The full text of Martin McGuinness’ speech at Saturday morning’s AGM of Sinn Féin’s Cúige Uladh in Derry when he formally announced that he intends to seek the nomination to stand for the Foyle constituency in this May’s Assembly elections.
This will be a huge year for our party.
We will mark the centenary of the Easter Rising with events and commemorations the length and breadth of the island.
And of course as the only major all-Ireland political party we will contest elections, north and south, elections which have the potential to be defining points on the road towards the peaceful and democratic reunification of our country.
The continuing growth of Sinn Féin in every one of Ireland’s 32 counties brings the new Ireland ever closer.
The vision set out a century ago by the men and women of 1916 has never been more realisable.
It is their vision of a new Republic founded on civil and religious liberty, social justice, equality and fairness, which still guides us as republicans today.
As we enter elections north and south I am proud to say that Sinn Féin will have a record number of female candidates fighting those elections.
Three of our party’s Ministers in the Executive are women, three out of four of our MEPs and more than a third of our MLAs are women.
But more needs to be done on gender equality and in eradicating sectarianism, homophobia, racism and bigotry in all its forms and delivering equality for everyone of our citizens.
Disgracefully some of our citizens are still denied their right to marriage equality. That remains a priority for Sinn Féin.
In the 26 counties, we have mapped out how a Sinn Féin-led government would set about building a new fairer society by increasing the minimum wage, abolishing water and property charges, building 100,000 social and affordable homes, increasing health spending, cutting politicians’ pay and securing a referendum on a united Ireland.
Of course, we are already in government in the North.
It is a government with limitations given that we share power with the DUP and the British Government still exercises control over our budget.
However, Sinn Féin’s record in government clearly demonstrates how we have forced progressive politics onto the agenda at Stormont and defended the rights and entitlements of all citizens.
We still have much work to do in order to create a genuinely pluralist, tolerant society of equals. But no one can deny the change that has happened and we will continue to make progress.
You only have to look around this city to see how things have changed for the better.
Twenty years ago, this was an occupied city.
Today it is a city of peace, it’s unrecognisable. We are an example for others to follow.
Imagine where we will be in another 20 years.
Sinn Féin’s presence in government has had a real and practical impact on the lives of our citizens.
We have been the driving force behind the progressive measures that the Executive has taken – things like blocking water charges, protecting our lower student fees and free prescriptions and pensioners’ travel.
And in the Fresh Start Agreement we secured over half a billion pounds to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
We achieved it in spite of governments in London and Dublin, which are wedded to the politics of cuts and austerity.
Well we don’t do austerity. We do equality.
With the DUP we levered more money out of a Tory government in London that has no mandate in the north of Ireland and even less interest.
Other political parties told us that not one more penny was possible. We delivered a deal with the DUP that allows us to protect our core public services, particularly health and education when other political parties gave up or even more irresponsibly, tried to undermine the agreement for narrow, selfish electoral reasons.
Peter Robinson led the DUP in that negotiation which prevented a return to direct rule and the inevitable Tory onslaught on our public services and the most vulnerable in our society.
I want to acknowledge the positive leadership Peter Robinson provided in reaching an agreement with Sinn Féin. When other parties recklessly created a false crisis and engaged in empty posturing, Sinn Féin and the DUP reached an agreement that delivers for our people, our public services and provides unmatched social protections for low-income families.
I am confident that as Peter leaves the political stage, we can continue to deliver positive leadership despite the naysayers. I wish him and his family well for the future and I look forward to building a strong working relationship with his successor, Arlene Foster.
On a more personal note, I’m sure most of you have seen coverage in the media regarding my own intentions for the Assembly election in May.
And I would like to take this occasion to confirm that I will indeed be seeking the nomination to contest that election in the Foyle constituency.
I am doing so because I believe Sinn Féin can emerge in the future as the largest political party in the North. That and the ongoing growth of Sinn Féin in the rest of Ireland would represent dramatic change in the political landscape of this island.
I believe I can help to build on the fantastic work that Maeve McLaughlin and Raymond McCartney have already been doing.
Raymond and Maeve are a superb team and I want to augment the work they are doing as part of a stronger, increased Sinn Féin team to consolidate the delivery of key projects for the north west, including the expansion of Magee, creating employment in Derry and delivering the upgrades of the A5 and A6.
We want to build on the massive investment, which we have already delivered to this city, including the radio therapy unit and new wing at Altnagelvin, the Peace Bridge and Ebrington.
I am proud to say I was the Education Minister that built the new St Mary’s and St Cecilia’s schools. Michelle O’Neill will be the first minister to relocate an entire government department out of Belfast to County Derry.
It’s no secret those are the issues I have been spearheading in the Executive and good progress has been made with, for example, the A5 and A6 monies confirmed in the recent budget.
Of course there is more to be done and I want to see that work through. I want to see this city and region thriving and making the most of the massive potential that we have here.
The best way to achieve that is a stronger Sinn Féin Assembly team in Foyle.
Team Sinn Féin is better for Derry and, if I am successful in seeking the party nomination, I firmly believe that I can help us take three seats in this constituency.
But I also want to stress that this hasn’t been an easy decision for me to take.
I have served as an MLA and MP in Mid-Ulster for 19 years and it has been my great honour and privilege to do so.
I have a very deep affection for the people of South Derry and East Tyrone.
I leave Mid-Ulster with a heavy heart but also safe in the knowledge that Sinn Féin has never been stronger there.
We now have an MP, 3 MLAs and 18 Councillors.
I am privileged to have played a part in that growth and the benefits that such strong Sinn Fein leadership has brought to the constituency.
But Derry is home.
And I want to be part of similar growth here.
We are already well on the way and, if selected, I greatly look forward to being a part of that.
So these are exciting times for me but, more importantly, they are exciting times for republicans everywhere.
We can make history in the coming elections. We can take huge strides forward towards our goal of a new Ireland.
How fitting that would be in the year when Irish people across the globe remember the sacrifice and heroism of 1916.
We are the people – the only people – who can turn the vision of 1916 into a reality.
Let’s go out and do it.”