ideas”.
“A chairde, Is onóir é bheith tofa mar Uachtarán Shinn Féin. Go raibh míle maith agaibh as bhur dtacaíocht. Go raibh maith agaibh as bhur muinín ionam. I am honoured to be elected as Uachtarán Shinn Féin.
“Friends thank you for your support, your friendship and your confidence in me. In truth I couldn’t take this challenge on were it not for the constant support of my family. My husband Martin, my children Iseult and Gearoid are forever patient, my mother Joan, my brothers, my sister and my wider family all precious people in my life. Thank you all. Thank you members of Sinn Féin for the privilege of leading our great party into the future.
“The time ahead is full of challenges. The journey may be tough. The road long. The stakes high. But we are up to it. Our time has come.
“Today we recall all those who have struggled for Irish freedom in every generation. The women and men who stood for the Republican cause through hard times, through times of war, through poverty and discrimination.
“As a woman now charged with leading Irish Republicanism forward, I am conscious that I stand on the shoulders of giants. Constance Markievicz, the most unmanageable of revolutionaries. A woman who came from privilege but who lived and worked to end British rule in Ireland, who stood by the poor. The first woman elected to Westminster – an abstentionist Sinn Féin MP. We have her successor abstentionist Sinn Féin MPs in the hall with us today!
“Margaret Buckley, the first female leader of any Irish political party, President of Sinn Féin from 1937 to 1950. Through the Easter Rising, The Tan War and later on hunger strike, Margaret fought for the republic until her death in 1962. Máire Drumm, former Leas Uachtarán of Sinn Féin. A woman of fierce courage. A maker of seditious speeches, a camóg, a leader of women, who with prams full of bread and milk, faced down British troopers and broke the Falls curfew.
“We are proud to walk in the pathway carved out by so many Republican heroes – women and men. The rebel Irish who never bowed down, who never gave up. They kept faith. We will keep faith with them. To those who have stood in solidarity with us down the generations, our gallant allies in Europe and beyond, our exiled children in America, we thank you. Stay with us as we move to the next phase of our journey.”
Her speech looked back at history and paid tribute to her “mentor” Gerry Adams.
“A hundred years ago was a time of great change. It was the year which saw Sinn Féin win seventy-three seats in a General Election; a result which in turn led to the establishment of An Céad Dáil – a truly National Parliament. It was also the year of women’s suffrage.
“Fifty years ago, the demand for civil rights spilled onto the streets of the North in defiance of the gerrymandered sectarian state. Twenty years ago, the Good Friday Agreement was signed. A peaceful pathway to unity was achieved. The Orange state was replaced by a dispensation of equality, rights and power-sharing. And every community is the better for it.
“There would be no Good Friday Agreement, no peace process without Gerry Adams. My political mentor. An inspirational leader. A great friend. Gerry Adams, more than anybody else, built Sinn Féin.
“His leadership has guided our party to its strongest position since partition. He has defined politics on this island for a generation or more. When others said it was impossible, Gerry, along with Martin McGuinness, John Hume and indeed others, bravely walked the path to peace. Their vision and hard work brought an end to conflict on this island.
“Gerry, thank you for leading. Heartfelt thanks to Collette, to Gearóid, Róisín, Dríthla, Luisne, Ana and Ruadhan. Thank you for sharing Gerry with us.”
Mary Lou McDonald said it was a “time for fresh thinking and bold ideas” as she set out her beliefs.
“Now as a new generation takes the reins of leadership, our job is to bring innovative and modern ways of advancing our politics. Now is a time for fresh thinking and bold ideas to take us forward. Now is the time for new leadership. I am ready to lead.
“Shoulder to shoulder with our Leas Uachtaráin Michelle O’Neill, we will lead from the front, with determination and courage. Raised on songs and stories, I am a proud Dubliner. I am a mother. I want what every parent wants – for our children to be happy, to fulfil their dreams and potential, to never be held back by inequality, disadvantage or discrimination. To live in an Ireland that creates opportunities for all and not just for the few.
“I believe in getting things done. If something is broken you roll up your sleeves and you fix it.
“I believe in reaching out. I believe in standing my ground too. We must strive to see things from the perspective of others, to walk in their shoes and to reach a deeper understanding of their position. We must also be true to our beliefs, our experiences, our promises.
“I believe if something is worth having then it is worth working for.
“I believe in community, that we should look after one another and be the helping hand when someone falls.
“I firmly believe that ‘it takes the village to raise the child’. And that this is the foundation of the new Ireland we will build.
“I believe in fair play, in compassion and that despite our differences we are all equal.
“I believe in the unity of our nation in all its colours and the unity of all our people.
“I believe in our freedom. Beidh muid saor a chairde.”
The new party president spoke of her desire for the party to double in size, though stopped short of setting a specific timeframe for this goal.
“Be in no doubt that Sinn Féin is the only party that will build a United Ireland and a real republic. Our party is on the side of the ordinary people. Sinn Féin is a grassroots party. It is our membership that defines and sustains us. It is our membership that will keep this party moving forward. Our responsibility now is to adapt and modernise our approaches and our structures.
“Sinn Féin has grown rapidly in recent years. We want to double the size of our party again, in the years ahead. Ireland is no longer simply orange and green. We are a rainbow of colours. So the party we build must be reflective of the society we live in. This will mean changes in how we operate. We must be open, flexible and enthusiastic in creating space for newer members and for the sharing of new ideas.
“We must be ambitious. Remember this – we have come together to make history, to change the course of Irish history. We share a common bond of our republican ideals. Respect, equality and inclusion are the watchwords of our party. So our focus must be on building Sinn Féin into an organisation that is fit for purpose.
“And our purpose is to win. To win elections, to increase our political strength, to realise our ambition of being in government, north and south. To win progressive political victories every, single day. And ultimately to win Irish Unity.
“We must dare to win, for low and middle income workers, and their families. To win a society in which young people can plan a future. To win a new Ireland in which nobody is left behind. These are the victories we seek.”
She spoke of a prosperous and united Ireland.
“Caithfimid Éire rathúil a chruthú. Éire le fíor-dheiseanna. We must build a prosperous, united Ireland. An Ireland in which people have decent work, fair pay and secure contracts. An Ireland in which young couples can afford a roof over their heads and in which no child calls a hotel room home. To those for whom prosperity is a far off pipe dream. To those who struggle no matter how early they get up, how hard they try, no matter how hard they work;
“I want to say directly that Sinn Féin sees you. Sinn Féin hears you. Sinn Féin will fight your corner. Because we do not subscribe to the false notion that for one section of society to prosper another section must suffer.
“Real prosperity is shared. A prosperous society is an equal society. A prosperous society funds and resources public services, provides healthcare on the basis of need and equal educational opportunities for all. Prosperous economies are built on decent jobs driven by a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Prosperous economies encourage ambition, applaud achievement and reward hard work.
“Prosperity is supported by fair, progressive taxation and the fair distribution of wealth. Real prosperity is felt, is lived by people in their daily lives. It is time for families, for young people, for citizens with disabilities and for carers, to prosper. It is time for Rural Ireland to prosper. It is time for the working people to prosper.”
The new party president spoke about Brexit.
“Brexit represents a real threat to our prosperity, to the economic, social and political life of Ireland. It fundamentally challenges twenty years of hard won progress.
“Is oileán amháin muid. Tír amháin. Ní ghlacaimid le teorainn mar atá, agus ní ghlacfaimid le aon teorainn nua – bog nó crua. We are one island. One Ireland. We cannot thrive and prosper if the life and livelihoods of our people are fractured and disrupted by a border of any kind – hard or soft.
“There can be no imposition of a border on the island of Ireland, that message must sound loud and clear from our Ard Fheis today. Ireland will not be the collateral damage in the political games and antics of Tories in London.”
However, the European Union needs to reform and put “people at its core”.
“The European project has the potential to transform the lives of citizens for the better but it can only do so if the social agenda becomes its driving force. A union that aggressively pursues unfettered competition, privatization, militarization is not one that has social progress at its core. A union that does not respect national democracy, sovereignty, the equality of member states is not one that has people at its core.
“There is much to challenge, much to change. We are up for that fight because Ireland is an ancient European nation and we will not concede the European project to free marketeers and corporate interests no more than we would concede our future to Brexiteers and little Englanders.”
Her speech went on to touch on other issues, including Palestine, climate change and the Irish Language.
“As Republicans we must be outward looking, beyond our own shores acting in solidarity with others who suffer injustice. We stand with the people of Palestine. We call for the Irish government to stop the delaying tactics and recognise the state of Palestine. We stand with Catalonia and Euskadi, with all people who seek self-determination.
“Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the global community is climate change. This is no longer a story of floods and catastrophe in faraway lands. Climate change is with us. We need to plan, to act, to set targets and meet targets. This area of policy and activism must be at the heart of Sinn Féin work in the time ahead.
“Tá an Ghaeilge freisin thar a bheith tábhachtach dár bpáirtí agus is gné ríthábhachtach in obair ár bpáirtí í. Ní hé sin le rá go ndéanaimid go leor de – ní mór dúinn. Ní hé le rá nach féidir linn níos mó a dhéanamh – is féidir linn i gcónaí. Agus ní hé le rá go bhfuil na freagraí uilig againn – níl. Ach táimid tiomanta don dúshlán a thug an pobal dúinn anuraidh a shárú – sin chun Acht na Gaeilge a bhaint amach.
[Irish is also of paramount importance to our party and it is a crucial element in the work of our party … we can always do more, and we can’t say that we have all the answers. But we are committed to the challenge that this overlooked community – to achieve the Irish Language Act.]
On Stormont …
“Sinn Féin entered and operated the institutions in the north because they are in the best interest of our people. Martin McGuinness led the Executive with courage and with patience. He resigned because those institutions were undermined by disrespect and tainted by scandal.
“But let me be clear. Sinn Féin is up for a deal. We are committed to real power-sharing; to working for agreement with our Unionist partners. We want the Executive and Assembly up and running. This can only happen on the basis of equality, respect and integrity for all. We need to respond to the big changes in society. This is not about orange and green. This is all about rights.
“As Michelle O’Neill said, ‘what we win in these talks, we win for all’. The rights we secure now, we secure for everybody. The talks are ongoing. The Sinn Féin team is committed to a positive outcome. As Uachtarán Shinn Féin, I look forward to working with the DUP and with the other parties in the North.
“Martin McGuinness said there would be no return to the status quo. Martin, there will be no return to the status quo.”
On unity, respect and reconciliation …
“Belief in the Union with Britain is a core part of the tradition and identity of a substantial section of our people. We respect that. We are United Irelanders. We want to secure and win a referendum on Irish Unity. I want us to achieve this with respect, graciousness and generosity.
“Irish Unity cannot be a crude exercise of simply stitching north to south and returning to business as usual. We do not want a 32 county free state. We want a new Ireland, in which rights are guaranteed, cultures respected, and the diversity of our identities embraced. I want to build on the work of Martin McGuinness. For us to reach out the hand of friendship, to find common ground.
“But we cannot do this on our own. We need partners for reconciliation. The governments and the other parties must demonstrate leadership. Community leaders and civic society must be empowered to play their part. We cannot allow those who want to use the past to maintain division and inequality to have their way.
“There is no value in re-fighting the battles of the past. The war is over. There is no value in engaging in the blame game. We do not have to agree on the past. There is no single historical narrative. We must only agree that the past is never again repeated. On other things we can agree to disagree.
“The poet Maya Angelou put it well: ‘History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.’ Nobody should be asked or expected to forget. Nobody should be asked to forgive if they cannot do so. Every victim, every survivor of the conflict must be must be treated with respect, with compassion, with a recognition of their right to seek truth and justice.
“Last November, at the invitation of the British Legion, I attended the Annual Remembrance Sunday Service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. I was taken by the sincerity and the warmth of the welcome I received as they gathered to remember their dead. Everybody has that right – to remember their dead with dignity. We republicans have that right.
“We honour our dead with pride, with dignity, marking their sacrifice, lamenting their loss, embracing their families. I will continue to remember our patriot dead whether it is at Bodenstown, Arbour Hill or Milltown Cemetery. And friends, I respect the right of those from other traditions, with a different historical narrative, to do likewise.”
On the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment
“A chairde, Soon we face into a campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment. The referendum debate is about public health, women’s health and our right to decide on these matters for ourselves.
“I trust women. The referendum provides us with an historic opportunity to finally ensure that compassion and trust in women prevails. Sinn Féin will campaign enthusiastically for repeal. We will be on the streets. We will be knocking on doors. We will be on the airwaves vigorously arguing our case for repeal. Some people will not share our analysis. I respect their right to hold that view. Some of those will be republicans, friends and family. However despite differing views, I believe that the referendum debate can be handled with respect and sincerity.
“For too long women have been let down. This cannot continue. We cannot tolerate it. Dár máithreacha, Dár n-deirfiúracha, Dár n-iníonacha, Aisghair an t-ochtú leasú!”
Mary Loud McDonald concluded her address:
“So friends, we have work to do. The task of transforming Ireland continues. Nobody said it would be easy. But republicans face the big challenges and we meet them head on. A new chapter on the road to the republic has begun. We all have a part to play in writing it. How the chapter unfolds is up to everybody here.
“We are the generation of republicans who will see the rising of the moon. Sinn Féin in government both North and South. Irish Unity in our time. Éire Aontáithe. And the establishment of a real republic of which Tone and Markievicz, Connolly and Skinnider, Sands and McGuinness would be proud.
“Let’s get to work. Ar aghaidh linn le chéile! Up the Republic!”
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.