GLAC PÁIRT I GCUR CHUN TOSAIGH na hÉIREANN

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This year marks the centenary of the 1913 Lockout , to be celebrated and commemorated throughout the country.  Regrettably what those brave men and women fought for 100 years ago has not been realised in the Ireland of today.

You cannot talk about workers’ rights and ignore the fact that the basic right to be represented by a trade union and have that union negotiate terms and conditions of employment for you is non-existent in the Ireland of 2013.

I meet countless workers who tell me their hours of work and wages are being cut, their employment conditions are being changed without their agreement but they have no recourse to a union for protection. Why?

Simply, because they fear victimisation, they fear bullying and they fear the loss of their job if they are even seen with a trade union representative let alone join a trade union, which can help give them the protection that they need.

Legislation must be brought forward to provide for the right to trade union recognition and also real penalties must be put in place for employers who victimise or adversely treat workers for joining a union. Employers have IBEC, ISME and a whole host of organisations to represent them, let us give workers the same basic fundamental right. Good and fair employers and business owners should support this as it shows respect for those who are the cornerstone of the enterprise.

Existing labour legislation needs to be strengthened, for example if a worker takes a claim in regards holidays that they are owed or an unauthorized wage cut, there are insufficient penalties for employers to deter them from breaking the laws.

Unfortunately along with the lack of penalties comes the lack of enforcement. There are many workers with successful claims against their employer but are left without a penny of the award in their pocket.Sinn Féin proposed legislation which would pass payments of these successful awards to the person concerned in the same way as it now does for redundancy and insolvency payments. The Government would then follow up retrieving this money from the employer concerned.

Perhaps the points raised of the right to trade union representation, penalties and enforcement are just too much to expect from a Fine Gael led government who seem intent on carrying on the legacy of the previous FF led government, protecting the vested interests of bankers, big business and their friends at the top.

Sinn Féin is not afraid to take this Government on and not afraid to legislate or fight to protect workers’ rights. I would urge working people to remember this the next time they go to the ballot box.

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Emigration:

“Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that hit a nerve.

“It happens to me on Sundays, during the intro for The Week in Politics.  De Valera’s famous boast echoes:  ‘No longer shall our children, like our cattle, be brought up for export.’

“Decades later, our young people remain one of our largest exports. The shadow of emigration hangs over every Irish town, parish and village, as people are leaving at a rate not seen since the Great Hunger.

“I think of dozens of my friends, relatives and neighbours who are gone. I could lose count. I know more people in Perth than I do in most Irish counties.

“Everyone has their reason for going. Some will thrive, some may not. Some will come home, many will not.

“I know that most would not have gone if they didn’t have to.

“They leave behind the empty place at the dinner table, the formerly lively pubs, where you see few young people outside of Christmas time, the GAA clubs where fielding a team is an achievement as big as winning anything.

“The life, vibrancy, and vitality is sapped from towns.

“We have an uncaring government, contemptuous of those citizens who have left. They are entirely excluded from the political life of the state: good enough to bring money home during The Gathering, but not good enough for a vote.

“I suspect the government is relieved and feels it can abdicate responsibility for them. There has been no serious effort to stem the tide of emigration.

“It doesn’t have to be this way.

“My generation is capable, intelligent, and innovative. We are workers with potential to help us economically recover. The government owes it to the Irish people, of all generations, to ensure we have the opportunity to do that.

“Our parents did not raise us for export.”

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A chairde – le cúig bliana anuas tá €28 Billiún bainte amach as an eacnamaíocht ag Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael agus Lucht Oibre i gcánacha agus i gciorruithe. 

Tá an cuir chuige Déine seo atá acu chun déileáil leis an ghéarchéim go díreach mar an gcéanna leis an cuir chuige atá ag páirti na gCoimeádach sa Bhreatain, Déine atá ag cur ciorruithe agus cánacha i bhfeidhm agus a bhfuil tionchur dhíreach aige ar an bhloc-dheontas a fhaigheann an Tionól sna 6 Chontae. 

Ach inniu sna 26 Contae, i ndiaidh cúig bliana den déine seo uilig, tá an easnamh níos airde ná bhí sé nuair a thárla an tobchliseadh eacnamaíochta. 

Anois, i ndiaidh na billiúin agus billiúin i gcánacha agus i gciorruithe, agus blianta de phian agus fulaingt ag muintir na tíre seo – ní bheadh iontas ar bith duit ceist a chuir – cén fáth ar bh’éigean dúinn dul tríd an oiread sin chun theacht ar ais chuig an áit cheanann chéanna ar thosaigh muid?

Nuair a chluinfidh tú an freagra, cuirfidh sé fearg mhór ort – Cuireann sé fearg ormsa.  Tá cúig bliana gan stad déanta againn ag tabhairt tarrtháil ar na bainc príobhaideacha.

Tá cúig bliana curtha isteach againn – le polasaí chun an eacnamaíocht a chúngú; le chiorruithe i gcaiteachas poiblí agus ag faisceadh na pingineacha deireanacha amach as na daoine. 

Rinne an dá pholasaí seo; tarrtháil ar an bainc agus cúngú an eacnamaíocht, boilsciú ar an easnamh agus ansin nar bhféidir é a laghdú ach trí na gnáth cháin–íocóirí a bhualadh arís agus arís agus arís eile. 

At the start of this crisis, Sinn Fein pointed out that were the government to follow a route austerity, of contracting the economy through taxes and cuts, it would lengthen the recession and it would destroy public service provision and whole communities.

We pointed out that it was not just morally bankrupt but economically foolish to pour billions of taxpayer’s money into dodgy banks while bondholders were rewarded in full.

It gives me no pleasure to say we were correct.

We in Sinn Fein didn’t have to wait for the former IMF head of mission to Ireland to tell us so as he did this week that it was wrong to pay off bondholders and impose austerity on the Irish people.

We have been beating that drum since the start of the crisis.

But Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Labour party told us that they knew better and what a fine mess they made of it. Unemployment at record levels, emigration at record levels, mortgage distress at record levels, poverty and child poverty growing public services slashed and vital supports to the most vulnerable withdrawn.

But the sad thing is they think they are doing a good job, they tell us we are meeting the troika targets. They tell us Merkel thinks we are special.  Our Enda, Eamon and Michael are the best boys in the class always first to raise their hands willing to offer this state as a guinea pig to test out the latest austerity approach from their EU Masters.

There was no easy way out of the economic mess that Fianna Fail created with their banker and developer friends but there was a better way and still is a fairer way.   

If we had followed a path of growth and recovery – if the government had invested in job creation in the same way it was happy to invest our money into broken banks – we would not have endured what we have over the past five years.

We would not have seen hundreds of thousands of our young people emigrate.

We would not have seen families driven to despair in mortgage distress.

We would not have seen unprecedented numbers forced to turn to the ST Vincent de Paul, soup kitchens and other charities to makes ends meet.

The reality is that it is not too late to admit that the austerity experiment has failed.

We have a choice over the next few years in this state.

We can choose to invest in jobs, to invest in people and to invest in recovery.

Or we can continue down a dangerous path of taxing low and middle income earners and cutting frontline services and workers.

For Sinn Fein the choice is obvious. We would grow the economy to recovery. We would make tax choices that are fair and we would eliminate only waste in public spending.

We would do this by reducing taxes on low and middle income earners and asking those at the very top to pay a bit more.

By a 13 billion euro jobs investment package  investing in people our economy and the future creating over 150,000 jobs in construction, tourism, IT, the public service and in renewable energy.

And we would resolve the distress mortgage crisis by removing the power from the banks who have failed to deal with the issue over the past five years. We would allow an independent panel to adjudicate of the appropriate solution for those that find themselves in mortgage distress. Solutions that would be determined on a case buy case basis and have debt write down as a central option.

Austerity has failed it is time for an alternative

This is our alternative, and it is better for the economy and better for our people.

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The Taoiseach Enda Kenny is doing his best to push through a cut of 34 billion Euros to the EU budget.

The damage his own government cuts are doing is not enough for him.

Along with his political soul mate David Cameron, he is determined to slash the EU budget.

Tories in government in Dublin and London working hand in hand to impose austerity in Ireland and across the EU.

Without doubt, there is waste in the EU budget. For example, €180 million could be saved by stopping the monthly travelling circus to Strasbourg.

But what will be most affected is the real economy - getting people back to work, rural communities, cross-border infrastructure, community groups and SMEs.

The total EU budget amounts to a grand total of 60 cents per person per day - not even the price of a cup of coffee.

But the damage done by the proposed cuts will be a multiple of the amount actually cut.

If used well the EU budget could promote social and economic development - delivering growth and jobs.

To do this, it should be imaginative, forward-looking, flexible and transparent.

The criteria for applications must be simplified to allow small local groups and SMEs to draw down funding.

And the procedures for assessment of applications must also be streamlined and speeded up to produce results on the ground.

Sinn Féin has led Irish opposition to proposed EU cuts - even getting Labour and Fine Gael MEPs to vote with the majority of the European Parliament and against their own government.

Unfortunately the Unionist MPs and MEPs are fully signed up cheerleaders for the British government and have enthusiastically supported the cuts.

Sinn Féin is standing up for you in Leinster House, in the Assembly and in Council chambers across Ireland.

Standing up for you in the European Parliament.

Standing up for Ireland - because let's face it, the Dublin government won't do it.

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A Decade of Centenaries

 As we gather our people are hurting.

Unemployment is at an all-time high, young and old are emigrating, and workers’ pay and conditions are seen as fair game by those in power.   

Austerity is the order of the day. Ireland’s sovereignty and its very independence are in question.

If we go back one hundred years to 1913 the similarities abound.

Back then the powerful and wealthy sought to control, demean and oppress the working classes.

The 1913 Dublin Lockout is testament to this.

Indeed the years from 1912 through to 1922 are littered with key historic events.

From the founding of Cumann na mBan in 191, to Pearse’s oration at O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral and the start of World War I.

The confusion and mayhem of the decade reaches its zenith in 1916 when brave Irish men and women, against all the odds, take on the British Empire.

As we embark on this decade of centenaries let us remember their bravery in the face of fierce and overwhelming opposition.

 Let us remember too that in every struggle, in every battle, women fought side-by-side with their male comrades.

 Let us remember that the struggle for workers’ rights is just as important now as was in 1913:

 That the struggle against poverty, poor housing and for decent universal health care continues.

 That the struggle for self-determination, particularly economic independence is just as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago.

 Therefore when we engage in the task of commemorating let us do so with the aim of advancing the struggle for a New Republic.

 If we are to truly honour all fallen republicans, and to do justice to the ordinary Irish women and men who struggled for freedom, and against poverty , exploitation and injustice  then let us not be found wanting in the task ahead.

That is to complete the unfinished business of Irish independence and to work tirelessly towards achieving a democratic 32-county socialist republic.

 An Ireland of equals.

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Tá Sinn Féin ag tacú le cearta ár dteanga dhúchais agus táimid tiomanta chun an Ghaeltacht a chosaint, a chaomhnú agus a chur chun cinn.

A chairde Gael agus a dhaoine uaisle, tá Sinn Féin tiomanta chun an Ghaoluinn a shlánú agus a fhorbairt go Náisiúnta. Is é seo ceann de phríomh chuspóirí ár bpáirtí agus táimse, mar Oifigeach Náisiúnta Gaeilge mar aon le daoine eile i Sinn Féin ag obair go dícheallach ar bhonn laethúil ar an chuspóir sin. 

Faoi láthair, tá an Rialtas reatha seo ag déanamh scrios ar an Ghaeilge agus ar an Ghaeltacht, Tá an Straitéis 20 bliain don Teanga caite ina phraiseach acu, Tá an daonlathas bainte amach as Bord Údarás na Gaeltachta acu, tá ísliú céime tugtha do Oifig an gCoimisinéire Teanga, tá srian mór á chuir ar oideachas tré Ghaeilge, tá an Comhairle um Oideachais Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoileanna i mbaol.  Ní leor an pacáiste tacaíochta teaghlaigh atá Roinn na Gaeltachta a chur ar fáil, tá ciorraithe ar bhuiséad Radio na Gaeltachta, is le déanaí a cuireadh glais-láimhe ar dhuine a bhí ag iarraidh á theanga dhúchais a labhairt – leannán an liosta do-chreidte seo ar aghaidh agus ar aghaidh… 

Tá Sinn Féin ag tacú le cearta ár dteanga dhúchais agus táimid tiomanta chun an Ghaeltacht a chosaint, a chaomhnú agus a chur chun cinn.  Is as ár dteanga dhúchais a d’fhás ár gcultúr, ár litríocht, ár gceol, na healaíne go léir: is í ár n-oidhreacht, ár stair agus ár bhféiniúlacht í an Ghaeilge. 

Tá sé mar phrióireacht ag Sinn Féin go mbeadh córas oideachais againn a láidraíonn agus a thacaíonn le forbairt agus fás na Gaoluinne agus tá an t-am tagtha chun gníomhaíocht teanga a chuir i bhfeidhm go Náisiúnta.     

Tá sé in am an Acht Teanga a bhí mar pháirt de Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta a chuir i bhfeidhm agus na cearta teanga cothrom a chinntiú dár gcomhleacaithe agus ár gcairde ó Thuaidh.  Tá Líofa ag forbairt agus líon na bhfoghlaimeoirí Gaeilge ag fás go láidir.  Is léir uaidh an éileamh atá ar oideachas tré mheán na Gaeilge san Tuaisceart go bhfuil géar ghá leis an ghealltanas a tugadh i gComhaontú Chill Rimhinn i nDeireadh Fómhair 2006 a chomhlíonadh láithreach. 

Tá I bhfad níos mó i gceist le Gaeilge ná modh cumarsáide amháin, is seod luachmhar í.  Táimid preamhaithe léi, tugann sí cosaint dúinn, tugann sí féiniúlacht dúinn,  mar dhaoine – míníonn sí sinn,  ach chun an teanga Ghaeilge a shlánú – caithfidh go mbeidh sí a húsáid mar ghnáth mhodh cumarsáide go laethúil; - mar a déartar  “Beatha Teanga í a labhairt

Language has no borders, it can unite us, it can define us and give voice to  our unique Irish cultural identity within a global context.

We are the caretakers of our language agus tá  Sinn Féin anseo le brú a choimeád ar an Rialtas chun a ndualgaisí maidir leis an Ghaeilge a chomhlíonadh – caithfear a chinntiú go mbeidh sí faoi bhláth do na glúinte amach romhainn.

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“It always seems impossible until it's done.” – so said the former South African President Nelson Mandela.

While he was clearly talking about the great struggle for liberation in South Africa his words are as relevant to those of us here involved in 40 years of unbroken struggle

Impossible, Unachievable and Undeliverable are not words that are part of our vocabulary.

We are the doers, the achievers and the deliverers.

Politics for us is not about gaining political strength for the sake of it – politics for us is about how you use that strength.

We are the only political party in this State putting forward a sensible and coherent alternative to the failed politics of austerity – introduced by Fianna Fail and slavishly followed by the coalition.

You see being in government is about making choices – choices which impact directly on peoples’ lives.

And I say that as somebody who jointly leads a coalition.

We chose not to have water charges – the government here made a different choice

We support free universal healthcare – the government here made a different call

We chose to invest hundreds of millions in new school builds and in capital projects to stimulate the economy and boost the construction industry.

We chose to break from Westminster and protect the EMA payments to young people in education and to refuse to raise student fees.

And there are countless other examples of choices we chose to make– be it investment in new sports stadia, the development of the Long Kesh site, the rates relief scheme for small businesses or investment in heath -  and that is within the constraints we work without the necessary fiscal powers.

So don’t be fooled by the efforts of some in this state who claim as they do not have any choice in the decisions they make.

Everyone in government has choices to make.

John O’Dowd in education made the choice to invest in £180m in new schools. But that is only part of the picture. What we are about in education is raising standards and ensuring every child reaches their full potential and in two recent surveys the standard of primary education in the north came out top in the English speaking world.

But I would appeal again to unionists to seriously look again at this issue. It is simply not credible for you to complain as you have in recent months about educational underachievement in the Protestant Working Class and then stand up and defend the very system of academic selection at 11 which delivers this. And people living in those areas need to make their voices heard– does mainstream unionism really represent your views on this and a raft of other issues?

I wish to commend the efforts of our Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill in dealing with the recent weather crisis. Her prompt action undoubtedly helped alleviate some of the hardship in what was a totally unprecedented situation.

Carál Ní Chuilín’s Liofa initiative has hit a chord with people across Ireland and it has been particularly encouraging to see people from traditional unionist background embracing the language.

Again ordinary unionist people taking a lead and waiting on their political leaderships to catch up. It is time for the irrational opposition to Irish language and culture which some within political unionism adopt to end.

And on that note I would wish to extend an invite, to all here and watching at home to visit Derry this year as we celebrate the City of Culture and in particular I look forward to Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann taking place in the north for the first time.

Jennifer McCann as a Junior Minister has been taking the lead in working with the survivors of the horrific institutional abuse which took place not just in the 26 counties but in the north also. And I would appeal to any survivors who have not yet felt able to contact the inquiry to do. You have a right to justice and you have a right to have your voice heard. And as Deputy First Minister I am absolutely committed to achieving justice for you.

In the coming months we will be reviewing the operation of the political institutions. We will consider all proposals which have the potential for enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of government. Among these we include the size of the Assembly, the number of government departments and the north south institutions and joint working.

We will also be progressing the RPA which involves a new configuration of local councils and the formalising of power sharing arrangements in local government for the first time. Those who hark back to majority rule, or believe that the job of government ministers in the north is to deliver for one section of the community will find no comfort in the prospect of changes ahead.

Inclusivity and powersharing are the bedrock of the political institutions in the north. Any proposals for change will be meticulously proofed against both.

Enhancing and building confidence in the institutions must mean better delivery for everyone and it must mean those charged with the responsibility for this delivery fully embracing the principles of equality, mutual respect and genuine partnership.

As I said last night to the Ard Fheis I was unimpressed by the recent meeting I had with David Cameron.

He had no answers on the mess his government has made on the issue of corporation tax and he had even less to say on the issue of what has become known as welfare reform.

Welfare Reform is a misnomer for what is taking place under the Westminster government.  What we are witnessing is an attack on the most vulnerable, the sick, the disabled, those out of work because of the coalition’s policies and those on low incomes by a cabinet full of millionaires.  They are being made to pay for the excesses of the wealthy, of the bankers and the tax dodgers.

Let me be clear, Sinn Féin will resist this onslaught on the most vulnerable.  We will not tolerate the introduction of a “Bedroom Tax”.  We will deploy a petition of concern on this clause if it is brought to the floor of the Assembly.

We will not allow the erosion of the hard won rights of women to be diminished.  We will ensure that they are treated as equal partners in all payments.  We will campaign to ensure that people are paid a Living Wage rather than them having to depend on the state to help ensure a quality of life.

And I think the way the British government has approached this issue raises an important point for all of the Executive parties.

We need to have a proper and open debate on what is known as Parity. It has become increasingly obvious to me that the idea of parity with Westminster doesn’t work for people in the north. And not in any grand political way but in the practical reality that what works in the South East of England does not work in the North East of Ireland.

Let us have that debate in a sensible rational way and come to a consensus amongst the parties in the Executive on charting a new way forward.

There are real and significant challenges facing the Executive in the time ahead. But no challenge is insurmountable.

We are up for real partnership and real engagement. And that is both with those parties inside the political institutions and those outside.

I have offered dialogue with those republicans opposed to our strategy.

I have sought dialogue with the Orange Order in advance of the marching season.

I repeat those calls today and make it clear that there are no closed doors to my office for any section of society.

I am absolutely confident about the future of this island. I am also confident in our ability to reach new agreements, to build new relationships and to construct a new Republic built upon Equality.

That is the work of Republicans in the here and now.

More and more people share our vision of the future.

Those people now need to take the next step and join with us in a peaceful and democratic journey to Irish unity.


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In the past six weeks there have been two by-elections in Ireland.

And considering Míchaél Martin’s newfound interest in Republicanism we were naturally anxious to see how the Fianna Fáil candidate in Mid Ulster got on.

As it happened Fianna Fail got zero votes, as did the self titled ‘United Ireland party’ Fine Gael.  In the two by-elections held this year Sinn Féin secured almost 21,000 votes; more than double that of any other party and ensuring the election of Francie Molloy as MP and setting the bench mark so that Darren O’Rourke will be a TD at the next opportunity.

The message that Sinn Féin activists delivered in Mid Ulster was the same one that we brought to the doorsteps of Meath East.  It is the same message we are delivering across all 32 counties on a daily and weekly basis.

The message is clear – Austerity doesn’t work – whether it is being imposed by a conservative Tory government on the 6-county executive or by a conservative Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil government in this state. 

We can build a better, fairer, prosperous country.  And that is best achieved with a United Ireland.

Sinn Féin is committed to delivering it.  Are Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil?

Remember when they used to tell us that the conflict would never be resolved; could never be resolved.  That was their excuse for ignoring the six counties and the demand for a United Ireland.

And, now? Well, now they say ‘the north’s sorted’.

At this Ard Fheis we have something to tell them.

The north isn’t sorted.  Neither is the south for that matter, or the west or the east.

Not while we are wasting billions administering two health services, two education systems, two economies on a small island of just over 6 million people.

Not while billions more of our monies are being squandered to international bondholders and to the British exchequer.

Not while the potential of our nation is being curtailed because of an imposed border which is crippling our island’s development.

Ireland isn’t sorted.  And it won’t be.  Not until we have a political vision that can deliver a United Ireland.  Sinn Féin has that vision and more and more Irish people are embracing our message.

We want people to join us in delivering it.  That includes other political parties.

The first step is to hold a border poll, let’s start the debate, let’s spell out the benefits of a United Ireland to people in Dublin and Cork as much as to people in Derry and Belfast.

Let us today pledge ourselves to win the demand for a Border Poll; more importantly let us pledge ourselves to win the poll itself.

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As party spokesperson on environment, community and local government it’s been a very busy and productive year.

The Fine Gael/Labour party government is set on dismantling local government, imposing domestic water charges, has failed to deal with climate change, covered up a report on Sellafield and imposed an unjust tax on the family home.

Climate Change Bill

One of the biggest challenges facing our society is climate change. It’s effects can be seen globally and felt locally.

Despite Programme for Government commitments, we are still waiting for a climate change bill after two years.

We produced a Bill with the essential ingredients to deal with climate change and the introduction of five year targets.

When we introduce it, there is no reason why the Government cannot support this bill.

It will see the establishment of an independent Climate Change Commission to advise An Taoiseach on targets.

I would urge delegates to support Motion 57.

Water services

Our water infrastructure is crumbling and before you turn on your tap 40% has already gone in leakages.

Capital investment in water was cut from €435 million in 2011 to €331 million in 2012. That’s a cut of €100 million or almost 25%

Clearly it’s not the householder, but the water distribution network which is the problem.

Instead of investing in upgrading the mains supply network the Government intend wasting up to €500 million from the National Pension Reserve Fund on installing meters at every house.

I want to applaud our colleagues in the Assembly. When Conor Murphy was Minister they ensured that no domestic water charges were introduced and that remains the position today.

Sinn Féin will campaign to keep Ireland north and south a water charge free zone.

Turf cutters

The bogs of Ireland remain a huge natural resource for our people.

But consecutive governments have failed turf cutters and their communities.

Sinn Féin continues to support the rights of turf cutters and is committed to getting a good outcome for both them and the environment.

Sinn Féin has had discussions with the Turf Cutters & Contractors Association, Department Officials and the EU in an attempt to resolve issues surrounding the 53 bogs designated as Special Areas of Conservation.  We believe there is a basis for a solution based on a comprehensive plan to deal with all 53 bogs and SF will work to achieve this.

Wind Farms

Wind energy is part of the solution to our renewable energy needs. But it must be done in a sustainable way and serve the needs of society. Local energy needs must be met first and there must also be an element of local ownership.

Planning Regulations for all projects are urgently required.

The absence of regulations, even of the ‘light touch’ variety, is causing confusion and suspicion for communities. The current guidelines are useless and were introduced when wind turbines were much smaller. There must be a minimum distance between homes and the planned giant wind turbines and this needs to increase in line with their height.

I welcome Motion 59 as a starting point for the Party’s development of robust policy on this issue.

But we must move swiftly. Concrete has already been priced to anchor the bases of the giant turbines.

In the meantime there must be a moratorium on the construction of wind farms until proper Regulations are in place in the 26 Counties. 

Sellafield

FG and Labour promised open government. Well Enda & Eamonn, it seems like a long time ago since you uttered those words. And you have slipped back into the bad practise of cover up and spin so well perfected by Fianna Fáil.

The government are running scared from debating a secret report on the threat posed by Sellafield.

I have twice requested that the Dáil debates this report but was denied on both occasions. 

The report was commissioned as part of an agreement between the British and Irish governments.  Part of this 2007 Agreement was that the Irish government withdraw their case against Sellafield, which they duly did.

The report cost €4.8 million to the Irish tax payer. We are told it concludes that incidents at the Sellafield site resulting in the release of radioactive material would result in ‘no observable health effects in Ireland’.

This totally flies in the face of an earlier damning report from the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO).

In conclusion I would urge delegates to support motion 58 calling for the report to be published immediately. This cover up must not be allowed to continue.

I am urging delegates to support Motions 57, 58, 59 and 61.

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Reform and change were the buzzwords of the last general election two years ago. The current government secured a record mandate on the promise of a democratic revolution, no less.

Fairness, they proclaimed, was to be at the heart of this revolutionary enterprise.

We now know that the promises made in the course of that election were made to be broken; That, after all, is what you do in a campaign according to Minister Pat Rabbitte.

The rhetoric of reform has amounted to very little and the promise of change is squandered on a daily basis. 

As for the commitment to fairness, well that’s the greatest let down of all.

Women and children, families and workers have fared badly under this government.  

A government that sits complacently as unemployment and emigration remain the fate of hundreds of thousands of our people.

A government that says it understands how so many people struggle and yet heaps more hardship on those same families.

Cuts in child benefit, cuts to carers, in respite support, in home help hours, a tax on the family home, charges for water, hikes in third level fees – these have replaced the reform agenda which was promised.

Austerity has trumped reform and business as usual has killed off any chance of real change under this government.

Public services have been systematically undermined through a combination of cutbacks and tens of thousands of workers have been cut from the system.

While the tactic of pitting public against private sector workers, conceived of by Fianna Fáil, has been sharpened by this government which now operates a divide and conquer strategy amongst public sector employees. 

Cynical politics from a cynical lot.

Selling off state assets – like Coilte and Bord Gais Energy is not the stuff of reform.

Filling state boards with political cronies is not the stuff of reform.

Impoverishing low and middle income public servants and Croke Park 2 are not the stuff of reform.

The establishment of the Constitutional convention, while welcome has been limited in its scope.  Citizens giving so generously of their time could and should have been given the opportunity to consider more fundamental change.

The need for a charter of citizen’s rights, the need for a new constitutional framework to serve the new and emerging Ireland a framework to move this country to a rights based society.

The convention meets this weekend to consider the issue of Marriage Equality. Sinn Féin believes in the equality of all citizens and strongly supports the right of all citizens, irrespective of sexual orientation, to full legal marriage. This Ard Fheis wishes the convention well in its deliberations. 

We need a democratic revolution, nothing is surer – but it won’t be delivered by this government.

It will take Republican politics, Sinn Féin policies to do that.

This Ard Fheis meets in Mayo, the home County of Michael Davitt. There was a man who understood democratic revolution; Who championed the small holder, the citizen, who took on powerful vested interest; who fought injustice.

It is those qualities of grit, of vision, determination and commitment which are required to build the new Republic.

Women must have their full place in this democratic revolution. Our underrepresentation in public life must be addressed, once and for all. The talent, energy and experience that women bring to political decision making and change must be realised.

We can wait no more.

There’ll be no revolution without us. History tells us that.

There will be no equality or unity without us.

Irish men and Irish women together, le chéile, we can build a democratic revolution, a democratic united Ireland. We want the Republic and we won’t settle for anything less.

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The progress of our Peace Process shows what is possible through engagement and dialogue, but the events of recent months demonstrate the dangers of taking it for granted. In the north our people remain deeply divided by sectarianism and segregation.

There are still many people hurting in each community, and across our island. Since our last Ard Fheis there has been public discussion on the need for reconciliation in our society. That is to be welcomed. Sinn Fein has prioritized the goal of reconciliation because it will strengthen the Peace Process and is the right thing to do.

As republicans, we are committed to achieving the unity of our people, and persuading for an agreed, multicultural, united Ireland. Reconciliation is the only way to replace divisions with new human and political relationships among our people.

No single party or community can own a reconciliation process, or strategy. Whilst none of us can be absolved of responsibility for the injustices, practices or actions, which caused or perpetuated our conflict, we must all contribute to building a better society. Engagement and dialogue on how to do that are essential.

Courage and vision are paramount. During the last year, I and others have attempted to engage directly with both main unionist parties on how to develop an inclusive reconciliation discourse. The required momentum or willingness does not yet exist within those unionist parties to do so. But that is not representative of all unionist attitudes.

Fear and suspicion, real or imagined, are deeply entrenched in our own community also. However, none of this can be properly addressed or allayed without proper engagement. There is no alternative to dialogue. Building upon our shared achievements, unionists and republicans should become guarantors for a new phase of the peace process.

United leadership is necessary on the imperatives of equality, reconciliation and mutual respect. I believe that is what the overwhelming majority of our people want. Many within the unionist community recognize that reconciliation is a vision we should all share. Yes, uncomfortable conversations will be unavoidable, and agreement upon parity of esteem and equality are essential. But these discussions threaten no one.

We are morally bound to ensure future generations grow up in a better place than we did. This is common ground. There is more to unite than divide republican and unionist communities. Throughout the past year, leaders from mainstream loyalism have met with us and explained their apprehensions and ambitions about the future.

We are genuinely committed to these discussions and dialogue, without preconditions, with all forms of political unionism. The economic and social disadvantage facing unionist and nationalist communities are the same. Community leaders, unionists and republicans should work in solidarity to tackle these inequalities in our areas. Over many months our Party has also intensively engaged with many strands of church, business, civic and community opinion within the unionist community.

It is a reality that a lack of trust across our community is a huge block to progress. Republicans should consider very carefully what more we can do to engender trust and confidence with our unionist neighbours.

However, reconciliation is not a one-way street. It poses challenges for us all. Political, church, business, academic, community and other leaders, must give public expression to how we collectively manage the future of the peace process and forge new opportunities for the next generation.

I believe, without prejudice to our preferred constitutional outcomes, that consensus on this is achievable. The alternative is to allow the wreckers to push the process into a vacuum. New thinking and resolute leadership is needed to create a context which promotes generosity and forgiveness from us all.

That should include willingness to explore common acknowledgement for the hurt caused by all past actions. Hurts which cannot be undone or never forgotten. However, a new approach to how we manage our past is clearly required. If we agree reconciliation is important it deserves urgent attention.

It must not be reduced to a poker game about the past. This is a time for mould breaking initiatives from republicans, unionists, and both governments.

Archbishop Tutu’s wisdom is relevant: “Having looked the beast in the eye, Having asked and received forgiveness, Let us shut the door on the past, Not to forget, but to allow it not to imprison us.”

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This government is attempting to force households to pay for water.   

Public water is paid for by the public’s taxes. And I intend to keep it that way!

Sinn Féin stands shoulder to shoulder with those households who will resist this move.

It was Fianna Fail that proposed water charges in their National Recovery Plan 2011.

Meanwhile the policy is implemented with gusto by Fine Gale and Labour Party with the active support of Fianna Fail.

Minister Hogan has established Uisce Eireann and has given it two cheques to introduce water meters and manage our water system.

One has €800 million on it and the other is blank. Both cheques will be paid for by the tax payers in this state.

Sinn Féin has proposed an alternative plan without any domestic meters and without any water charges.

We have called for a return to at least 2011 level of investment in our water system. 

We proposed an All-Ireland strategy on water provision and the establishment of a National Water Sector Framework Team to oversee governance of the water sector.

We opposed the bill going through the Dáil.

We continue to oppose it at every opportunity. While over the border, Sinn Féin had the power and Minister Conor Murphy stopped the introduction of water charges.

But in this state, Sinn Féin cannot stop water charges on our own.

When we come back here next year friends, I want to see anti water charge action groups in every county and parish.

We must organise in our communities, in every road of every town and city across the state.  If the water charges are to be beaten it is through solidarity and action.

Households already hard pressed have in the last few weeks received the dreaded local property tax notices. For many homes this is simply a bill too far.

Unable to meet mortgage payments low and middle income families must now bail out the banks by paying a tax on the every home they live in.

Sinn Féin has given a commitment that we will be introducing a bill to repeal to the family home tax. We hope that it will be introduced to the Dáil before summer.

Maximum pressure must be brought on the Irish troika of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour Party to vote and support this bill.

Nothing short of scrapping the family home bill will overturn this tax.

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Iarraim oraibh ar son an Ard Chomhairle tacú le Rún 21 in ainm an Ard Chomhairle agus in ainm na gCumann Nolan/Downey,  Béal Feirste agus Terry Clarke, Baile Átha Cliath.

We gather for our Ard Fheis this weekend as a party organised and active throughout the 32 counties of Ireland. We are proud to represent people in every part of our country and regardless of the Partition boundary imposed on us nearly a century ago.

This is what we are – an Irish Republican party, deeply committed to the reunification of our country because we believe passionately that Irish Unity is an essential condition for lasting peace, progress, democracy and equality on our island.

Exactly a century ago the Partition of Ireland was spawned in the corridors of power in London to thwart the progress of the people of Ireland towards independence. In the words of James Connolly, Ireland was placed on the dissecting table and, as he predicted, the result was a carnival of reaction, North and South.

Partition was wrong then. It was wrong in every decade of sectarianism and division and conflict that followed. And it is wrong now.

We recognise that generations of our fellow citizens who designate themselves as Unionists, have grown up in the Northern state and with a sense of Britishness. We acknowledge that. We respect their identity. We acknowledge also that their community suffered grievously in the conflict.

It is a measure of the progress of the Peace Process that against such a background of division and conflict we have created a political process in which Unionists and Republicans can work together for the common good in political institutions in the North. The basis for that co-operation is the Good Friday Agreement which was concluded 15 years ago this week.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for a Border Poll on Irish Unity. This year we in Sinn Féin have commenced a campaign to press both the British and Irish Governments to provide for such a poll.

We are calling on the British Secretary of State to set a date for a referendum in the Six Counties on Irish unity to be held within the lifetime of the next Assembly.

We are calling on the Irish Government to press the British Government to set a date for a poll as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement and to commit to holding a simultaneous poll in the 26 Counties on Irish unity.

The commencement of our Border Poll campaign, at a conference of hundreds of party delegates in Dublin in January this year, saw us resolve to push forward with this demand in the months and years ahead.

We heard predictable responses from predictable political and media quarters. ‘It will never happen’. ‘It’s too soon.’ ‘It’s destabilising.’ ‘It’s threatening.’

Debate is a threat to no-one. The basis for political stability is the Good Friday Agreement and the poll is provided for in that Agreement. Far from being too soon, it is long past time to address the need for progress towards Irish Unity.

And let’s make it very clear – it IS going to happen.

A chairde, is orainn mar Poblachtánaigh atá an dualgas chun an feachtas seo a chur chun cinn, chun ceist Aontú na hÉireann a phlé le hAontachtaithe agus leis an pobal i gcoitinne, chun a thaispeáint gur féidir linn daonlathas nua, Poblacht Nua a chruthú ar an oileán seo. Ar aghaidh linn le chéile.

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A chairde, as we debate here tonight, there are families the length and breadth of this state who have received their family home tax letters.

Another demand on them from this government who has no understanding of the difficulties facing many ordinary families.

Another demand on them that picks up the tab for the failed policies of Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – three parties that have caused, deepened and lengthened the recession.

Few families have been untouched by this crisis, whether by emigration, unmanageable mortgages, bills they cannot meet or job losses. However, the 26 county government clearly thinks families have more to give.

So they have hit them with a family home tax, on top of child benefit cuts, increased motor charges, increased carbon tax, increased excise duty, increased prescription charges the list is endless and just for good measure they have promised them a tax on the water they drink.

This all comes on top of five years of austerity amounting to €28 billion worth of cuts and taxes, the majority of which have fallen on the shoulders of the ordinary taxpayers of Ireland.

It is morally unjust Enda Kenny told us and unfair to tax a person's home, and by so doing grind him into the ground. It reminds me of a vampire tax he said in that it drives a stake through the heart of home ownership, through enthusiasm and initiative, and sucks the life blood of people who want to own their own home and better their position.

It is very rare theses days that I agree with Enda Kenny however when he made that statement in the Dáil in the mid nineties I agree with every word he uttered.

At that time we didn’t have a mortgage crisis or a personal debt crisis an unemployment crisis all further reason why he should hold to his convictions

Last week I was informed of one household that had received the family home tax bill, an elderly couple, whose only income is the state pension.

 They own a home. They built it in the 50s. They have never been wealthy people. The husband worked in a small shop. The woman worked part time as a cleaner, full time as a mother.

 They were under the illusion that this tax, because their income is so low, would not apply to them.

 Instead, three weeks ago they got the bill in the door for €292. they were shocked, But then they were informed that that was just for 6 months.

 Their full year bill is €585.

 There are many reasons the family home tax is so unfair. The fact that it is not linked to ability to pay is just one of them.

 The fact that it hits everyone, with so few exceptions is another.

 The fact that the thousands of euro of stamp duty paid by many young families just a few years ago, is not discounted, is another.

There are over 180,000 households in mortgage distress. They live in fear of that home being repossessed, but the Government still thinks they have the means to pay a tax on it.

The Family Home tax was put this tax on the table by fianna Fail. But when given the opportunity to take it off, Fine Gael and Labour chose not to.

Next week Sinn Féin will introduce in the Dáil our legislation to scrap the family home tax and will force a debate and vote on this matter we will ask the public to support our campaign to axe this tax. We are giving from this Ard Fheis a clear commitment to the people that if elected to government that we will abolish the Family home tax.

There are alternatives to increase our tax take.  

We provided the government with a costed budget alternative last year that outlined many of them.

A wealth tax is one

Across Europe countries struggling to reduce deficits and raise revenue for investment in public services and job creation are turning to wealth taxes.

France, Norway, Finland and Iceland are just some of the countries that successfully operate wealth taxes. In France the socialist Government has recently strengthened its existing wealth tax legislation. In Spain the Conservative government has reintroduced its wealth tax.

Sinn Féin has consistently argued for the introduction of a wealth tax. We believe that a 1% tax on net assets in excess of €1 million has the potential to yield up to €800 million.

While exempting business assets, working farms, investments or shares in private companies

Our proposals if implemented would play a positive and progressive role not only in reforming our broken tax system but in the social and economic recovery of the state.

 I urge everyone to support these motions opposing the property tax tonight and continue to lead the campaign on opposition to this unfair tax.

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Fifteen years ago this weekend the eyes of the world were firmly fixed on Ireland.

Hope, Expectation, even Disbelief were in the air.

Inclusive dialogue had won over censorship

Respect for democratic mandates had won over exclusion.

Equality had won over discrimination

Parity of Esteem had replaced triumphalism.

All-Ireland political structures would be formed and all decisions would be based upon power sharing as equals.

Policing would be transformed and the political prisoners would be released.

It should not be forgotten that it was the leadership given by Irish Republicans, leadership for an end to conflict and for Peace which made all this happen.

Fifteen years on the principles, which underpinned that historic negotiation remain the basic tenets which underpin our political process.

While not a political settlement in itself the Good Friday Agreement was a levelling of the political playing field in the north since the first time since partition.

It would allow us as Irish Republicans to map out very clearly a peaceful and democratic path to a United Ireland, it would enshrine in law the rights of citizens in the north to our Irish identity and offer the same checks, balances, rights and responsibilities to the unionist people also.

Nobody can argue with any credibility that the foundations laid 15 years ago for a better, peaceful and democratic future hasn’t been for the good.

By the same token no one could argue that whilst in the North we have come a long way, there is still a further way to go. And because of that truth, commentators with some justification are critical of what is seen as a lack of cohesion between Unionist and Republican Ministers.

More than once in recent months the observation has been made to me that Sinn Féin Ministers are in government with unionist ministers because we want to be, but that unionist Ministers are in government with Sinn Féin because they have to be.

Speaking frankly this isn’t good enough.

15 years on we need to apply the very same political skills and political principles to politics in the here and now if we are to truly harness the great potential that still exists.

I have no difficulty whatsoever in respecting Unionist’s allegiance to their Britishness – but it gives me no satisfaction to tell you that there is a marked reluctance by unionist leaders to respect the Irish identity of nationalists and republicans.

This difficulty goes to the very heart of the failure to resolve contentious Orange parades and the need to ensure to ensure that symbols and emblems on the basis of equality reflect the allegiances and identity of the community as a whole.

I am so confident in my Irishness that I have no desire to chip away at the Britishness of my neighbours. Unionist leaders really should have enough confidence to facilitate the Irishness of the Gael.

With the will we together have the skills and the talent and ability to deal with the big issues in the here and now – be it standing up to the Tory Welfare cuts or developing a modern Education system, or dealing with the legacy of the conflict.

And I will deal with some of these issues in more detail tomorrow.

But all of this would be helped greatly if some within unionism ended the pretence that they are not working the Good Friday Agreement institutions.

People need to be in government not because they have to be but because they want to be – and approach decision making in that spirit.

I believe that this taken with a number of other initiatives would have a transformational impact on the operation of the political institutions.

Let unionist leaders say clearly that they recognise that my Irish identity and culture holds equal value to theirs. That is what parity of esteem means. That is what Equality is about. It is also what the Agreement demands.

Yet when faced with the recent violence around the flag issue, and indeed in the debate leading up to the decision at Belfast City Hall, instead of returning to the values which underpin the political process many within political unionism resorted to the failed politics of the lowest common denominator. Instead of seeking solutions and standing united against violence with the other political parties they turned inward to the inevitable cul-da-sac of a unionist forum.

A unionist forum, which issued a statement this week on the issue of parades. A statement which ignored entirely the most obvious fact on the subject – the issue of contentious parades will only be resolved when the Orange Order sits down and talks to residents on the basis of respect and equality.

That is the message, which unionist political leaders need to tell the Loyal Orders instead of dodging the issue and pretending to themselves that a resolution to the issue of parades can be found in a forum talking to themselves.

It is simply no longer sustainable for the Orange Order to march where and when they want and expect the rest of society to pick of the pieces afterwards.

Time and again since 1998 people have voted for progress. They have voted for the process of transformation to continue. We collectively have a strong mandate for action. And that is a mandate we need to act upon for the remainder of this term.

I also noted earlier in the week that the British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement to mark the anniversary of the Agreement. I recently met with Mr Cameron in Downing Street and to say I was unimpressed is an understatement.

There is little point in Mr Cameron issuing statements lauding the Agreement when it was his government who reneged on the Peace Dividend to build new schools, hospitals and roads, agreed as part of St. Andrews, or who is trying to force welfare cuts on the needy and most vulnerable or who has made a complete mess of the issue of corporation tax powers for the Executive.

And it is unfortunate that his semi detached approach to the Peace Process and delivering the outstanding commitments from Good Friday, St Andrews and Hillsborough has been in many ways mirrored by the current Irish Government also.

Outstanding issues remain. These include a Bill of Rights for the North, an all-island Charter of Rights, establishment of the North-South Consultative Forum, introduction of an Acht na Gaeilge and resolution of the issue of those people still ‘On The Run’ as a result of the conflict.
 
There has been a failure to act on the Weston Park commitment to hold an independent inquiry into the killing of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.
 
And Martin Corey and Marian Price remain in prison.
 
I have been to visit Marian Price and I have attended and given evidence on her behalf to the Parole Commissioners. I am totally convinced that Marian Price represents no threat to the Peace Process and only wishes to be returned to her family. Her continued imprisonment is both cruel and inhumane.
 
Both Marian Price and Martin Corey should be released and released now.

The complacent attitude of the governments needs to change if the true potential of the Good Friday Agreement is to be harnessed.

And I believe that it can be – Inclusivity, Dialogue, Parity of Esteem and Equality threaten nobody.

The violent actions of those whose desire to plunge Northern society back to the past has to be unreservedly condemned. Whatever else about those amongst the groups responsible it is obvious that they have now been swamped by ruthless criminal elements with an island wide network.

Recent squalid feuding amongst these groups and the recent murders in Dublin and Meath has nothing at all to do with Republican ideals and everything to do with money, ego and self interest.

There is no future in these actions. There can be no going back.

But the enemy of this process in many ways is not from outside. They have failed to damage the Agreement by pointless, sporadic armed actions – but instead by those within the process looking inward instead of outward - looking back instead of forward – playing safe and aiming low instead of seeking to deliver on the ambitions and aspirations of those who elect us.

We are a party with vision.

We are a party with a clear view of the future.

We are a party with ambition and with desire for a better type of politics on this island.

We are a party that believes in achieving what people tell us can’t be done.

We were told that peace could not happen.

We were told that Sinn Féin were unelectable.

We were told that power sharing couldn’t happen with the DUP.

The very same people who said this are the people who now seek to talk down the achievements of the past 15 years and seek to bring a negative commentary to the current situation and to the prospects for the future.

They were wrong in the past and they are wrong now.

I am confident in the future. I believe in the Irish people and I believe in what we are doing is right.

The challenge for all of us – republican, unionist, nationalist or loyalist is to move to a new phase of the peace process. To use the solid foundation laid for the next big effort.

Let us deal with the past but not become entrapped by it. Let us rebuild relationships not on the basis of recrimination but on the basis of equality.

A new agreed Ireland will not build itself. It is the job of nation builders to step forward and play their part. The foundations are there for a better future, for a country at peace with itself and its nearest neighbour.

A country united on the basis of respect and tolerance. 

A truly New Republic.

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Sinn Féin is opposed, North and South, to the introduction of water charges, the privatisation of water and sewage provision and any double taxation being introduced, North or South, as a method of financing these vital public services.

In the North, in 2007, we inherited the British New Labour Direct Rule creation, Northern Ireland Water, and their plans to double charge households for water and sewage and ultimately to privatise this service.

On my proposal, as Minister for Regional Development, the Executive in Stormont reversed the introduction of household water charges, halted proposals for universal metering and ruled out the privatisation of these services now or in the future. 

And they did so on the basis that households in the North are already hard pressed due to the difficult economic circumstances and should not be forced to endure an additional financial burden.

Since 2007 we invested over a billion pounds in water and sewage services, overhauling an unfit sewage system, rolling out a water mains upgrade programme across the North and achieving the highest ever standards of drinking water, all through central government funding.  The Executive have recently re-committed to continuing this policy.

 Sinn Fein recognise that there are significant challenges across the island in achieving a truly sustainable water and sewage service that is affordable, meets our environmental obligations and delivers a reliable high quality service.  However we have proved in government that this can be done without driving struggling households into further poverty.

The legislation introduced by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition this year mirrors that brought forward by the British government for the North in 2007. 

The proposal to create a company, Irish Water, as a subsidiary of Bord Gais Éireann which the government intend to sell off gives a clear sense of the privatisation route that is being followed here

 In Britain the Tories took utilities that were paid for by the public, invested huge sums of public money to upgrade them, sold them off to their friends and then charged the public to continue to use them.  Is this what Fine Gael and Labour intend for the people of this state.

We were told in the North that domestic metering was necessary to conserve scarce water supplies but our research showed that households in Dublin used less water than similar households in London who were paying for their metered water supply. 

If you want to conserve water, fix the leaks.  

40% of the water supply that is gathered and treated is disappearing into the ground through faulty mains.  Invest in that rather than borrowing 300 million Euros to install water meters in people’s homes. 

Is this government’s priority extracting more money from families at the behest of the Troika or is it provision of quality services to citizens who already pay for that.

Public services should be paid for through progressive taxation and those services, having been paid for by the people, must be retained in the ownership of the people.

 It is not enough for the Labour Party simply to defer their proposals to the other side of next year’s local government elections in order to avoid the wrath of the people.  Fine Gael and Labour intend for people in this state to pay three times over for a basic public service.

 That is fundamentally unfair on struggling families and Sinn Fein, as we did North of the border, will continue to fight against the imposition of unjust taxation.

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I am very pleased to formally open this section of the Ard Fhéis on the subject of Public Sector and Political Reform. I specifically wish to address motions 2, 3 and 4 and to formally move motion 2 on behalf of the Ard Chomhairle.

Firstly, I want to address the issue of the establishment of the Constitutional Convention, a significant political development, which Sinn Féin welcomes even if we feel that the terms of reference for this convention are too restricted. That said, Sinn Féin is engaging very positively and whole-heartedly in the work of the Constitutional Convention, which is made up of 100 delegates from political parties and randomly selected citizens.

You will know that the purpose of the Convention is to discuss and make recommendations on changing the Constitution in eight specific areas. At the beginning of this process, Sinn Féin sought and secured the requirement that the Constitutional Convention give ‘appropriate regard’ to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

It is a matter of regret that unionist political parties who have been invited to participate have so far declined the invitation but it is welcome that the Alliance party, the Green party and the SDLP from the north are taking part.

Of course, Sinn Féin looks beyond the 1937 Constitution because that document was essentially written for a 26 county state, newly emerging from British colonisation, partition and a bloody civil war. It was written for a very different society indeed. Sinn Féin recognises the need for comprehensive constitutional reform in the immediate short-term and that is why Sinn Féin is pushing the boat out in attempting to broaden the convention’s scope.

But more than this, motion 2, asks the Ard Fheis to note the necessity of a completely new constitution for a united Ireland, which will follow a referendum vote in favour of unification. That is where we really want to go. I want to emphasise that 75 years after the writing of the 1937 Constitution there is a new all Ireland dynamic at play in politics now, following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

This dynamic includes all-Ireland institutions and a new political and constitutional imperative. There is a specific Committee working within the Oireachtas, which deals with the out-workings of the Good Friday Agreement and the need to secure the full implementation of the Agreement. This Committee includes TDs and MPs from all parts of Ireland and in the recent past, they travelled, for example, to East Belfast to meet with community and political leaders from loyalist working class areas in that part of Ireland’s second city.

Their voice, the voice of unionists and loyalists needs to be heard within the Constitutional Convention and their voice needs to be heard as we work towards the shaping of a new Ireland and a new constitution. After all Sinn Féin’s vision for a new Ireland is wholly inclusive. In many ways, the Constitutional Convention is an opportunity to reshape things and to be truly national, incorporating each of the 32 counties and all its people, thinking beyond partition.

Aspects of the Constitutional Convention to date, which are very positive include a call for a reduction of the voting age to 16, votes in favour of women’s equality. Sinn Féin feels very strongly that voting rights in future Presidential Elections should be extended to Irish citizens in the North and to the Irish diaspora.

If this requires a constitutional amendment, then so be it, let us go down that road. It wouldn’t be an opening address from me at a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis if I did not make some reference to my own native county of Tyrone…playing in Croke Park this very Sunday against Kildare in the National Football League Division One semi-final. I hear that Mayo are playing Dublin on the same bill. Four teams from different parts of Ireland but only three sets of players are able to elect our national President.

So I am here in Castlebar to open this section and cry discrimination. This is just one of the many political reform issues which we need to address urgently as we journey towards a united Ireland.

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Bhur gcéad míle fáilte chuig Ard Fheis Sinn Féin 2013.

Fáilte go Caislean an Bharraigh, go Maigh Eo – the home of Michael Davitt, Ernie O’Malley, Frank Stagg and Michael Gaughan, Kathleen Lynn, Seán Mac Bride, Seán Mc Neela and many more … we have a proud republican tradition in this county and we build on that legacy today as we host the first Ard Fheis in Connaught.

In recent years Sinn Féin in Connacht has seen significant growth agus is deis iontach a bheidh anseo le borradh a chuir faoi Sinn Féin san Iarthar agus an pháirtí a neartú sna ceantair tuaithe.

This truly is an historic occasion and I acknowledge the hard work of people here in Castlebar, in Mayo, throughout the province and the Ard Fheis Committees in organising this event. A truly mammoth task and we're very proud and happy to say that this is officially the biggest (and best we hope) Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in history.

Last Monday, Mary Lou McDonald on behalf of Sinn Féin attended a civic reception from Castlebar Town Council and that generosity of spirit and welcome is replicated throughout the town of Castlebar to all delegates.

Mar chomhairleoir an baile seo, Is mór an onóir domsa an Ard Fheis 2013 a oscailt anseo i mo bhaile dúchas. Is ócáid stairiúil é seo, an chéad ard fheis riamh in Iarthar na hEireann agus tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh tairbhe agus taitneamh as an deireadh seachtaine.

Of course, our main purpose here is for political discussion and debate. The economic crisis, Sinn Féin’s alternative to the FineGael/Labour/Fianna Fáil ‘consensus for cuts’, Irish unity and rural regeneration will top the agenda over the next two days.

Delegates will debate 252 motions on topics including the economy, health, education, public sector and political reform, the family home tax, water charges, agriculture, farming and fishing … The Ard Fheis will also discuss Sinn Féin’s strategy for Irish unity and the campaign for a Border Poll.

This being the first Ard Fheis in Connaught, there will be a special focus on issues affecting rural communities. Rural Ireland is under attack and Sinn Féin is leading the fight back. Sinn Féin’s rural Ireland campaign was launched here last year agus beidh tuairisc le Sinn Féin faoi athbheochan Tuaithe na hÉireann dhá phlé i rith na deireadh seachtaine.

Issues of rural regeneration, sell-off of our natural resources, language and Gaeltacht affairs will be central to the debates, all of which will be live-streamed on the internet.

As well policy debates, there will be workshops and fringe events on 'Women Changing the World', ‘Reclaiming our Natural Resources’, ‘Ballymurphy Massacre’, ‘The Campaign to Save Moore St.’ a political briefing on Burma. Beidh taispeántais ealaíne agus liteartha ann freisin, chomh maith le seastáin ó suas le céad eagraíocht agus grúpa pobail. Míle buíochas to Mayo County Council for loaning the exhibitions on Michael Davitt and Mayo 1798 to this Ard Fheis.

We thank the media who will spread the Sinn Féin messages from this Ard Fheis. Míle buíochas to the TF Royal Theatre so helpful and obliging in the organisation of this event.

Finally, I encourage each and every one of you to engage with the debates, visit the exhibitions, meet with the exhibitors, participate in the fringe events and enjoy a weekend of healthy debate, politics, history and of course … the hospitality and the craic here in Castlebar over the weekend.

Bíodh deireadh seachtaine taitneamhach agaibh go léir agus tar ar ais go luath. We extend a céad míle fáilte to our international guests from Britain, Palestine, South Africa, Basque Country, Catalunia who will be addressing this Ard Fheis.

We hope and expect this to be a great Ard Fheis, an Chéad Ard Fheis i gCúíge Chonnacht, a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis to remember … I think of Ernie O’Malley, a republican, hunger striker, Sinn Féin TD, writer and a native of Castlebar, when he said: I had given allegiance to a certain ideal of freedom as personified by the Irish Republic. It had not been realised except in the mind.

That Republic, imagined by Ernie O’Malley and Republicans down through the ages has still not been realised and I hope that when we leave here after this weekend that Sinn Féin and the Republican movement will be one step closer towards realising that republic, not just in our minds and hearts, but in reality, right across this island.

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Senator David Cullinane has expressed his concern and surprise at the announcement that 36 jobs are to be lost from due to the closure of the Diageo plant in Mary Street Waterford. The Waterford Senator has indicated he is to seek a meeting with the company as a matter of priority.

Senator Cullinane said;

“I am surprised and concerned at the news that some 36 jobs, including ancillary jobs, are to be lost from the Diageo plant in Waterford.

“This is a devastating shock to the employees and their families, and I wish to express my concern for them at this difficult and worrying time.

“We were aware of the possibility of a scaling back of operations. However it was not anticipated that good quality, high tech jobs, such as producing the concentrate for Guinness, would be lost.

“It is particularly surprising and puzzling given that the company made a significant €40m Capital Investment in the plant in 2004.

“There is a tradition of Brewing in Waterford, and indeed on this site for hundreds of years, and Waterford has served Diageo well.

“This is a further body low to a city which is already struggling with a high unemployment rate of 25%, way above the National average.

“We will be seeking a meeting with the company as a matter of priority. I, as part of a Sinn Féin delegation, have already met with Senior Executives of the Company, in relation to what were then prospective job losses in Kilkenny and in Dundalk. We had hoped at the time that that would be the end of any job losses, but regrettably that appears not to be the case.

“We will seek to engage with the company to see if there is any way in which these jobs can be saved.”

ENDS

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