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Gerry Adams MP Presidential Address Ard Fheis 2006


I want to welcome you all once again to this very unique gathering, the Ard Fheis of Sinn Féin. I want to greet our international visitors, our delegates, members and activists. Fáilte mór romhaibh uilig chuig an ócáid sainiúil seo inniu. Ard Fheis Shinn Féin. Beannachtaí ar leith dár gcairde idirnáisiúnta, dár n-ionadaithe, baill agus gníomhaithe.


I want to extend greetings also to republican prisoners and their families. Special greetings to our Friends of Sinn Féin from the USA, Australia and Canada. You are all very, very welcome.

I am also very conscious as we gather here in Dublin of the suffering of the families bereaved by the Stardust disaster - this week 25 years ago. Our hearts are with you all.

2006 is an important year for the people of Ireland. It marks both the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and the 25th anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strikes. Both events in their own way showed how ordinary people can change the course of history.

Beidh muid ag cuimhniú ar agus ag céiliúradh an dá ócáid i rith na bliana.

At this time 25 years ago, the men and women in the H-Blocks and Armagh had already announced that another hunger strike would begin on March 1st. Many people of my generation will remember that time well, although I always find it difficult to talk about it.

It is difficult to do justice to the memory of those who died on hunger strike.

I am still amazed that I knew such men. And for those who were close to the prisoners and their families there remains a raw emotional wound. It's also hard to recapture a sense of that time for those who weren't there.

Twenty five years ago Nelson Mandela was in gaol on Robben Island and apartheid looked set to last forever in South Africa. Twenty five years ago dictators of various hues were in the ascendancy. Maggie Thatcher ruled Britain; Pinochet's Chile was a byword for torture, and war raged on the streets of the Six Counties. The world was divided between the two superpowers, the United States of America and the Soviet Union. This also looked as if it would last forever.

But for many Irish people that period brings back immediate memories of those long 8 months in 1981 when Bobby Sands, Francie Hughes, Patsy O'Hara, Raymond McCreesh, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee, and Michael Devine, all died on hunger strike. Almost 50 died outside the prison. Seven, including three children, were killed by plastic bullets and hundreds were wounded.

Thug said a raibh acú ar son a gcairde faoi ghlas agus ar son saoirse na hÉireann.

The conditions which led to the hunger strikes were created when the London government, supported by Dublin, tried to criminalise republicans. The logic was simple. If there were hundreds of political prisoners how could the struggle be depicted as mere wanton criminality. The British decided that the prisons were to be a breakers yard for the republican struggle. The British government didn't want a settlement. It wanted victory.

But the republican prisoners, the women in Armagh and the Blanketmen, would not be criminalised. In extraordinary circumstances they took on the entire might of the British state.

I want to welcome the families of the hunger strikers who are with us here today. I want to remember Frank Stagg and Michael Gaughan. I also wish to extend our continuing support to all their families and the families of all our patriot dead.

Of course the grief and anger at the death of the ten hunger strikers extended far beyond their families and friends. Here in this city the political establishment sat in silence.

But Dublin came to a standstill. People stopped work, young people walked out of schools, many businesses closed, tens of thousands took to the streets in scenes that were replicated across Ireland and the world.

In censored times, the prisoners cut through all the spin and disinformation. Everyone took sides. Either you supported Thatcher or you supported the prisoners.

After the strike ended and 10 men were dead the British government moved to bring about the prisoners five demands. The prisoners won but at a terrible price. British government policy failed, once again.

There are many stories to tell about this time, many lessons to be learned. Over the coming months I recommend that people take part in the events which are taking place to commemorate the Hunger Strikes.

Tá féilire ar fáil ón Choiste Cuimhneacháin Náisiúnta.

1916 Rising

What was it that inspired Bobby Sands and his comrades to engage in struggle, what was the vision that sustained them in those prison cells. 90 years ago a small number of men and women went out onto the streets of this city and challenged the greatest superpower of the day. They were poorly armed and for the most part poorly trained. But they had big hearts, boundless courage and determination, and an overwhelming desire to free Ireland.

For many of the republicans, especially Connolly and Pearse they also saw their endeavour in wider global terms and especially in the context of British Imperialism.

The British Empire was the biggest the world has ever seen. The Empire on which it was claimed, the sun never set. So large were its conquests that it stretched around the world. Over a quarter of the earth's landmass was incorporated into this Empire and London imposed its rule over 500 million people and scores of colonies. It is no accident that these include some of today's worst troubled regions, from Iraq across the Middle East to Africa, still dealing with the legacy of colonialism.

The Republic

In Ireland in 1916 things changed utterly, for the British, but also for the Irish. A Republic was declared. But not just any Republic. This Republic was uniquely democratic and determinedly inclusive.

The core values of this republic were mapped out in the Proclamation.

The Proclamation hangs in many homes. It prefaces many books. I would appeal to you all to read it - really read it.

The Proclamation is a freedom charter for this whole island and all the people who live here.

It guarantees religious and civil liberty and is avowedly anti-sectarian.

It promotes equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens.

And at a time when women did not have the vote it supported universal suffrage.

The Proclamation is a declaration of social and economic intent for a rights based society in which the people are sovereign.

These are not just clever words or empty rhetoric.

These are great words, great ideas, which it is our task to see implemented.

Those who most immediately understood its significance were revolutionary Irish women. One of these, Margaret Skinnider, was wounded during the fighting in Dublin in Easter week. Afterward she said: "… in the Constitution of the Irish republic, women were on an equality with men. For the first time in history indeed, a Constitution had been written that incorporated the principle of equal suffrage."

This view was echoed by Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, who said: "It was the first time in history that men fighting for freedom voluntarily included women." There are lessons for others and for all of us here.

Honouring 1916

I welcome the Taoiseach's announcement that the state will mark the anniversary of 1916. How this is done will be important. And it's good that there will be consultation on this issue.

Is a military parade of two and a half thousand soldiers the best way to do this?

I don't think so.

An inclusive, civic and cultural celebration, which educates us all, particularly about Irish republicanism, which measures our society against the Proclamation, is the best way to honour the visionaries of that time.

The reason for the re-establishment of the state event has been the accusation that Sinn Féin hijacked the legacy of 1916.

This party is part of that legacy. We never hijacked 1916. It is not the sole property of any political group or any political party.

The truth is that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, and all the rest of them abandoned 1916.

Mo chlann féin do dhíol a máthair, mar a dúirt an Piarsach.

They also rewrote the Proclamation. In their writ the ownership of Ireland belongs not to the people of this island but to the giants of globalisation.

In their writ the right of the people of this island to the unfettered, indivisible and sovereign control of our destinies has been handed over to the bureaucrats of the European Union.

In their writ there is no notion of cherishing all the children of the nation equally. They cherish only those who can pay for it.

In their writ our right to national freedom and the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts has been set aside in the interests of the few.

So it is a good thing that the state is to mark the 1916 Easter Rising.

The Proclamation of the Republic is the most important and abiding legacy of that time.

It has outlasted the counter-revolution, the savagery of the civil war and the partition of this island.

Ireland today is a country in transition. But the core values of the Proclamation are as relevant in 2006 as they were in 1916. And a lot of unfinished business has to be completed if we are to build an Ireland of equals.

Five great strategic challenges

This evening I want to set out the five great strategic challenges facing Sinn Féin.

First and foremost we must concentrate our efforts on the current negotiations. Our task is to advance the peace process and ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented in full. Included within this will be the deeply problematic issue of policing in the north.

Another great challenge is the need to develop an entirely new relationship with unionism. Our engagement with unionism must deepen and broaden in the time ahead. This is a major challenge for this party and I would urge everyone, every activist to take up this challenge personally.

The third great challenge facing this party is to build support for Irish unity in Britain.

There is a potential to create in Britain a solidarity movement similar to that in the USA.

Another great challenge will be to build an Ireland of equals. We want to advance the all-Ireland agenda, to make partition history and to campaign for an Ireland of equals. Our task, like that of all other progressive forces in Ireland, is to actively change Ireland, day by day, based on the republican principles of equality, liberty and solidarity.

Our fifth strategic task is to build Sinn Féin. There are more republicans in Ireland today than at any time in our history. There are many more republicans on this island than there are members of Sinn Féin. I want to call on you to join Sinn Féin, to help us to push forward with our agenda for change. I especially want to open up our party and our leadership to women. We need more women involved in our decision making processes.

Five big strategic challenges - and the biggest challenge is we have to do all of this at the one time.

Is obair crua a bheas ann, obair trom ach tá muidne reidh dó.

They are all equally important and necessary for the success of our struggle. But they are no less than this party is capable of achieving if we plan and organise and build our capacity properly.

Historic IRA decisions

It is over ten years since the historic decision by the IRA to call a cessation of military activity. This last year, in some respects saw an even more momentous decision with the IRA's decision to formally end its armed campaign and put its weapons beyond use.
I want to commend the courageous and confident vision of the Volunteers of the IRA.

As I said in my appeal to the IRA last April:

'In the past I have defended the right of the IRA to engage in armed struggle. I did so because there was no alternative for those who would not bend the knee, or turn a blind eye to oppression, or for those who wanted a national republic.

Now there is an alternative.

I have clearly set out my view of what that alternative is. 'The way forward is by building political support for republican and democratic objectives across Ireland and by winning support for these goals internationally.'

I also said that those who oppose change are not going to roll over; 'It will always be a battle a day between those who want maximum change and those who want to maintain the status quo.

But if republicans are to prevail, if the peace process is to be successfully concluded and Irish sovereignty and reunification secured, then we have to set the agenda - no one else is going to do that.'

The decision by the IRA to move into a new peaceful mode places an enormous responsibility on all of us to seize the moment and to make Irish freedom a reality. I believe that this generation of republicans can make good the promises of the 1916 Proclamation.

But the decisions by the IRA were undoubtedly deeply difficult for many. There are republicans still trying to come to terms with it many months later.

Sheas na hÓglaigh sa bhearna baoil leo féin thar na blianta fada. Mhol muid iad ansin. Nuair a thaispean said misneach anuraidh mhol muid arís iad. Agus molaimís iad inniu.

Indeed undoubtedly there are some who believe that the IRA has made a mistake. They are entitled to their opinion but to no more than that. No one should harbour the notion that the republican struggle can be advanced any further by an armed campaign. This leadership is firmly opposed to such a departure.

The IRA initiatives also present challenges to others. No-one should under-estimate the contribution Oglaigh na hÉireann has made to the peace process. The IRA has removed themselves from the picture and those genuinely interested in peace need to stop looking for excuses.

The Peace Process

The peace process is arguably the most important issue facing the people of this island today. Progress will create stability, will create opportunity, will create wealth, will improve our standard of living. Success will generate a confidence, an excitement, an enthusiasm which will contribute to further progress. All of these things are interlinked and interconnected.

Failure will set all this back by decades.

So, the months ahead are critical.

I have made it clear from the republican perspective - the war is over. But, unfortunately, powerful elements within the British system have both a war mentality and the resources to sustain this. For them the peace process is war by other means.

We have told the British Prime Minister that this is not acceptable. The British government has a responsibility to dismantle its war machine, to decommission its spy rings and spymasters and to take to its troops out of Ireland.

In my April appeal to the IRA I made the point that commitments, including commitments from the two governments, were reneged on in the past. There have been further examples of that since then.

History will not be kind to any government, whether it is the PD/Fianna Fáil coalition here in Dublin or the one led by Mr. Blair in London, if it puts party political considerations above the peace process.

There is no possible excuse for the British and Irish governments to not fully and faithfully implement the Good Friday Agreement.

This means the Irish government actively promoting the rights and entitlements of all citizens, including those in the north. The Taoiseach's decision this week to renege on his commitment to proceed with northern representation in the Oireachtas is not acceptable.

There is sufficient support for this within the Dáil - if the Fianna Fáil party truly supports the participation of northern MPs - nationalist and unionist. Rhetorical words about 1916 and the Republic need to be backed up by action.

Is poblachtánaigh uile oileánda sinn agus ní ghlacfaidh muid le níos lú ná atá i dteideal dúinn.

I want to direct some remarks to other republicans. (To those who are frequently labeled by the media as 'dissidents'.)

Obviously there are fundamental differences between us but all republicans and nationalists want a united Ireland, an end to British government involvement in Irish affairs, the release of all political prisoners, and an end to the harassment of the families of prisoners in Irish and English prisons, and much more.

I am asking that you look objectively at the current political situation.

I am asking that you carefully consider your options.

And I am calling upon you to debate these matters.

The Future of the Good Friday Agreement

The peace process is in many ways the reworking of the relationships between unionism and the rest of the people of this island. And between all of us and the British government.

British policy in Ireland has historically been the catalyst for conflict and division in our country.

British policy ultimately needs to be about ending British jurisdiction on this island.

An bhfuil said reidh go fóill leis an rud ceart a dhéanamh? Tcífidh muid.

The current phase of the political talks will decide the future of the Good Friday Agreement.

I have to say I have huge reservations about how the two governments are approaching these talks.

At this time they are pandering to the DUP.

Sinn Féin will listen attentively and respectfully to everyone's ideas. But the main objective of these talks has to be to end the suspension of the political institutions within a short time-frame.

The Sinn Féin leadership has told both governments, and I have told both Mr. Ahern and Mr. Blair directly, that there can be no dilution of the Good Friday Agreement to allow for a two-tier or two stages approach or British appointed Commissioners, to run the north.

British direct rule is also not an option.

So, the focus of our negotiators in the weeks ahead is straightforward:

· An end to the undemocratic suspension of the institutions

· The triggering of the mechanism for electing the Executive.

· Delivery on outstanding aspects of the Agreement.

· The conclusion of the debate on policing on the basis set out in December 2004

· And the delivery of a peace dividend for the north and border counties.

In other words we look to both governments to honour their commitments, publicly made and thus far unfulfilled. That is our agenda for the talks.

Unionism

I said that we face five strategic challenges. One of these relates to our relationship with unionism.

Partition has failed. It has failed the people in the south. It has failed nationalists in the north. It has failed the very community it was designed to safeguard. It has failed unionists.

Even within their own rationale partition has no economic merit. On the contrary all economic advantage lies in Ireland as a single island economy.


Within the north the large unionist dominated industries have disappeared.

Discrimination in the workplace is being challenged. The northern economy has failed. The position of superiority and influence enjoyed by unionists is being replaced by equality. That is good for everyone.

Unionist working class communities are ravaged by unemployment and educational under achievement. This is bad for everyone.

No unionist leader can believe that British direct rule is benign. A terrible price is being paid in all of our communities in the North as a result of British Direct Rule.

This includes job losses, privatisation, education cuts, falling incomes for those working in agriculture, a failure to produce any strategy to deal with suicide prevention, and much more.

The best people to make decisions about the lives of people in the north are people who live there.

An gcreideann duine ar bith in Éirinn nó i dTír na Sasan fiú nach dtig le daoine áitiúil post níos fearr a dhéanamh sa rialtas sa tuaisceart?

There are many good people within unionism.

People who care about their community. People who want to see stability, peace and prosperity.

People, including in the PUP, the DUP and the UUP, who have worked with Sinn Féin in committees and at councils. People who want a say in decision making.

So there are challenges for unionism and questions they need to answer.

I have a question for Ian Paisley - are you ready to begin the process of building a shared future?

One thing is for certain, Sinn Féin is not going away.

And there is another thing that all of us can be certain of - change will continue. And the best option for unionists and the rest of us is to collectively manage the changes that are coming.

Regardless of the disposition of the DUP, republicans need to engage with unionist communities. We need to talk about the future. Everyone has the right to guarantees for their civil and religious liberties. Republicans need to talk to unionists about this. We need to listen to their concerns. We want to talk about Irish unity, about safe guarding everyones rights and identity.

It is within our collective ability to resolve problems. For example, the annual crisis caused by the small number of contentious loyal order parades must be sorted out.

This requires positive political leadership and meaningful dialogue based on equality and mutual respect.

Sinn Féin has consistently supported such an approach.

We now must deepen our engagement, our understanding of unionism if we are to have partners in conflict resolution. The imperative of conflict resolution begs another question of Ian Paisley - Ian, is your war over?



International solidarity

One of the strategic challenges I spoke of earlier is to build a solidarity movement in Britain. Our struggle has a huge debt of gratitude to people there, to people in the USA, Australia, Canada and Europe, and to the government and people of South Africa. As we build on that support we must also be conscious of our responsibilities internationally.

Nuair a lás laochra Éirí Amach na Cásca an tine bheo i mBaile Atha Cliath nócha bliain ó shin spréigh an tine sin ar fud an domhain.

War in Iraq, conflict in the Middle East, countless wars in Africa, unimaginable poverty and deprivation across the globe, hunger, disease, environmental disasters and the fear of more to come, globalisation and the exploitation of workers, racism and sectarianism, injustice and oppression, are all huge issues which need to be tackled.

The reality of our time is that more money is spent on military projects than on aid or fair trade policies. At the same time impoverished nations in the developing world are forced to pay exorbitant foreign debt. If this money was diverted back into health and education, and the other goals set by the Millennium summit were implemented, the lives of 7 million children could be saved each year.

These are just some of the international issues which confront us. Our party will also continue to try to help in peace processes elsewhere, including in the Basque country, the Middle East, and Sri Lanka.

Ireland has a place in the world and a responsibility to change it. That is why I call again on the Irish government to immediately suspend the use of Shannon Airport for US troops traveling to the Gulf.

The recent video footage of British soldiers beating young Iraqis is a stark reminder of the dehumanizing aspects of conflict, and a familiar experience for many Irish people.

There should be real democracy in Iraq. Sinn Féin calls for the British and US governments to withdraw from that country and allow the Iraqi people to determine their own future.

An agenda for change - Fighting Inequality


The strategic challenges I have spoken about include the need to use our political strength to make real our vision of an Ireland of Equals.

We want to develop a programme which makes republicanism relevant in the every day lives of citizens. We are about empowering people. Sinn Féin believes in strong communities which stand up for themselves and which stand by the weak, the vulnerable and the aged.

Society in this state is more unequal than it was 15 years ago at the beginning of this period of economic growth. Some are much better off, but many people are working longer hours and commuting long distances because they cannot afford to live near their place of work.

Caithfidh muid cinntiú go ndéanann an rialtas níos fearr!

There are also - to the Irish government's great shame - tens of thousands living in poverty. At a time of unprecedented growth, 15% of all children live in consistent poverty, while one in four children are deemed by the government's own statistics to be at risk of poverty.

After 15 years of growth it is a disgrace that people are left waiting for days on hospital trollies, that people can't afford a home to live in and that the transport system is gridlocked.

Health

In 1980 there were over 17,500 acute hospital beds in the Health service. Despite the increasing population there are now only 12,000.

This state has an under-resourced and over-burdened public health system, yet it gives tax payers money to a thriving private health sector. Those who can afford to pay avail of the best that is available in the private system. This includes access to private beds in public hospitals. Health privatization is a reality in the 26 Counties.

Sinn Féin is committed to ending the two tier health service.

Sinn Féin is committed to the establishment of a public health system accessible to all on the basis of need and delivered to best-practice standards.

That's what people work and pay taxes for.

No one should have to languish on a hospital trolley in a corridor. Not in 2006, in the era of the Celtic Tiger. No one should be on a waiting list for years.

Comhionnanas do gach duine in Éirinn? Má tá an t-airgead agat.

Every citizen should have access to the same standard of care.

Why? Because people have rights. That, Ms Harney, includes the right to a public health system. If you want private hospitals use your own money. Stop using the taxpayers money to fund your friends in the private sector.

Housing

There are almost 44,000 families on the social housing waiting list; there are thousands more with mortgages they can barely afford.

House prices continue to rise faster than wages. Building land around most of our cities, and especially in Dublin, is controlled by a tiny cartel of builders and land speculators who have friends in high places.

They have no interest in letting prices fall - their interest is bigger profits. This is not sustainable and it will be ordinary homeowners who will be at risk.

The current system is not working. Affordable and social housing should be provided directly through local authorities and voluntary organisations.

The money is there to do this.

But, it will require a government strategy, backed by sufficient funding and political will to achieve this. A strategy that puts the needs of the many in front of the profits of the few.

Does anyone think this government has the will or the strategy? No chance. But Sinn Féin has.

Childcare

There was a very belated but nonetheless welcome recognition by Fianna Fáil and the PDs that their policy on childcare has failed children and families.

Having recognised the problem, however the government's response was pathetic.

• They should have brought in an immediate increase in paid maternity leave to six months, with a rapid extension of leave to one year thereafter.

• They can also afford to introduce paid paternity leave. And, the introduction of a comprehensive and free pre-school system for all under fours.

If these bold steps were taken the other remaining problems such as supply of places would be much easier to solve.


Irish language

Sinn Féin is in the business of promoting the use and status of the Irish language. As we celebrate the anniversaries of the Easter Rising and the Hunger Strikes let us remember how the language inspired both these generations of republican activists. The hunger strikers all made the effort to learn Irish under even in the most atrocious conditions.

So, let us make time for the language.

Let's continue to

• Promote and develop activities to bring life to the Language Act in the south.
• Campaign on and support the demand for an Irish Language Act for the 6 Counties.
• Defend the status of Irish in the southern education system - teaching methods do need to be improved and modernised. But any move to sideline Irish should be opposed. Irish should remain at the core of our education system as a living, spoken language.

In the near future Sinn Féin's Cultural Department will be unveiling a draft plan which aims to put activism on the language at the heart of Sinn Féin activity.

We seek to move from being a party with sound policies on the language to having a comprehensive strategy which will see the emergence of a bilingual party with a vision to put the language back into the lives of the people of Ireland.

Migrant Workers

The experience of the Irish abroad in the 19th and for much of the 20th centuries is now a depressing feature of life for others in 21st century Ireland.

The fact is that there has been a gradual EU wide drive to erode the conditions in which workers are employed.

The EU Services Directive would allow private companies to undercut public service providers by employing people on the salaries of their country of origin. Amendments adopted in the European Parliament this week were deceptive - the country of origin principle may have been renamed, but it remains at the heart of the directive.

This would open migrant workers up to even greater levels of exploitation, with no protection, while creating the real prospect of indigenous workers being displaced by migrant workers.

The government and other parties are complicit in this.

This is evident in its lack of commitment to the rights of migrant workers; and by its ongoing refusal to ratify the 1990 UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

It is also evident in the way in which the Government has pursued a minimal enforcement of existing labour law.

Sinn Féin welcomes new communities of all nationalities to our country. We reject racism and discrimination in any form. It is good that many people are coming here to work. Immigrant workers are not the problem. The problem is unscrupulous employers who exploit immigrant workers with low pay and poor conditions.

Unlike the Labour Party leader, Sinn Féin will not embrace populist policies which risk setting one group of workers in the existing workforce, against another group of migrant workers.

Seasann muid le chéile le cosmhuintir na tíre seo agus ní ghlacfaidh muid le ciníochas ar bith.

You don't have to be an expert on labour law to know that if Irish and migrant workers have the same pay and conditions of employment that this removes any financial benefit for unscrupulous employers who might otherwise seek to displace their existing work force. That's common sense.

A Fair Taxation system

The reality is that our people do not have to choose between being economically successful and building a more equal and successful society. We can do both.

The countries that are at the top of the global tables for their successful social models are also among the most competitive in the world

Those countries have high quality social services, health systems, and education systems and they spend a greater share of their wealth on those services than Ireland. Sinn Féin is about building public services.

There is now the wealth in this state to ensure:

• That every sick person who needs a hospital bed gets it when they need it

• That every child can grow up in modern Ireland without poverty and with good childcare and education

• That everyone can have a home

• That there can be decent pay and conditions of work for all sectors.

I want to call on the Social Partners to put the provision of quality public services at the top of the agenda in their current partnership talks with the Government.

The well being of a state cannot be measured only by how much wealth it produces. The real test is in how that wealth is used for the benefit of citizens.

The real test is the equality test.

This state fails that test - miserably.

In 2005 - the two major banks in this country AIB and Bank of Ireland made profits of almost 2.8 billion euros - and are liable for corporation tax at only 12.5%.

These banks are not even the worst cases. Of the top 100 individual earners in the South in 2005, 41 of them paid less than 5% income tax.

Meanwhile ordinary working people start paying tax at 42% on anything over €29,400 last year.

Sinn Féin would effectively tax high earners.

Sinn Féin would increase taxes on capital gains, property speculation and corporate profits.

Of course, our policies will be attacked by those who have mismanaged the boom years of the Celtic Tiger.

Expect more attacks on Sinn Féin including totally unprincipled efforts to vilify us in the time ahead.

Don't be distracted by this nonsense.

What we need to do is promote our own agenda and our own record.

Let the government defend its record. Fianna Fáil attacks Sinn Féin's economic policies while Fianna Fáil Ministers waste billions of euros of taxpayers money on failed vanity projects.

Fianna Fáil and the PD's preside over the systematic destruction of our agriculture industry and what is left of our fishing industry in this island nation.

They privatise our public highways and give their friends permission to erect toll booth, after toll booth, after toll booth.

They sell off public services, penalise working people and reward the wealthy.

They squander taxpayers money.

They hand over our natural resources to multi-nationals like Shell and jail the victims of this sell-out. I would like to take a moment to welcome Vincent and Maire McGrath and Micheál and Caitlín Uí Sheighin from the Rossport 5 campaign in County Mayo to our Ard Fheis and to assure them of our ongoing support. The west's awake. Maigh Eo abú.

The Mahon Tribunals have also focused once again on the payments made to crooked politicians by corrupt developers.

There is a certain irony in the fact that many of these payments were made in Conway's Bar at the corner of Parnell Street and Moore Lane close to the spot where Padraic Pearse brought an end to the Rising.

As Luke Kelly so eloquently put it;

'For what died the sons of Roisin
Was it greed?'

It is little wonder that the establishment abandoned the 1916 commemoration when they did. For many of these people they probably think of the GPO only as a place to buy brown envelopes.

New Arena of Struggle - Make partition history

Sinn Féin can look back over the last few years with some degree of satisfaction.

We have, along with others, been key architects of the peace process. We have increased our political strength on both sides of the border. I would like to welcome to the Ard Fheis our new MP for Newry & Armagh, Conor Murphy and all of the party's councillors who were elected last year. I would also like to make a special mention of Gráinne Mhic Géidigh, who has the proud distinction of being our first representative on Údarás na Gaeltachta.

But we still have a long way to go.

Of course there have been difficulties. Last year I pledged our support for the family of murdered Belfast man Robert McCartney. We continue to support them in their campaign for justice. Let no one be in any doubt about that.

Our party and our people are travelling through a time of great hope, great risk and great opportunity. And the road map is clear.

2006 sees Sinn Féin enter our second century of political activism in an entirely new area of struggle.

Bobby Sands once remarked; 'Everyone, Republican or otherwise has his own particular part to play. No part is too great or too small, no one is too old or too young to do something.'

I believe that there now exists for the first time since partition an opportunity for all political parties which espouse Irish unity, and democrats generally, to build a broad movement to debate and plan the type of Ireland we want to live in. A political strategy to deliver unity and independence is required - a strategy which addresses the concerns of unionists but which also carries forward the necessary work of making partition history.

Ireland and the world is a different place today from when the leaders of the Rising assembled on Easter Monday. It is a different place from when Bobby Sands began his hunger strike on March 1st twenty five years ago.

Our struggle has changed but our values and objectives remain. They are the core values of the Proclamation.

Níl aon amhras orm faoi sin.

Between now and our next Ard Fheis we have a big job of work to prepare for elections, north and south. Every party, including the government coalition partners, are already fighting the election.

So too is this party.

And, don't let the preoccupation of the other parties with Sinn Féin go to your head.

It will be the voters who will choose their representatives.

Hard work, sensible planning, good candidates and common sense policies - well presented - will make a difference.

We are serious about making change. This weekend Sinn Féin has published three major policy documents on enterprise and job creation, all-Ireland healthcare and Irish re-unification. We are serious about implementing these policies, north and south.

We will be in a power-sharing government in the north once again. And if we have the mandate and if we can secure an inter-party government and a programme for government which is consistent with our republican objectives, we will look at being in government in the south.

But we have no interest in any of these positions for the sake of it. Or for ministerial perks or to make up the numbers. Others have shown themselves more than suited to this task.

Our sole purpose of going into government is to bring about the maximum amount of change. We will never meekly serve our time. Our objective is an all-Ireland parliament for all of the people of Ireland.

The men and women of 1916 were visionaries. So were the hunger strikers.

We need to be visionaries too.

This is a time to be confident.

And to have faith in the changes we are making.

It has become almost a national pastime for Irish people to run ourselves down. Occasionally it is good to remind ourselves that Ireland - all 32 counties - is a great country. And we are proud of it.

Let's make it a better place for everyone who lives here.

Deanaimís cinnte go mbeidh saol níos fearr ag ár gcuid páistí ná an saol a bhí againn féin.

Bobby Sands had a word for all of us.

'Never give up' he said.

'No matter how bad or black or painful or heartbreaking, never give up, never despair, never lose hope.'

We, who live in much better times, have every reason to be equally determined and positive.

On Wednesday July 29th 1981 I visited the prison hospital in Long Kesh to meet the hungerstrikers. By that point Bobby, Francie, Raymond, Patsy, Joe and Martin were dead. Kevin, Tom and Micky died later

Among those I spoke to was Kieran Doherty. He died three days later after 71 days on hungerstrike..

I was awed by his dignity, as he lay propped up on one elbow, in his prison hospital bed, blind as a result of the hungerstrike.

Doc had a word for us all also.

'Lean ar aghaidh' he said. Advance.

'They think they can break us. Well they can't. Lean ar aghaidh, he said. Tiocfaidh ár lá'