4.3.05

Sinn Féin

Opening address to 2005 Ard Fheis -Martin McGuinness MP

Published: 4 March, 2005



I would like to begin by welcoming delegates, visitors and guests to the 2005 Ard Fheis - on this the 100th anniversary of our party.

The last few weeks have been very difficult. Difficult for republicans and difficult for those we represent - the republican communities who have supported and sustained the republican struggle over the years. These communities know, from first hand experience why the struggle was necessary, and they know at first hand, the sacrifices that have been necessary to get us to where we are today.

I want to directly address those communities this evening.

For them, what is important is not the endless debate about whether Gerry Adams and I were in the IRA. Or whether people believe us or Hugh Orde about the Northern Bank robbery.

No. What is important to them is whether they can believe in us -- believe in us when we say we are committed to true equality; believe in us when we say that we are against criminality of all kinds; believe in us when we say that our commitment to the peace process is total and absolute

What pains me the most about the last few weeks is not the criticism from the two governments, our political opponents, the media and those unionists who are so clearly delighted to have an excuse for their intransigence. We are used to that and we can take it

What pains me the most is any suggestion, suspicion or indication that the IRA could be turned into a criminal gang or a tool of individual interest, or otherwise engaged in criminality. And in that context I am both outraged and saddened at the involvement of a small numbger of IRA volunteers, in the brutal killing of Robert McCartney in Belfast 4 weeks ago.

So let me be clear. The murder of Robert McCartney was wrong - and let me be absolutely clear this was a grievous crime. It is wrong, it should never have happened and it is wrong that those who witnessed the murder should be intimidated in any way. And the McCartney family are absolutely right when they say that those responsible should be held accountable for their actions and should make themselves accountable for their actions. I again urge all of those involved in any way to admit their role and to make themselves accountable in court.

We cannot allow republicanism to be diminished in this way. To do so would be a betrayal of our struggle, of our own personal commitment, of the hunger strikers and of those brave republicans who selflessly gave their lives and liberty for a noble and worthy cause.

The speedy response of the IRA to the involvement of its members in the killing of Robert McCartney is in stark contrast to years and decades of cover up by the British government around collusion, shoot-to-kill, torture, Bloody Sunday, the Dublin Monaghan bombings. I could go on and on.

But the lessons of the last few weeks go wider than that -- and painful as it is, we as republicans have to face the reality that there is a crisis of confidence that could destroy the Good Friday Agreement.

In December we got close to a historic agreement that would have put violence behind all of us forever. We were cheated only by the insistence of the unionists on the humiliation of the IRA.

I am not prepared to let our struggle be demonized, or to be caught in a downward spiral that leads inexorably to a return to violence.

Instead, republicans are determined to find a way, however difficult and challenging, to put all conflict and violence behind us all for good; to see all weapons put beyond use; to prevent criminality; to participate in policing on the right terms; and to pursue a purely political, peaceful and democratic path to the Irish unification that every one of us wants to see.

We have had made momentous progress in building towards Irish unity in the 12 months since we last met at an Ard Fheis. One of our most successful moments of the last twelve months was of course the election of two MEPs Mary Lou Mc Donald in Dublin and Barber de Brún in the 6-counties. And of course with Pearse Doherty coming close to taking a third, combined with the massive increase in our representation on local councils across the South positioning our party to make great gains in the next General election in this state sent shockwaves through the political establishment. The radical alternative to the politics of partition and conservatism, north and south that Sinn Fein represents was endorsed by a growing number of people across the island.

Sinn Féin - Céad Bliain d'aois - A century of struggle

November 2005 marks the 100th anniversary of Sinn Féin and the Party is planning a year of events to celebrate.

The themes of celebration will be extensive and highlight aspects of struggle that have not previously been sufficiently recognised, such as the contribution of women in the republican struggle over the last 100 years. We will be recognising and incorporating into our celebrations the growing ethnic diversity of our nation and the contribution these new communities have made and will make in the future to Irish society.

This year will be about delivering the republican message to every part of the island and the purpose will be to encourage more and more people to take possession of their own destiny in order to bring to a conclusion the journey mapped out by those visionaries who founded Sinn Féin in 1905.

Green Paper - Irish Unity

Sinn Féin launched a discussion paper recently calling on the Irish government to produce a Green Paper on Irish Unity. We are calling on the Office of an Taoiseach to take the lead in this discussion and to include as far as practicable all parties on the island.

We have an historic opportunity for broad civic and political society across this island to address the core issue that has sustained conflict and division, discrimination and second-class citizenship since partition.

Key to Sinn Féin's strategy is developing discussion with the unionist community on the impact of Irish unity. It is imperative that we engage in this discussion, particularly with unionism. Unionists are locked into a historical context in the sense that they have seen change as somehow threatening and not being in their interests.

We want unionists to engage in the debate from their own unique perspective.

A Green Paper commissioned by the Office of an Taoiseach would set the scene for a non-threatening discussion ahead of periodic border polls, which are provided for by the Good Friday Agreement.

This is an issue that the Irish government should take forward. We are not the only party on this island with a stake in this project. But it is, uniquely, our political priority. Other parties, particularly those who define themselves as post-nationalist regarded the 1998 Agreement as a settlement. Sinn Féin sees the Agreement as a transitional arrangement.

Sinn Féin's strategy for reunification will be both persuasive and proactive - persuasive in terms of convincing unionists to embrace the social and economic benefits of a united Ireland and proactive in terms of urging the maximum North-South co-operation in the period before formal unity

Challenges ahead

We have many challenges ahead of us in the short and medium term. We have four elections pending. Immediately after this Ard Fheis we are into the Meath by-election next Friday. Joe Reilly is our Candidate and we could not have a better or more able representative of republicanism. I have no doubt that Joe will do us proud and set the pattern for strong results in the Udaras na Gaeltachta elections in the South and the Local Government and Westminster elections in the North

All of the Southern parties are already fighting the next General election. They are setting out their agenda and creating the most negative context possible. Remember all of the Parties here have been in government during the period of unprecedented wealth and yet the main legacy that they have created is an ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots. There is crisis in the Health system, the education system, planning is in disarray, environmental policy is practicably non-existent and we have a growing racism problem as a direct result of Michael Mc Dowell's right wing politics. And what do they do? In the hopes that they will deflect the peoples' attention away from the injustice, inequality and failures of bad government they spread innuendo, smear and false allegations against Sinn Féin. Why? Because they know that more and more people the length and breadth of this island are seeing Sinn Féin as the only alternative to partition and to the corrupt, brown envelop culture that passes for politics in this state. But this is nothing new and in the Northern elections Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the PD's, and Labour will, as they always have, campaign vigorously for our opponents knowing that we, unlike them are an all-Ireland party and our success, north and south is the success of the all-Ireland agenda

We face the mammoth and immediate task of re-building the peace process. We are absolutely determined that the peace process will not fail. The way in which to ensure its success is through increased political strength so each and every republican activist has a mighty task ahead in the coming months. I know that you are up to it and I know that you will all give it 100%. We are willing to face up to the difficult choices but this is not down to republicans alone but we will not be found wanting, in facing up to our responsibilities and in facing down our opponents.

Over the weekend thousands of republicans will gather here to debate and strategise where we go from here. I wish all a very enjoyable but productive weekend.

Go raibth mile maith agaibh

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