May 25th, 2012
The Austerity Treaty is bad for Ireland and bad for the European Union.
Its authors have misdiagnosed the cause of the Eurozone crisis and have prescribed the wrong medicine.
Their proposed remedy – more austerity and less democracy – will make the patient even worse.
On May 31st citizens in this state have a clear choice.
If you are for austerity and against democracy vote Yes.
But if you believe, as I do, that austerity has failed, then you must vote No.
If you believe, as I do, that decisions are best taken by democratically elected politicians, then you must vote No.
Article 3 of the Austerity Treaty seeks to impose a harsh structural deficit target of 0.5%. This will mean at least €6 billion more austerity post 2015 – this will mean more taxes on low and middle income people and more cuts to front line services in health, education and community services.
Article 4 of the Treaty requires us to reduce our debt-to-GDP ratio by 1/20th a year from 2018. If the economy does not perform well this could lead to even deeper cuts and higher tax increases in order to reduce the debt.
Article 5 gives significant new powers to the European Commission to impose fiscal and budgetary prescriptions on member states deemed to be in breach of the rules.
Article 9 gives the European Court of Justice the power to impose fines of up to €160 million on states deemed to be in breach of the rules.
And by giving these harsh rules and tough enforcements the force of international law and the protection of our Constitution we are making it almost impossible to change them.
Austerity is not working. It is hurting people, damaging our society and blocking a return to economic growth.
We need a change of direction. We need investment in jobs. We need to stand up for Ireland. We need to vote no on May 31st.
In the 26 counties 90 people a day are emigrating. Half a million people are unemployed and 170 homes are reposessed over three months.
In the 6 counties £4 billion has been taken out of the block grant and on top of that the welfare system is being decimated.
And all of this is done in the name of austerity without any understanding or care of the devastating consequences for the ordinary people who have to face reduced take-home pay in real terms, higher costs of living, the burden of bank debt and cuts in public spending.
But we’re all in this together, right? Well, not quite.
The financiers, the bankers, the corporate executives, the holders of private equity and hedge funds, those faceless financial gamblers who lie at the root cause of the recession, are living pre-recession lifestyles whilst the rest of us live with austerity as a fact of life.
Granted, since 2008 some tighter financial regulations have been put in place but the necessary reform of economic policies has not happened.
Regulations are still not restrictive enough and reform has fallen far short of what is needed to prevent 2008 from happening again.
The pre-2008 economic system is pretty much still intact.
The financial sector continues to operate largely unregulated - like a casino full of Reckless Gamblers who, like Financial Vampires, are still taking chances with other people’s money, who exploit pension, insurance and savings funds, as well as the profits from genuine labour and business, and are still amassing billions in personal wealth that is stored far from the reach of the public purse.
Banks and Corporations continue to stock pile cash, Top Executives, Bankers and Financiers are still increasing their wealth.
Vodaphone has built a cash surplus of $14.3 billion; BP has built $12.8 billion.
In 2009, bank bonuses were at the same level as that year’s lending to small businesses; and almost 3,000 employees from the City of London, and around 300 employees at the Royal Bank of Scotland and employees at the Anglo Irish Bank, earned more than £1 million each in bonuses.
Added to the difficulties within the financial sector we also face duplication costs by having to pay for two of everything: two health services; two education systems; two transport infrastructures; two administrations.
In the North we are fighting to gain more control over our sovereignty, while the South look ready to hand sovereignty over to Europe.
In both cases, we’re at the mercy of external powers who hold the financial purse strings. In the North, British rule; in the South, EU control.
Despite our limited powers in the North, we have strived to protect people
We rejected the introduction of household water charges;
we froze student fees;
we maintained free travel for Pensioners,
We widened the provisions for Free School Meals and introduced grants for primary school uniforms,
We invested £80 million for disadvantaged communities; and are we will find the same funding for the to assist the most vulnerable in our society and have already allocated and additional 22 million to those on benefits particularily pensioners and those in receipt of cancer treatment.
If Sinn Féin in the north can achieve all of this with such limitations, think of what we could do on an all Ireland basis.
With the sovereignty of our country in our own control, we could decide our own economic and social fate.
We could choose an economic model that would promote greater equality of wealth distribution through increased wages, progressive taxation and investment in businesses to create new jobs and wealth.
This is not some dream for a fantastical utopia. It’s an entirely realisable and practical solution that has been successfully applied already in other places and in other times throughout modern history.
So, let’s work together to put an end to the short-termism of the financial vampires who drain our economy and instead, return to the practical economic measures that will ensure an economic system based on equality and rights and all Ireland solutions in a united Ireland context.
Prior to the 2007 Assembly elections Sinn Féin set out a number of objectives around achieving fully democratically accountable policing and justice structures in the North.
Fundamental to those objectives was the transfer of Policing and Justice powers from Westminster to the Assembly and all-Ireland Ministerial Council.
Others said that we would never succeed but as with other seemingly intractable issues, through perseverance, determination and negotiation skills - we once again confounded the naysayers.
In 2007 Alex Maskey, Martina Anderson and Daithi McKay took their places on the Policing Board and since April 2010 the Department of Justice has been in existence within the structures of government in the North. Sinn Fein has been to the fore of holding the Department to account and also shaping policy to bring about a fair and equitable justice system.
But simply because Policing and Justice are now under democratic control does not mean that much more change is required.
Indeed there are many issues which require radical reform and continuing scrutiny.
That is our challenge and that is our work.
Sinn Fein has played a critical role in exposing the lack of leadership and political interference within the Police Ombudsman’s Office. We brought to public attention how this interference was undermining confidence in the vital role this Office plays in accountable policing.
Sinn Fein publicly stated that under the leadership of Al Hutchison public confidence was being severely undermined and that he had no role in bringing that office back to where it needed to be.
Al Hutchison departure removes an critical obstacle to restoring and we welcome the appointment of Michael Maguire. He as the head of Criminal Justice Inspectorate is aware of the task and challenge before him. We pledge our support to make the Office the effective accountability mechanism it has to be.
Our members on the Policing Board have exposed the practice of retiring and rehiring for what it is – an attempt to circumvent normal standards and practices. In the old days this would have went undetected so the efforts of Gerry Kelly Pat Sheehan and Caitriona Ruane and their advisory group should be commended.
We welcome yesterday’s intervention by NIPSA in calling retiring and rehiring as jobs for the boys. The space to make this statement was created by Sinn Fein.
I want to put on record an acknowledgement of great work carried out by our members on the DPPs, we have turned them into the accountability mechanism that they were designed to be.
Their work will continue on the Policing and Community Partnerships. Some want to curtail their role, and fought and shaped them to ensure that accountability was one of their guiding principles.
Sinn Fein at Hillsborough sought and achieved at Hillsborough the need for radical reform of the Prison Service in the North. The Owers Team has outlined the way forward and we will ensure that reforms delivered. Now is the time for the old regime to move aside and the exit scheme for prison warders is freeing the prison system of the old customs and practices which stand in stark contrast of the needs of imprisonment in 2012.
Our work on the Youth Justice Review, the reform of the criminal justice system continues and will help us in providing a fair and equitable system of justice.
This Ard Fheis in motions call for the release of Martin Corey and Marian Price – our position is clear no one should be held on the revocation of a conflict related life sentence.
Under the terms of Weston Park Gerry McGeough should not be in prison.
Our work to promote a fair and equitable justice system will continue, we face many challenges and we meet resistance from those who oppose to change, those unaccustomed or resentful to scrutiny and being accountable - but that is a challenge we will face head on, confident in our ability to deliver and strengthened by the successes of the past year and beyond.
Sinn Féin has been at the forefront of pushing for positive change to transform the delivery of justice on the island of Ireland for over a century.
Our policy development team have developed a very progressive and comprehensive draft set of policy proposals in the Justice area which must now be finalised by giving members the opportunity to participate in its further development.
Over the years, we as Republicans have challenged unjust laws, unjust means and methods of policing, unjust means and methods of investigation and interrogation including torture, unjust courts, the corruption of the trial process, and inhumane prison conditions.
We did this not just for the benefit of political prisoners – but for the benefit of the community as a whole.
Due to the constructive interventions of republicans, fundamental changes in the landscape of Irish justice have taken place – and are continuing to take place.
But our work in this regard is far from done.
People still feel unsafe. People are still vulnerable to crime.
Rural communities are being faced with cuts to policing services based purely on a financial calculation from the Garda Commissioner, rather than local needs.
Everyone has the right to freedom from fear, and this is a challenge the Irish policing and justice systems must meet.
We must have effective policing as one of the mechanisms to combat crime – but we must also not allow that to draw us towards supporting policing strategies that are clearly not republican because they come at the expense of human rights.
There must be more than the sound-bites and gimmicks, more than the reactionary policies we all too often get from Government – they are quick fix solutions that simply won’t work.
If they did work then we wouldn’t have the levels of crime and anti-social behaviour that blight many of our communities.
As I have said, there are no quick fix solutions, this will be a long process and the solutions have to be socially and economically effective.
This approach is what makes us different to other parties.
We do not construct justice, social or economic policy based on knee jerk reaction.
Justice policy must be evidence-based. We must address what causes crime – prevention is better than cure.
We know from our research and international best practise of an evidence-based analysis of justice policy, that one of the main things that will cut crime levels, is ensuring the provision of community, economic development and the elimination of poverty, ensuring education and employment, having a rights-based society where housing, healthcare and equality are not reserved for the privileged few.
These are the things that reduce people’s insecurity and vulnerability to crime – not the populist gimmicks demanded by certain crime columnists.
Very often we see the creation of more laws, and new laws and regimes, so that the Government can be seen to be doing something about crime. They are token gestures.
A few years ago Michael McDowell introduced ASBOs. We said they wouldn’t work and they didn’t.
Justice is a core republican objective and it requires the rule of law – but rule of law must be rights-based and accountable.
Everyone has the right to freedom from fear, and to feel safe and secure in their homes and communities – and for this to happen there must be a more equal society, but while we are on the way to building that society, there is an obligation on the Government to ensure that the policing systems are resourced effectively.
There must be an increase in the proportion of Gardai on operational duty including through civilian support, response times should be quicker, and high visibility patrols must increase.
There must be an increase in greater foot patrols on the ground in communities. These are the things that reduce crime and lead to increased safety in communities.
The recession has been an exceptionally negative thing but there is now an opportunity for the Government to actually look at the solutions that work and what is cost effective.
Short-term measures cost more in the long term, but we have the capacity, as republicans to come up with effective solutions to crime in Ireland.
A Chairde agus gcomrádaithe
With the continuation of the economic crisis, unemployment and austerity in the 26 counties social issues have taken a back seat to discussion about bank debt, sovereign debt and bailouts.
One such social issue, a very core right which republicans strive for is housing.
But in many ways in the 26 counties housing has been taking the back seat for decades. Government policy has seen the end of any development and increase in the social housing stock of local authorities.
The responsibility of the state to provide a roof over the head of its citizens has been replaced with the need to form cosy deals with developers, landlords and speculators in order to enrich the few while hundreds of thousands are inadequately housed or not at all.
The economic crisis as I have said has only continued this pattern.
Last year the Department of Environment announcement what it termed “a radical new departure” in housing provision. Given the fact that what was outlined in the policy document this quote is taken from were nothing new, we must look at how the Department have pursued housing responsibilities since its publication.
The most glaring example is the very handsome deal squared with developers under NAMA that the department heralded as the Social dividend long sought by NAMA’s opponents especially Sinn Fein.
2000 units were to be identified.
Now 6 months later not one person has been housed by the deal and half the identified units have been deemed unsuitable.
But just were the details of this deal.
Really the word deal is misleading because the scheme setup by NAMA and the Department is nothing more than another feathering of the bed of developers who were instrumental in the states downfall.
The government plan to pay developers approximately 15 million euro a year for 20 years and then hand back the units for the developers to do with what they will.
That is an estimated 300 million over the lifetime of this scheme being paid to developers already bailed out by the public through NAMA and for nothing more than a 20 year lease.
We in Sinn Fein are committed to real social housing and state provision. To the true recognition of everyone’s right to housing.
The solution to the problems of the housing crisis and homelessness are within the grasp of the Fine Gael Labour government.
They must listen to us when we demand a real social dividend from NAMA and the recognition of the right to housing.
They must listen to us when we demand a target for ending homelessness, a dedicated strategy to deliver follow on housing and “housing first” and the equality proofing of all housing policy to ensure it serves everyone.
I welcome the motions to be debated on housing this year and encourage comrades to contribute to the discussion on what is an incredibly important issue for the people of our country.
May 26th, 2012
This has been a mighty year for Sinn Féin since we gathered in that historic Ard Fheis in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. We have fought a hugely successful Assembly election campaign in the north receiving the endorsement of the northern electorate as their political leaders and of course we made an historic and spectacular breakthrough in the southern general election. Republican politics is now at the heart of political life in this state.
Our TDs and senators have become the voice of ordinary people across the country ravaged by the austerity politics of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail. During my Presidential election campaign I visited every one of Irelands 32 counties. I was the only candidate to do so. And I did so because it was important to recognise the rights of Irish citizens outside the 26 counties, rights long ignored by the political elite in Dublin.
However in the course of that campaign, all of the other candidates from the other parties indicated support for the extension of Presidential voting rights for all Irish citizens, including those in the north and those forced to emigrate from their homeland. Hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens, including myself, where denied the right to vote, this is blatant discrimination and must end. And I want to give notice from this Ard Fheis that that this is a commitment we intend to hold this government to.
Talk during elections is one thing now is the time for action. Last night I spoke in greater length about the commencement of a process of National Reconciliation in Ireland. Our republican ideology is based on inclusion and recognition of the different cultural traditions and identities that share Ireland. I recognise that there are 1 million people on this island who are British and let me state here and now that as a proud Irish Republican I not only recognise the Unionist and British identity I respect it and in return all I seek is for my Irish identity and tradition to be respected as well.
Respect is a two way street. People who think that a new Ireland, a united Ireland can be built without unionist participation, involvement and leadership are deluded. During my Presidential campaign I called for the next decade of commemorations to become a decade of reconciliation, I reiterate that stance here today.
We have an opportunity to engage, learn and promote understanding between our different traditions but we also have a responsibility to ensure that the mistakes of the last century never happen again. As we look back over the last 100 years all of us and I mean all of us regret many of the actions and terrible events that resulted in conflict and death, we won't forget what has happened in our past but we also won't be constrained by it.
The recent convenient lecture by Peter Robinson in Dublin was an important and positive contribution to the need for the commemoration of our past history to support rather than to undermine the peace process. And indeed I was encouraged that the recent Orange Order commemoration of the signing of the covenant passed in a peaceful and dignified fashion.
Our future is in our hands it must be about building a new and shared community based on tolerance and respect. The naysayers say it can't be done, they pour scorn on all our progress and they focus on all the time on the negative, it is quite clear that the electorate north and south have a better understanding of where we are going – nothing is impossible.
There are still those in our community who claim to be republican and claim to still be fighting for Ireland, these people claim they love our country but clearly they don't love our people as the murder of Ronan Kerr a young GAA loving Police Officer in April last year showed. If anyone can claim to understand the mindset of those opposed to peaceful Irish Republicanism I think I can.
Those involved in these violent acts don’t believe for one minute that they further the cause of Irish reunification, what’s more they also know the agreements we have negotiated are solid and secure. They also know that the unity of the Irish people and their elected representatives in defence of our historic agreements will never be broken.
Nuala Kerr and Kate Carroll who I have met and respect are good people who are genuine and sincere supporters of peace and change, my message to those who remain committed to violence is that it is not much of an achievement to think that the only thing you have shown the capability to break are two fine women’s hearts.
And other families and other mothers have suffered likewise, including in my home city the families of Brian McGlynn, Jim McConnell, Andy Allen, Kieran Doherty and Emmett Shiels, shameful murders carried out by the enemies of the people Derry and of Ireland. The actions of these small groups underline their opposition to progress and their rejection of tolerance and change. These people present no alternative to the peace process or to building a better future, they talk about the conflict in romantic terms and criticise Sinn Fein.
Well today I want to send a message directly to them, I am offering them an opportunity to meet and talk, come and tell us what you hope to gain by deluding yourselves and the gullible that your actions will succeed in what is certainly a pathetic and futile attempt to turn back the clock. The war is over and we are in the process of building a new Republic and you can still be part of that.
There is plenty of room within the political process for voices who oppose the Sinn Féin strategy. I was part of the conflict, I was there during the difficult and tragic times we had in the past and let me tell you there was nothing romantic about the war, it was hard, it was painful and it was traumatic and I never ever want the children of Ireland who live today in peace to be subjected to the conflict, pain and hurt that we lived through.
I never want to be attend another funeral of a Police Officer or any other member our society who lost their lives due to violence, so I appeal to you for dialogue but I also say to you that the process of building a new future will continue with or without you, it is your call. Others in Derry have recently embarked on a series of shootings and beatings against vulnerable young people. Over thirty years ago I spoke out against such attacks and I do so again today.
These attacks are deplorable, they are not wanted and they need to end. Sinn Fein are moving forward regardless, we are progressive and forward thinking, proudly Irish and respectful of those that are not, our membership spans all the so called classes and our support continues to grow. However we cannot take our support for granted, we must work for the community, earn every vote and proudly represent the people who elect us to speak for them.
Through our work and with the peoples support we have made Sinn Fein a party of Government in the North and in the South we have made massive strides forward. It is up to us to give a voice to people silenced by poverty, by illness or by emigration.
Significant challenges remain ahead, but Ireland needs Republican politics like never before. Ireland needs patriots and Ireland needs leadership. As we approach the centenary of the 1916 Rising, Ireland needs a strong relevant and bold Sinn Féin party – standing up for Ireland and standing up for you.