Time to deliver the vision of 1916 – McGuinness
It is always a great honour to address the Ard Fheis but particularly so on this historic weekend.
And I want to begin by congratulating you all on such a great election result in February when we increased our Dail representation from 14 to 23 seats.
On the day of the count I travelled through Wicklow, Waterford, Kilkenny and Cork to witness the historic election of TDs John Brady, Kathleen Function, David Cullinane, Louise O’Reilly and Donnach 0 Laoighre – first time TDs elected in constituencies where we have not had a Sinn Féin TD since the 1920s.
I want to pay tribute to all candidates, party workers, canvassers, their families, and voters.
Out of the nine new TDs, I am particularly proud that five are dedicated, articulate women activists.
As a party, we have a responsibility to promote gender equality but let me say gender equality is becoming a reality because we have these determined, committed and energetic women coming forward.
Half a million people across the island have now put their faith in us.
More and more citizens are voting for Sinn Féin’s national and democratic project to build the peace and promote consensus and reconciliation.
They are voting for an agreed Ireland – an Ireland of equals.
We are the united Ireland party putting ourselves before the Irish people across the island.
So next month’s Assembly election is hugely important for the future of politics on this island.
It presents an opportunity for a new approach, building on the Fresh Start Agreement, to deliver better, more effective government and move beyond crisis and instability.
One hugely important aspect of the Fresh Start Agreement that has yet to be concluded is dealing with the legacy of the past.
The mechanisms for dealing with the past are agreed. The only blockage is the British government’s veto on disclosure of information about the policies of the British state and its agencies.
This British government is determined to conceal its role in the conflict and the actions of its agents, agencies and their proxies in the loyalist death squads.
During the negotiations we stood full square with the families.
Today I want to make it absolutely clear here that we will continue to stand with you in your campaign for the truth.
The Fresh Start Agreement does provide an opportunity to deliver better government. We are now six months on and in my opinion we have made a good start and that must continue up to, through and after the election.
Sinn Féin is also determined to build a more inclusive society on this island, a society which accepts and celebrates diversity.
That is the New Ireland which Sinn Fein is advocating on the centenary of the Easter Rising.
We have led on the progressive measures taken by the Executive, ring-fenced health spending, transformed the schools estate, created 40,000 jobs as well as blocking water charges, keeping student fees affordable and securing funding for crucial infrastructural projects.
There is no doubt we have faced many challenges – not least the relentless Tory onslaught on our public services and on those most in need.
But we have faced these challenges head on, even when others said it was impossible and we secured unique protections for those most in need in our society.
We achieved this despite the relentless negativity of smaller parties who opposed the Agreement.
The UUP and SDLP still can’t tell the electorate whether they want to be in government or in opposition.
Let me be absolutely clear. With the mandate of the people, Sinn Féin will be in the Executive after this election.
And in the Executive I am determined to provide the positive, progressive and responsible leadership that will build on the enormous progress we have already made.
And there is much more work to do to build an Ireland of equals. Sinn Féin is determined to confront and face down sectarianism, bigotry and homophobia.
Others also need to accept their responsibility to do the same. They need to catch up with the rest of society.
We need to see equality for all our citizens, and that means the immediate extension of marriage equality to every part of this island.
The recent criminalisation of a young woman in the north was absolutely wrong. While I would caution against anyone using medication accessed on the internet, women facing difficult personal circumstances as a result of pregnancies must be treated with compassion and sympathy.
And the law in the north must change to allow the option of termination in the traumatic circumstances of Fatal Foetal Abnormalities and sexual crimes.
In this important year when we are commemorating the centenary of the Easter Rising we can reflect on how far we have come. But the work of building a new, inclusive and progressive Ireland is far from complete. The vision remains unfulfilled.
For Sinn Féin this is a work in progress and today we reiterate our commitment to securing, in the words of the proclamation, “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies”.
And the greatest fracture in securing that right remains the partition of Ireland. Sinn Fein is the only party on this island working to end that fracture in our nation.
The vision of 1916 is alive and well in this room.
It is also alive across this island.
Only yesterday I met a group of primary school children in Newry involved in a history project, which inspired them to write their own version of the Proclamation.
They presented me with a copy and it reads;
‘We demand that all people of Ireland have a safe and warm home as every person deserves.
Homelessness MUST come to an end. All families should have a nice warm meal every night. We demand that all children have the highest standard of education possible.’
Those primary school children have more political principle and maturity than many of our self-serving political parties.
That is the challenge for this party in the months and weeks ahead – to deliver on the 1916 Proclamation but also to deliver on the innocent accuracy of the Proclamation written by those young children in 2016.
The spirit of 1916 is as relevant and inspiring today as it was a century ago. 100 years ago the world gazed in deep amaze at those who stood against the might of the British Empire on the streets of this city.
We have an enormous responsibility to deliver on their optimism and vision. The Assembly elections are a further opportunity for the electorate in the north to vote for our progressive politics. I am asking the people of the north to come out and vote for the Sinn Fein team and in doing so to send a clear message that the spirit of freedom, embodied in the 1916 Proclamation, is alive and well in cities town and villages across Ireland. ENDS/CRÍOCH