Michelle O’Neill’s speech at Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2021

Tá fáilte mhór romhaibh uilig chuig Ard Fheis Shinn Féin.It is good to see you all again. I hope you are all well.

Despite the challenges of recent times, we have managed to keep in touch, and as we kick off our Ard Fheis, I am glad to say the party is in good form.This Ard Fheis comes at a time when Sinn Féin is leading change across Ireland.This Ard Fheis is about the future.

Sinn Féin is the party of real change, standing up for workers and families. On values and causes that matter.• Community• Social Justice• Economic equality• Fairness• SolidaritySinn Féin is the party that is focused on what is possible to achieve if we work together.

The party that is ready to grasp the opportunity as we emerge from the pandemic, to build a better, fairer, stronger Ireland.

An Ireland that prioritises the things that really matter: healthcare, housing, education – an Ireland where the government leads on climate change.A United Ireland.

My priority as Joint Head of Government is to make politics work, to demonstrate that real change is possible.

People are relying on us to address the crisis in healthcare, in waiting lists and getting access to a GP.

People are relying on us to support them through the cost of living crisis which is hurting every family and household.

By working together, we can bring about real change. Working with all the parties to solve the problems people face in their daily lives.The global pandemic has ravaged societies across the world.It has also exposed the sheer depth of inequality in our society.

In response Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey brought forward support for those who needed it most.Finance Minister Conor Murphy allocated funding to support workers and families.Sinn Féin ministers called out the reckless approach of Boris Johnston.Minister Declan Kearney led the way in engaging with workers’ representatives.

This week I addressed the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and thanked their members.

Comrades, let’s send a huge bualadh bos and our thanks to all front-line workers who kept things going throughout these unprecedented times.Going forward, life saving vaccines are the best protection for us and those we love.None of us are invincible. Please get the vaccine.

As a former Health Minister, I passionately believe in a health service that cares for people when they need it – we must resist attempts by the Tories to undermine, underfund and privatise the NHS.

Waiting lists must be tackled with a clear plan and targets to end the backlog.

People must have access to a GP when they need it.

Mental health services must be readily available.

More must be done to reduce health inequalities.

Only transformation can build a health service fit for patients and workers.

We must use this moment to build a stronger, fairer and more resilient economy.This requires investment from the Executive for major projects like Casement, the A5, andbroadband.This requires workers employed in well-paid jobs.

It requires delivery of the City and Growth Deals to create jobs, stimulate growth and boost the local economy.

In August one of our key commitments in the North was delivered upon when the new medical school at Magee took in its first 70 students.

We must now work to expand Magee to ensure it reaches its 10,000 students and creates long-term economic benefits for Derry and the North-West.

Sinn Féin has brought about the biggest shake-up of the North’s housing system in 50 years.Central to the plan is to build more social and affordable homes.Revitalising the Housing Executive so it may borrow, invest and ultimately build again.

This month I received the report into Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries.The pain and trauma inflicted on women and girls in these institutions is incomprehensible.

My priority is to have a full Public Inquiry established, so that victims and survivors get the truth, recognition and justice that they have been denied for far too long.Next week political talks will intensify between the EU and the British Government.

I reminded the British government this week that a majority in the north see the Protocol as the solution to their Brexit disaster.There is no credible alternative to the Protocol.Businesses in the North continue to access the single market.

They want the protocol to work.They want certainty and they want solutions.

However, the new red lines set out by the British Government begs the question do they want a solution at all?

We will soon see.

The British State also want to continue to hide their role during the conflict here.

They remain intent on introducing an amnesty to protect British soldiers who murdered Irish citizens.

Sinn Féin will stand with the families of all victims and lobby the EU and US in support of the Stormont House Agreement and against this universally rejected policy from Downing Street.

This year has highlighted the failure of partition and the need for it to come to an end.The Tories and political unionism celebrate the creation of the northern State.

Nationalists have a different experience of the old Orange State, of oppression, one-party unionist rule and the denial of basic political and civil rights.That is nothing to celebrate.President Higgins made the correct decision.And so too did we.

A chairde, be in no doubt this is a Time for Change.We are now in the Decade of Opportunity.

We will contest the Assembly election next May, or sooner if the DUP recklessly crashes politics and Stormont.We will fight for every vote to return strong, progressive, republican representatives.

Our team of MLAs is going from strength to strength with some recent additions.

Fáilte mhór to MLAs;Padraig Delargey and Ciara Ferguson, from Derry.

Aisling Reilly, from West Belfast.

Áine Murphy, from Fermanagh/South Tyrone.

And, Nicola Brogan from West Tyrone.

Comrades, we are making history for the first time the majority of our Assembly team are now women.This is a first on this island and further afield.They have stepped forward to deliver for families and workers – driving positive change.

Our priorities will be health; housing; education; jobs; and Irish unity.

The balance of power at Stormont has shifted irreversibly and the political unionist majority is gone.

This is now about those of us who want to work together to make the Assembly and Executive work, to deliver on health and education, to deliver progressive change taking on those who want to maintain the status quo and resist that change.

The DUP roll back on political agreements, their continued denial of equality and rights is dead end politics.

Their boycott of the North-South Ministerial Council has been declared unlawful by the High Court.Their futile stunt to provoke outrage is in vain.

Harking back to a bygone era of Unionist rule is a lost cause too.

The DUP has declared that a Sinn Féin First Minister after the next election would give unionism a real problem.Well, let me be crystal clear.The days of nationalists need not apply are gone.

The days of denying abortion rights to women, to LGBT citizens, and Irish Language speakers are gone.It is for the people to decide the next First Minister, not the DUP.

Sinn Féin is aiming to return as the biggest party, not for the sake of it, but to deliver change.We will nominate a First Minister, a First Minister who works and delivers for all our people.In June the DUP reneged on its commitments to legislate for an Acht Gaeilge.

 Sinn Féin moved around them.The British Government agreed to take the Bills through Westminster in October.

I met Brandon Lewis this week who confirmed he is taking the steps to introduce the legislation.We expect these commitments to be honoured.

And we will continue to hold his feet to the fire to ensure that this is delivered.

Acht Gaeilge anois!

Our island still faces many challenges.

I’ll be at the COP26, United Nations climate change conference next week.

Just like the Coronavirus pandemic, the climate emergency does not recognise borders.

We need an all-Ireland approach.

We must secure a fair transition to a low carbon economy, and provide increased support for rural communities over this decade.Huge change is on the horizon.It’s already underway.It is a time for big ideas.It’s a time to prepare and plan for the future.

Change isn’t just about us, it’s about everyone who shares this island.

This party, our leadership, our membership and people across Ireland must be at the centre of shaping, leading change and building a new national democracy.Comrades, we have work to do.

But I have absolute faith in you all.

This is a time for hope and opportunity.

A time to be generous to each other.

Let’s move on together.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh.