In her acceptance speech as the new incoming vice president of Sinn Féin – Leas Uachtarán Shinn Féin – Michelle O’Neill stated that “there is no doubt that progress has been made [in the Stormont talks] but there are outstanding issues which remain unresolved”. However she anticipated that the “talks will conclude next week” and “the issues which caused the collapse of Stormont can be resolved with political will and mutual respect”.
Her speech began by welcoming delegates and thanking them for their “support and vote of confidence”.
“As you will know I am from the wonderful county of Tyrone, but most won’t know that I also herald from Cork, being born on Fermoy. So my colours are truly red and white. I’m claiming those two counties right out, but I’m going to be champion for the 32
“It is a huge honour and it’s very humbling for me to be elected, by you – our national grassroots membership – to this role, within this great party. I’m proud to be a link in the unbroken chain of Irish republicanism. To follow others who have held this role like Margaret Buckley, Marie Drumm, my amazing election agent Pat Doherty and our soon to be new Uachtaran Marylou. The chain will never be broken.
“Sinn Féin is a growing political force – a national movement for reunification, for social justice and for economic prosperity. We stand for progressive republican politics. We are a party of Government North and South.
“We believe that citizens have fundamental rights and that Government has a responsibility to deliver for all: the right to a home; the right to decent healthcare; the right to education; the right to security; the right to equality no matter who you are, where you are born, what your background is, what your beliefs are or what your sexuality is; the right of people with a disability to play a full and independent role in all aspects of life; the right of young people to live and work in their own country; the right of Irish language speakers to use the language in every aspect of their daily lives; Act Anois; the right of women to be trusted and respected in a modern society – so we not only support the repeal of the 8th amendment – we need to campaign in order to win the upcoming referendum.”
Referring to the ongoing Stormont talks, the Mid Ulster MLA said:
“The Good Friday Agreement will be 20 years old in April. Over the past two decades the island of Ireland has been transformed as a result of the peace process. I want to put on record my personal thanks and our collective thanks to our outgoing President Gerry Adams, who alongside my friend, my comrade Martin McGuiness, two political giants – true Irish patriots -helped shape and win the peace. They have been the history makers. And the greatest Irish political leaders of our time.
“Míle buíochas Gerry. I also want to say a big Thank you to Collette and Bernie as they also have contributed so much to our struggle, you too have made the commitment and sacrifice down through the years. It has been a difficult and testing year since Martin’s tragic loss. Martin resigned last January to force an end to the abuse of our political process by the DUP and British Government.
“My focus for the last 12 months and the objective of our negotiating team has been to see the political institutions re-established with power-sharing, respect and equality at their core. As in any negotiation there has been give and take and at this point we have not yet resolved or over-come all our differences to satisfaction.
“There is no doubt that progress has been made, but there are outstanding issues which remain unresolved. We will continue to meet with the DUP and both Governments and will re-engage on Monday and I anticipate that talks will conclude next week. I believe that the issues which caused the collapse of Stormont can be resolved with political will and mutual respect.
“Issues like marriage equality, an Irish language act, legacy inquests, rights, respect and integrity in government should not be politically contentious. A restored Executive with genuine power-sharing at its heart and acting in the interests of all people. It can help ensure the needs of our citizens, both unionist and nationalist, the economy and our public services are protected. That is in the best interests of all people and what we are determined to achieve.”
She spoke about reconciliation and called for “a unionist partner to help lead this crucial effort together”.
“A critical part of our work involves reconciliation. It is necessary work as we build for the future. I am very mindful that there are many people herewith us today that have lost loved ones throughout the conflict. Can I say that we are so very honoured and proud to have you with us at our Ard Fheis.
“I know that you understand the importance of reconciliation. And part of reconciliation involves recognising everyone’s right to remember their dead. One mummy’s pain is no different to another’s. We need to recognise the hurt that was caused in the past, we need to help heal the pain of the past. I am committed to this work. Our party is committed to this work.
“But what’s required is a unionist partner to help lead this crucial effort together. We need to transcend old battles, and give all our people an opportunity to look again at a future beyond sectarianism, division and suspicion, without demanding the surrender of each other’s identity, citizenship or rights.”
On Irish unity …
“A unity referendum is a central part of the Good Friday Agreement. We have to build a mass movement and build momentum for Irish unity – uniting Orange and Green. We must campaign for a referendum, secure a referendum and win a referendum. We must show serious ambition and confidence and take nothing for granted. We don’t want to face inwards. We must face outwards and listen who those who don’t want a united Ireland.
“It is our task to persuade those people, sectors and communities of why it’s in their best economic and political interests to share power across this island. We must convince them that no one has anything to fear because we will shape and we will build the future together.”
Her short address concluded with a call for party cohesion and a need for the expanding party to be welcoming:
“I look forward to getting out around the country in the coming weeks and months as we begin to roll out our national 10 year plan. Political organising and campaigning has been the bread and butter of Sinn Fein since our inception in 1905. With an increasing membership we need to be welcoming, inviting and build our capacity, train our activists politically to make an impact and to make a difference. There is a place for everyone in Sinn Féin.
“We are so fortunate that we have strong local and national cohesion and comradeship, often to the envy of the other party’s across Ireland. We need to create more space for political analysis, discussion, debate and ideas. As the party leadership transition moves ahead after today’s historic Ard Fhéis, I look forward to our onward journey and to leading our party alongside Marylou and our national leadership team. And most of all with each and everyone of you.
“Let’s commit ourselves to building better National cohesion of our party; to defending the integrity of our struggle; to learn together; to struggle together; and always be in the frontline of more radical change by putting the people and communities we serve first,
“By always acting in the best interests of the Republic we strive to deliver. Comrades we are on the cusp of that Irish Republic. Let’s go out and grab it. It’s a time for confidence, being rooted, for being relevant, for being revolutionary and most of all for being republican. Beirgí bua. Míle buíochas. Agus go raibh mile maith agaibh.”
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about, reports from, live-tweets and live-streams civic, academic and political events and conferences. He delivers social media training/coaching; produces podcasts and radio programmes; is a FactCheckNI director; a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland; and a member of the Corrymeela Community.