It is wonderful to see so many people and I have no doubt that an interesting, challenging and productive weekend awaits us.
But let us be under no illusions, this is a hugely important Ard Féis for Sinn Féin.
In political, social and economic terms Ireland is now at a crossroads.
According to the spin from the Government parties we are now on the path to economic recovery.
We are led to believe green shoots are beginning to sprout and that in the not-too-distant future the recession will be a distant memory.
This is Fine Gael’s and Labour’s line.
It is also the line of top bankers, sections of media, pseudo economists, and others.
It is the line drummed into us by Brussels, by the Troika, the ECB and their apologists.
It is the line of neoliberal free marketers, the centre right, and the fiscally conservative.
Austerity as a route to recovery is now the accepted line of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail.
In the north, the conservative parties are following suite.
In the south the three parties for one reason or another all support austerity as a means of addressing the crisis.
But as we all know, Labour Party Ministers are willing to destroy their own party so they can wallow in the comfort and prestige of high office.
Having sold their political souls they now look forward not to a free and more equal Ireland, but to lavish pensions.
Fianna Fáil on the other hand are happy to embrace any policies, ideologies, and spin that gives the illusion of clear water between them, and the corrupt and incompetent practices of successive Fianna Fáil led governments.
Fine Gael in government is as always true to its roots and to the neoliberal market ideology that defines their class and politics.
The implementation of the brutal austerity policies that have ravaged entire sections of Irish society is no big deal to them.
After all, if you believe in the primacy of the market as the route to recovery, then people must take second place.
A chairde let me be very clear; Sinn Fein too is in favour of recovery.
But what we are not in favour of is recovery at any cost.
No – what we in Sinn Fein want is real recovery.
North and south Sinn Fein is standing up for ordinary people.
We are on the side of the poor, of middle and low income workers, of the unemployed, of the homeless, of the sick, the disabled and the elderly.
In our actions, our politics, and our policies and in our vision for the future we are unapologetically and unreservedly, - anti-austerity.
Austerity works for some - for the bankers, the well-off, the privileged, the rich, and the political class.
It works for the few - but not for the many.
North and south, it does not work in the interest of ordinary people.
We in Sinn Fein do not buy Fine Gael spin that things are getting better now that we are out of the bailout.
We don’t buy Labour’s excuse that without their presence in government budgets would have been more severe, and that life for workers, families, the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable would have been worse, were it not for their presence in government.
Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fail and the pro-austerity parties in the north live in a world of self-delusion and are in thrall to the politics of deception.
We in Sinn Fein know there is another reality.
We know that in Wexford tonight and right across the country there are households struggling to cope with real cuts, increased charges and rising prices.
There are the unemployed who are struggling to maintain some form of self-respect and dignity, while at the same time service a Celtic Tiger mortgage on an Austerity Ireland income.
There are the pensioners whose entitlements have been slashed, and who in this cold and wet winter have to choose between lighting a fire and having a hot meal.
Food or fuel – this is the cost of having Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail in power and of Tory cuts.
Ordinary people - men, women and children, it is from these that the price of power is most brutally extracted.
Irish society has paid a huge price for a pat on the back from the IMF, ECB and EU bureaucrats, and for the smug and grovelling politics of Fine Gael and Labour.
The lost generation – thousands of our young people who have had to emigrate for work – they have paid too high a price.
Low-paid workers: those on the minimum wage whose incomes have not increased since 2007 – they have paid too high a price.
Part-time workers and those on zero – hour contracts who are at the mercy of their employer and have no idea from week to week what hours they will be working, - they have paid too price.
But those of us gathered here tonight don’t have to be told this.
We already know all of this because these are our people.
They are the communities we live in, work in, and represent.
These people are our sisters and brothers.
They are our husbands, our wives, and our partners.
They are our children.
They are the people, north and south that Sinn Féin represents.
A chairde as we gather here this weekend let us send out a loud and clear message to the Irish people – we can do better than this – there is another way.
Sinn Féin wants real recovery for all of the people, north and south, east and west on the island of Ireland.
We want an economy that will provide our people with sustainable jobs and all workers with a living wage, and decent working conditions.
Our aim is to create a society where all of our people can live with respect and dignity.
Sinn Fein has the policies to achieve this.
They are in our Workers Rights document; in the South East Economy Development Strategy, in our Rural Ireland document, and in our Jobs Plan.
From housing to health and jobs to education Sinn Féin has policies that work for ordinary people and for families.
We are positive for the future and for the people of Ireland.
We know that unemployment, emigration, poverty and inequality are wrong.
And we know that real and genuine recovery is possible.
To achieve this, however, all of us who believe in a fair and just society must work in whatever way we can to challenge the status quo.
We must rattle the cage and burst the bubble of the political establishment.
We must bring an end to the cronyism and to the corruptions that has poisoned the political system.
We must challenge the class privilege and political elitism that distorts Irish society, north and south.
Real people deserve real alternatives.
Sinn Féin believes in real politics.
A politics based on equality, fairness and the collective good.
Sinn Fein is the only party that can deliver a better Ireland for all of our people.
We are the party that will build a 32 county socialist republic.
We are the party that will achieve a united Ireland.
But Comrades, none of this will come easy.
As we know from our past – the work liberation and freedom – is hard and often trying.
But we have come a long, long way in our struggle.
Let us make no mistake about it – our day will come.
Everyone, republican or otherwise who believes in freedom has their part to play in this phase of the struggle.
And let us make no mistake about it we have no right to believe that freedom can be won without struggle.
A chairde as we begin this weekend of debate and discussion, let us heed the words of Connolly.
If you remove the English Army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts will be in vain.
Go raibh maith agat.