Sinn Féin’s core objectives of promoting equality and building a united Ireland dictate all my work as Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure in the six counties. That is evident through a range of political strategies Sinn Féin is driving in relation to the Irish language, the major capital spend on new sports stadia, and the development of a positive and effective approach to the decade of centenaries now upon us.
Take the Liofa campaign which is increasing the inclusiveness and spreading the cultural richness of the Irish language. I was deeply proud to launch Liofa last September, with a target of generating 2015 fluent Irish speakers in the next three years.
Nine months on, over 1900 have already signed up and the campaign is spreading by the day. People from every walk of life have committed themselves to Liofa: from PSNI officers to GAA members; from DUP politicians to republican ex-prisoners; from those who have lost their fluency, to those who never had it. Young and old; from every background: in every area.
It is a campaign which I have launched throughout the north, and the appetite and enthusiasm for Liofa is inspiring. Mar shampla, tá mé ag foghlaim arís agus ag freastal ar mo rang gaeilge gach seachtain. Ma bhfuil mise abalta é a dhéanamh, thig le gach duine é a dhéanamh!
Those principles of equality and inclusiveness for the Irish language, are also at the heart of the new stadia programme I am directing. Costing over £110m, the three new sports stadia for gaelic, soccer and rugby represent one of the biggest capital projects that the Executive is bringing forward in the current term.
Sinn Féin as a party, and I as a republican activist and Minister of Sport, see the stadia programme as a major responsibility. But it is not just about bricks and mortar, or pounds and pence. It is about people and places, especially the most deprived and objectively needy in the six counties.
I have made it my Ministerial priority to ensure that effective contract clauses and equality policy mechanisms will be built into the development of the three stadia. The purpose of these initiatives will be to target sustainable employment and sustainable apprenticeships at the most objectively needy sectors of society, and at the same time ensure that local deprived communities in the vicinity of the new stadia gain maximum involvement and outcomes through wider social and economic returns.
This isn’t just about building new stadia: it’s about building a future for the most systematically deprived communities in the north. And while we are building that practical future, we also have to build a political future in which equality, inclusiveness, self-determination and respect for difference are at the heart.
That is why Sinn Féin will ensure that the current decade of centenaries into which we face will be commemorated and celebrated on the basis of those core republican values. That means Irish republicans being open to learning, understanding and appreciating the common history of this island in ways that we might never previously have considered.
It means unionists starting to engage with the republican reality that partition and the Orange state was bad for everyone on the island, because it allowed the British connection at Westminster to once more divide Irish people on the basis of a regime of malign apartheid and structured discrimination.
And it means that some politicians in the 26 counties who commemorate major IRA actions of one hundred years ago whilst at the same time facilitating modern illegal wars in the Middle-East through Shannon airport, should catch themselves on and finally accept that modern Irish republicanism – led by Sinn Féin – is truly delivering for the people and for the future.
Go raibh mile maith agaoibh.