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Tory welfare cuts would devastate thousands - McKay

“The DUP are vocal about the consequences of not implementing these Tory cuts but remain silent on the impact of these cuts which would take hundreds of millions of pounds out of the pockets of the most vulnerable and least able to pay.  These cuts would plunge more children into poverty and take money from hard-pressed working families, people on benefits and from people with disabilities." - Daithí McKay

The Family Home Tax is an inequitable and unfair tax that takes no account of ability to pay. In Dublin City we are proposing that it be reduced in 2015 by the full 15% allowed for in Government legislation.


"The decision by the British army to hold large scale war games in Binevenagh is a backward step. We want to see demilitarisation right across the North, not hundreds of heavily armed British forces marauding across a public forest park which has been classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty."



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This year has been a tumultuous one for so many across the world.

I would like to take three critical issues that are developing as I speak, and ask you to consider what they mean to the Irish people as we approach the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter rising and the promise of the proclamation. What is the new vision of who we want to be as a people, and what we want to contribute to the wider world?
Firstly, courage is the only word that can describe the people of East Africa, as they face into starvation and suffering, day after day and year after year.

Famine has hit the Horn of Africa. East Africa is experiencing its worst food crisis in sixty years. The crisis hit the headlines for a few weeks. We had international journalists falling over one another to get on the spot reports. And then, magically, the story disappeared. What happened? Did the crisis pass? No. Those same Africans are starving today. But more exciting events took over. And we forgot about them.

The international response to the famine in Africa has ranged from poor to appalling.

The crisis was created in part by drought, but in a much larger part, it was created by years of marginalisation and economic under-development. Calls by NGOs for a radical shake-up of the international aid system to “break the cycle that leaves the poorest countries of the world limping from one crisis to the next” must be heard. Lessons must be learned.

Unfair trade policies flood the African continent with cheap food from the developed world and put local African growers out of business. We in Ireland know that this is the case, yet we are complicit in the practice because we are happy to turn a blind eye.
Then, when natural disasters strike, we salve our conscience by giving generously to emergency aid. We in Sinn Féin say: Fight for fair trade first. Then the need for emergency aid will eventually diminish.

But at the same time, essential funds for economic development in the poorest countries cannot be ignored. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs must actively engage with his EU and international counterparts to ensure that all countries contribute equally on a per capita basis to the $1.87 billion target set by the UN for development. Because some developed countries have not pledged their fair share, we are looking at a shortfall of 850 million dollars. At the same time, stiff measures must be put in place to ensure that all pledged monies are collected. At the time of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, a total of 15 billion US dollars was pledged by the international community at the UN Haiti Conference in March 2010 only around 340 millionhas been handed over so far.

Words and pledges are cheap. Pay-out is another story.

Secondly, courage is the word that comes to mind again when we look to the Middle East and witness the on-going struggle of the Palestinian people for a Palestinian state. For 44 years, the Palestinians have been an exiled people, and have been forced to live on the fringes of a wealthy society. Not only were they forcefully driven from their homes by the newly formed State of Israel, those very homes and lands were handed over to Israeli citizens. These are not just historical facts. Palestinian homes and lands are being confiscated today and those lands are being turned into Israeli settlements for Israeli citizens.

Have we so easily forgotten our own history? Where does the abandonment of human rights for the Palestinian people fall in the league of great global tragedies? And what are the Irish people, doing to champion their rights? This month, the Palestinian call for recognition of the State of Palestine comes before the United Nations. Irish people like to believe that they always line out for the poor and the oppressed. Well, now is our chance. Line out for the State of Palestine in the United Nations.

Finally, again, courage. What other word can describe the events of the Arab Spring?

This Ard Fhéis extends solidarity greetings to the grassroots movements for democracy across the Arab World and we commend them on taking ownership of their country’s futures.

Political upheaval and transitions are never easy. But the courage of the people in these Arab nations is admirable and will undoubtedly hold strong through whatever changes come.

They are a beacon of hope for us, the Irish people, who need to find the courage we need to create an independent, just, and prosperous nation for all our people.

They are a reminder to us here in Ireland of the precious gifts that are freedom, democracy and sovereignty.

As we approach 2016, let us be inspired by the peoples of East Africa, Palestine and across the Arab world to regain the economic sovereignty of the 26 Counties and to build towards a United Ireland and the promise of Pearse and Connolly.

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Is iomaí rud a tharla san Aontas Eorpach ón Ard-Fheis dheireanach.

Thacaigh an rialtas nua i mBaile Átha Cliath go díocasach le ciorraithe agus clár oibre déine an AE agus An Chiste Airgeadaíochta Idirnáisiúnta anseo a dhíríonn ar na daoine is soghonta inár sochaí. Tá clár oibre den chineál seo á chur amach anois in áiteanna eile san AE. Tá sé ag déanamh damáiste d'ionchais téarnaimh gheilleagraigh.

Creideann rialtas na hÉireann gurb é laghdú ar cheannasacht na hÉireann réiteach na géarchéime eacnamaíche. Is gá dúinn obair le fórsaí i dtíortha eile atá ar aon intinn linne chun cur in éadan clár oibre na heite deise. Ní réiteach é breis cumhachta a thabhairt don Choimisiún Eorpach agus agus rialú eacnamaíoch a lárófar a thuilleadh. Is gá troid in aghaidh ciorraithe agus cur in éadan déine agus príobháidiú.

Ar bhonn idirnáisiúnta tá saincheisteanna ann a thugann deis don AE ról dearfach forásach a imirt má tá an toil pholaitiúil ann lena leithéid a dhéanamh:
- is féidir brú a chur ar Iosrael chun tabhairt faoi idirbheartaíocht dháiríre le Palaistínigh trí stát nua na Palaistíne a aithint, agus meas a bheith acu ar chaighdeáin idirnáisiúnta ceart daonna
- thiocfadh leis an AE síniú comhaontuithe trádála a dhiúltú le tíortha nach bhfuil meas acu ar chearta oibrithe, agus le tíortha amhail an Cholóim, áit ina mbíonn gníomhaithe cheardchumainn faoi ionsaí, faoi chrá agus ar a ndéantar feallmharú fiú.
- is féidir brú a chur maidir scaoileadh saor na gcúigear príosúnach Cúbach atá i ngéibheann i Miáimí agus chun deireadh a chur le himshuí ar Chúba.
- d'fhéadfadh Parlaimint na hEorpa a dlúthpháirtíocht a léiriú le muintir an tSahára Thiar, atá faoi fhorghabháil, trí dhaingniú an chomhaontaithe iascaigh le Maracó a dhiúltú
- is féidir leis an AE ceannaireacht a léiriú san idirbheartaíocht ar athrú aeráide in Durban, san Afraic Theas, i Mí na Nollaig, trí chomhaontú ar ghearradh siar ar astuithe carbóin san AE le 30% faoi 2020 i gcoibhneas le cúrsaí i 1990.

Ina theannta sin thiocfadh leis an AE ról dearfach a imirt chun teacht ar réiteach do choimhlint na mBascach.

Ba mhaith liom an Abertzale Clé i dTír na mBascach a mholadh as an cheannaireacht a léirigh siad agus na hiarrachtaí atá déanta acu chun an choimhlint seo a réiteach. Agus ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an chomhghuaillíocht páirtithe atá ar son neamhspleáchais as a dtorthaí iontacha sa toghchán i Mí Bealtaine.

Tá féidearthacht ann anois an choimhlint i dTír na mBascach a réiteach trí phróiseas comhrá chuimsithigh.

Ba chóir do rialtas na Spáinne an deis seo a thapú agus gníomhaithe polaitiúla Bascacha, Arnaldo Otegi ina measc, a scaoileadh saor, agus an deis a thapú chun an páirtí polaitiúil nua atá á mholadh ag an Abertzale Clé a dhéanamh dleathach chun an deis a thabhairt do bhunadh na mBascach saoirse a bheith acu vótáil dá rogha féin ionadaithe.

Sa dá lá seo táimid ag plé agus ag cinneadh beartais ar raon saincheisteanna ina n-imríonn an tAE ról ríthábhachtach - ceisteanna amhail an geilleagar, athrú aeráide agus an comhshaol, talmhaíocht agus iascach; seirbhísí poiblí, poist agus cearta oibrithe. Is féidir cláir AE, a chuireann comhoibriú trasteorann chun cinn, a úsáid chun dul i ngleic leis an dícheangail a rinne críochdheighilt agus an talamh a réiteach d'Éirinn aontaithe.

Cuireann tábhacht an AE maidir leis na ceisteanna siúd béim ar thábhacht ár n-idirbheartaíochta leis an AE agus comhghuaillíochtaí a chothú le fórsaí forásacha eile.

Sa dara leath den bhliain seo chugainn beidh Uachtaránacht an Aontais Eorpaigh ag Éirinn. Beidh seo ina dheis thábhachtach chun ár bpolasaithe forásacha ar réimse ceisteanna AE sa díospóireacht phoiblí a chur chun cinn, agus chun ár gclár oibre uile-Éireannach a chur chun cinn. Tá tábhachtach ar leith leis an am i láthair dár n-ionadaithe sa rialtas áitiúil, i Stormont agus i dTeach Laighean, agus ár n-airí san Fheidhmeannach chun bheith rannpháirteach go gníomhach leis an AE. Is gá dúinn bheith soiléir ag gach leibhéal le tacú le beartais agus tionscnaimh dhearfacha AE, ach ina theannta sin is gá dúinn cur in éadan polasaithe a dhéanfaidh tuilleadh damáiste dóibh siúd atá bocht agus iad atá leochaileach.

Agus mise an t-aon FPE Shinn Féin atá againn is eol dom na dúshláin chomh maith leis na luachanna a bhaineann le peirspictíocht phoblachtach a tabhairt chun tosaigh i bParlaimint na hEorpa. Ba mhaith liom ár mbuíochas a ghabháil lenár gcomhoibrithe in Aontas Clé na hEorpa agus na Glasaigh Chlé Nordacha as an dea-chomhoibriú a bhíonn againn ar raon comhcheisteanna.

A lot has happened in the European Union since the last Ard Fheis.

The new government in Dublin has enthusiastically bought into the EU/IMF cutbacks agenda which targets the most vulnerable. A similar agenda is now being rolled out across the EU and is damaging the prospects of economic recovery.

The Irish government believes that further diluting Irish sovereignty is the solution to the economic crisis. We will need to work with like minded forces in other countries in order to resist this right-wing agenda. Further centralising economic governance in the EU and giving the European Commission more power is not a solution.

There are issues where the EU has the potential to play a positive and progressive role if it has the political will to do so:
- pressure could be brought on Israel to seriously negotiate with Palestinians through the recognition of a new Palestinian state, and to respect international human rights standards
- the EU could refuse to sign trade agreements with countries which do not respect workers rights and countries, such as Colombia, where trade union activists are systematically attacked, harassed and even assassinated
- pressure could be brought to bear for the release of the 5 Cuban prisoners held in Miami and to end the blockade of Cuba
- the European Parliament could show its solidarity with the occupied people of the Western Sahara by refusing to ratify the fisheries agreement with Morocco
- the EU can take a lead in climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa in December by cutting carbon emissions by 30% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

The EU could also play a positive role in bringing about a resolution to the Basque conflict.

I would like to commend the Abertzale Left in the Basque Country for the leadership they have shown and the efforts they have made to resolve this conflict. And I would like to congratulate the coalition of pro-independence parties for their excellent results in the elections in May.

The potential now exists to resolve the conflict in the Basque Country through a process of inclusive dialogue.

The Spanish government should take this opportunity and release Basque political activists, including Arnaldo Otegi, and to legalise the new political party which is being proposed by the Abertzale Left in order to allow the Basque people to freely vote for representatives of their choice.

Over these two days we are debating and deciding policy on a range of issues in which the EU plays a crucial role - issues such as the economy, environment, agriculture and fisheries; public services, jobs and workers' rights. EU programmes which promote cross-border cooperation can be used to tackle the disconnect caused by partition and prepare the ground for a united Ireland.

EU programmes which promote cross-border cooperation can be used to tackle the disconnect caused by partition and prepare the ground for a united Ireland.
The importance of the EU with regard to these issues underlines the importance of our engagement with the EU and of building alliances with other progressive forces.

The second half of next year sees Ireland taking the Presidency of the European Union. This will be an important opportunity to insert our progressive policies on a range of EU issues into the public debate, as well as to promote our all-Ireland agenda. It is particularly important at the present time for our representatives in local government, in Stormont and Leinster House, our ministers in the Executive to be actively engaged with the EU. At all these levels we must be coherent in supporting positive EU policy and initiatives, but also in opposing policies that will further damage the poor and the vulnerable.

As the sole Sinn Féin MEP I am aware of the challenges as well as the rewards of bringing forward a republican perspective in the European Parliament. I would like to express our thanks to our colleagues in the European United Left and Nordic Green Left for the good cooperation we have on a range of common issues.

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Enda Kenny, Éamon Gilmore and their respective political parties thought that sovereignty was old hat. They told us so in debate after debate on various EU treaties. They told us that Brussels would look after us. That the Lisbon treaty would bring jobs. Then the IMF arrived.

Enda Kenny and Éamon Gilmore have vowed to win back Irish sovereignty. They told us so. There’s no Lisbon jobs so they tried their own jobs initiative. It hasn’t created any jobs. The troika has told them that cutbacks are the order of the day and they are following instructions.

The moral of the story: Enda Kenny and Éamon Gilmore are wrong. They called it wrong on the Lisbon Treaty. They called it wrong when they joined FF’s consensus for cuts. And they are calling it wrong on the EU and IMF. There has been no renegotiation. Just like FF they want to put 30 billion into toxic banks and just like FF they want to sell off state companies that are critical to our future. The Labour Party have spent the last six months working very hard to deliver Fine Gael’s agenda in government. Fair play to you Eamon. You can stand with the big boys in the EU and IMF and do their bidding. I’m proud to stand with the men and women in the ESB, Bord Gais, An Post, Aer Lingus, Coillte and the citizens who own these assets and will need them in the future.

Protecting and defending sovereignty is right.

The endemic corruption and gombeen politics of the back slapping classes have laid the southern economy low. With economic sovereignty ceded to the IMF and EU, domestic politics is relegated to messenger boy status.

Meanwhile the northern assembly and executive are hamstrung in their capacity to plan and manage the economy with London holding the purse strings and imposing vicious Tory cutbacks.

To stimulate and rebuild the economy north and south, powers to raise and spend taxes must be vested in our democratic institutions the Dáil and the Assembly.
A single island wide economy makes sense.

It makes sense to integrate and harmonise service provision, to remove barriers to trade and business, to work together to promote exports and to attract investment into Ireland.

It makes sense to have a joined up strategy for agriculture, energy supply and environmental protection.

Planning and working on an all Ireland basis can bring an economic and social dividend for people across the island – a real win win situation.

Is gá go mbeadh an chumhacht ag na hinstituiúd daonlathach, an dáil agus an chomhdháil, cáin a ghearradh agus a chaithemah ionas go mbeimis in ann an eacnamaíocht a ath-thógáil, agus a spreagadh.

Tá ciall le coras eacnamiúil amháin a bheith againn don oileán ar fad.

Tá ciall ann le bacanna ar trádáil agus gnó a bhaint, le chomhoibriú chun easportáil a chur chun cinn, agus infheistíocht a mhealladh go héireann, agus tá ciall ann chomhréitiú agus chomhcheangail a dheánamh ar soláthar seirbhisí

Ní mór dúinn straistéis chomhghreamaitheach a bheith againn don talamhaíocht, soláthar fuinneamh, agus caomhnú timpeallachta, agus is cinnte go bhfuil ciall leis an méid sin.

Tá díbhinn eacnamiúil agus sóisialta le teacht do gach duine ar an uile ó pleanáil uile éireann, agus obair uile éireann. Beidh an bua ag cách.

There is a responsibility on political representatives and leaders north and south to seize the all Ireland opportunities.

Sinn Féin is the united Ireland party. Our primary objective is to secure a united, independent republic.

The 1916 proclamation provides the blue print. Equality is a watchword of the republic. So too is diversity. The common good guides the republic in its governance and in the use of national resources and assets.

The equal position of women is firmly asserted but perhaps the most often quoted aspiration of the 1916 proclamation is to cherish the children of the nation equally.

The revelations of wide spread systematic abuse of children in state and religious institutions, north and south, are damning indictments of the two states.

The Vatican has come in for harsh criticism following the publication of the Cloyne report; rightly so. The Vatican’s defensive, legalistic response offers no reassurance, solace or confidence to abuse victims, parents or Irish society at large.

The Cloyne report highlighted again the state’s deplorable record in child protection.

The Church has failed children, so too has the state.

We need robust, statutory, all Ireland child protection measures as a matter of urgency.

We need also full state acknowledgement of their negligence and failures in respect of victims north and south.

Sinn Féin’s peace strategy and the ongoing peace process have transformed politics and relationships in Ireland. The northern orange state is no more. The power sharing and all Ireland institutions challenge partitionism. Republicans and Unionists work together as equals.

We have made great progress but challenges remain.

The practical planning for unity must begin. It must be driven by the Irish government.

The legacy and hurts of conflict, inflicted and endured, must be faced.

The united Irish Republic must be home to citizens of all creeds and none.

Gathering here in Belfast, Ireland’s second city, we can take some satisfaction from our electoral achievements over the past year and our political achievements over the past number of years.

As the centenary of the Easter Rising beckons let us be confident that the republic is within our grasp.

Let’s go out and work for it.

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In my first interview as Minister I stated that I would be the Minister for the entire community, and that I had no interest in pursuing any narrow political or partisan agenda but that I genuinely wished to engage with and represent the entire community – and I hold to that.

Throughout my tenure as Minister, I intend to ensure that Culture, Arts & Leisure is accessible and enjoyed by people of all backgrounds, abilities and traditions. That means challenging social and political exclusion and promoting real and meaningful opportunities to participate for all.

I also intend to ensure that priorities and delivery are shaped by the broadest view of arts and culture. Diversity of background must be visible on the committees, boards and bodies representing Culture, Arts and Leisure and I have taken steps to encourage those with a broader range of experience to become involved.

There are huge challenges for Culture, Arts and Leisure in this economic climate. People working in these sectors often feel that the work in their sectors is the first to be looked at when making any cuts to budgets.

I refuse to see them as easy options. I see the benefits and value in providing opportunities, particularly for our young people, for healthand well-being, for economic growth, particularly in emerging digital technology for creativity, film, animation, broadcasting, stage, lens and canvass, and sport to use but a few examples.

Meaningful engagement within the entire sector, including users of services must begin. Accountability and transparency cannot be taken for granted and we will play our part in making that happen. DCAL will be accountable to the community it services.

The Irish language forms a vital part of our shared cultural heritage. It should be something that unites us rather than divides us.

In line with the St Andrews Agreement and amended NI Act I have already announced that I intend to bring forward legislation for an Irish Language Act.

This will involve officials bringing forward Draft Legislation that will go out for consultation before it comes to the Assembly for debate. In addition to an Irish Language Act, I also intend to bring forward two separate strategies for the Irish language and Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture.

On September 5th, I launched Líofa 2015, an exciting initiative to encourage 1000 people from all walks of life to become fluent in Irish by 2015 and have been very encouraged by the diversity of the respondents.

It is important that Culture, Arts and Leisure create regeneration in Urban and Rural communities. Substantial capital funding will be invested in stadia for the GAA, rugby, and soccer. Approximately £110 million will be available to the three Sporting bodies to deliver fit-for-purpose facilities.

It would be totally unacceptable that the residents living beside these proposed re-developments, which are located in some of the most deprived areas in the North, are outside looking in.

The capital investment for the three Stadia, will also present us with a huge opportunity to provide robust social clauses and procurement to ensure the long-term unemployed, the people who live beside these developments can avail of training, employment and apprenticeship opportunities.

Services and support for libraries, Gaeltachti, sports facilities, tourism, Leisure, language, community arts, to name but a few examples, should be developed throughout the island of Ireland. I intend to pursue these possibilities with my party colleagues and ministerial counter-parts in Leinster house.

Having a joined-up approach has at times become clichéd. What will joined-up work look like, how will it deliver appropriate services to people?

Sinn Féin will continue to pursue sharing services across the Island, not just through any political rhetoric but because it makes economic sense. Duplication of services is not in anyone’s interest.

It is so important that a rights based approach to delivery is at the heart of everything we do in government. Equality and Social Justice is everyone's business and Sinn Féin will make it so.

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In these straightened times we often hear discussions of ‘wealth’, and who possesses wealth, and how it should be taxed etc. Important debates, certainly, and as Republicans there is an onus upon us to work towards an equal distribution of economic wealth. However, there is also an onus upon us to ensure the protection and cultivation of others forms of wealth, and there are many forms of wealth, which the people certainly value, even if the government do not.

The people value our rich linguistic heritage. Recent decades has seen a sustained increase in Irish speakers, and young people entering Irish medium education.
The language is now vibrant and resurgent, and possesses the impression of modernity and life due to its increased media profile, and the good work of those involved in the Irish Media sector.

There is tremendous regard for the language among the people, not least among those for whom Irish is their primary language of choice, which is a group which continues to grow, and in which I include myself and my family.

Its benefits in terms of education, culture and enterprise are widely acknowledged, and it is a tremendous asset in terms of tourism, one which we have yet to fully exploit. In that context it beggars belief that such an obvious asset is not only underexploited and under supported, but if wilfully undermined.

In the north, even the idea of an Irish Language Act or an Irish Language Strategy appears to be anathema to political unionism, despite the tens of thousands of Irish speakers living in the six counties.

We have seen in recent months a UUP councillor in Armagh stating that the only place Irish would take us to is back to the bog.

In the south we have a Taoiseach who has in the past argued for the ending of compulsory Irish for the leaving cert.

His government appears to be embarking upon a campaign of undermining Irish, and the rights of Irish speaking citizens.

The hard won language rights in the Official Languages act , are being hollowed out, the government has brought forward proposals to reform Údarás na Gaeltachta, effectively bringing about the emasculation of the Údarás, not to mention the near total non-implementation of the 20 years strategy.

The proposals regarding the Údarás are an insult to the people of the Gaeltacht. It is anti-democratic not to allow gaeltacht residents to vote for the Údarás, for their representatives. Equally the Údarás’ Enterprise functions, are essential. If we want to protect and develop Gaeltachtaí, and to develop their huge contribution to the language, then it is essential that jobs are created to keep people in the Gaeltachtaí, and it’s unlikely than Enterprise Ireland will show the same level of care and attention to creating and maintaining jobs as the Údarás does.

While the language hasn’t been as strong for many years, nonetheless, it needs support assistance and resources to protect and develop upon those advances. It is part of the wealth of the people, of our cultural wealth, and the neglect of the language is to some impoverishment of the lives of the people.

Our linguistic wealth also includes our unique relationship with the English language. We have put our own stamp on English, and have produced a uniquely Irish literature, and language. Indeed the contributions that Irish writers have made to the written word both in Irish and in English has been recognised by the naming of Dublin as a UNESCO international City of literature.

We must ensure that culture is accessible to all. Whether it be fine art, literature, Theatre, Film, or otherwise. We must ensure that funding is readily available to arts in the community. Art’s value is not merely in terms of full time artists or theatre groups though there can be no doubt but that we are well served by many of our artists who contribute significantly to the cultural life of the Nation. But art has a value aside from that the enjoyment an audience gains from a good production.

It has a holistic value, it is valuable in terms of what the people involved gain from it, for example the value within educational theatre, or the role that art plays in human development within the youth arts and youth theatre sector. Indeed, the pride which a local community takes in their cultural events, whether that be a festival, or a production is enormous, and is a value quite aside from the enjoyment of it itself.

We must ensure that grassroots arts are supported, in terms of youth theatre, and educational arts, and art in Local communities. Art cannot belong to elite. It belongs to the people, and we must ensure that funding mechanisms, and resources reflect that reality, and that art and culture is easily accessible for ordinary people.

May I take this opportunity to wish our Minister for Arts Culture and Leisure, Caral Ní Chuilin, the very best of luck in her new role. Her commitment to Republican ideals will stand her in good stead, as she seeks to open up our cultural wealth to all on this Island, regardless of background or of class.

She faces significant challenges, in particular as regards issues related to Irish, however, I am certain she is equal to the challenge, and I am certain that she will be well supported in her work.

Comrade’s I emphasise the word wealth to impress on you an important point. As Republicans we must seek not only the material enrichment of the people, but also the cultural and spiritual enrichment of the people. Our vision for Irish society must not be focused solely on the economic advancement of the state, important as that may be, it must be one which provides for all aspects of the welfare and all the needs of the people.

Therefore we must act as strong advocates of the importance of the arts and of culture, including the language. A republic without a strong culture at the heart of society is not worthy of the name. Culture belongs to the people. Let’s ensure it remains that way.

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In five short years the people of Ireland will commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising.

It is our job as Republicans to map out where we want to be in 2016 – and while five years may seem only a short period in which to bring about the sort of fundamental political, social, economic and constitutional change we want – but reflect for a moment on the changes made in the past five years.

This time five years ago the peace process was deadlocked –the DUP leadership had yet to sit down with Sinn Féin – the political institutions remained in what seemed permanent suspension and the two governments seemed bereft of ideas to free up the process.

The onus lay on us – the party driving the peace process forward to take the initiative, salvage the process and ensure that the potential of the Good Friday Agreement was not lost.

So this time five years ago our negotiating team was preparing to head to St. Andrews – within 6 months what people said was impossible had happened – the DUP and Ian Paisley were in power sharing institutions with Sinn Féin and the other parties on the basis of equality.

Republicans had taken another strategic initiative on policing and fully functioning all-Ireland political architecture was up and running.

Also in the course of the five years from then we have seen the Hillsborough Agreement and the transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London and onto the island of Ireland – another significant milestone on our journey.

And also look at where we are as a party – the advances we have made over that five year period. In 2006 when we gathered would anybody have predicted an Executive jointly led by myself and Peter Robinson seeing out a full term? Sinn Féin Ministers making decision around the Executive table which impacted for the better on thousands of ordinary people’s lives.

Would anybody here hand on heart seriously have suggested five years ago that Gerry Adams would be leading a Sinn Fein Oireachtas team of 14 TDS and 3 Senators – that Fianna Fail would be in the position they now find themselves in.

And I rehearse all of this not for the purposes of history – but for the purposes of showing what is possible. Change does not have to take decades – political circumstances can be moulded and shaped and change can quickly happen.

That is the lesson of the past five years and more importantly it is the inspiration for the next five.

So how do we build the New Republic – how do we continue to make change and at the same time deliver for ordinary people day and daily.
We continue to do what we are doing – Sinn Féin is the party of the New Republic – we are the party with vision, with hope and with commitment.

The worst trait in any political leader is to aim low – it is much better to aim high and come up short than not try at all.

It seems to me that some political leaders in Ireland have waved the white flag – they accepted the loss of sovereignty – they accepted the IMF and the ECB – not necessarily because they wanted to but because they hadn’t the vision to look for another way – there is always another way – there is always something better to aim for.

And that is the way we came at the Tory imposed cuts in the Executive budget here, we could have rolled over. We could have agreed with the approach of others. We decided on different approach. And despite a lack of economic levers we have managed to offset some of the worst of the Tory excesses. But it is by no means an ideal situation and many significant economic challenges lie ahead for the Executive.

But I am confident that working together in proper partnership all of the parties around the Executive table can play a role on one hand in protecting the most vulnerable and on the other in sustaining and indeed creating new jobs for our people.

Indeed next week myself and Peter Robinson will travel to the United States for a number of important meetings aimed directly at securing further foreign direct investment and I am hopeful of further progress in this regard.

And yesterday the Executive acted to ensure no increase in Student Fees will take place during this Assembly term.

But we are not simply involved in institutions to mind the shop.

As republicans we have cause and we have purpose. And given the progress of recent years we rightly carry great expectations of what we can achieve in the future. And those expectations go way beyond simply Sinn Féin supporters or even those who want to see a united Ireland. The expectation of us to continue to succeed is shared by many who don’t ultimately share our primary political goal of unity and independence. But it is our duty to continue to reach out to unionists and it is our duty to persuade them of the merits of a new Republic and of their treasured place in it.

In the five years between now and 2016 I want to see us lead a national conversation on the future of this island. We are haemorrhaging our young people to far flung parts of the world in search of work. A combination of greed and arrogance has left much of the Irish people demoralised. That is not the vision of 1916 and it is not my vision for Ireland approaching its centenary.

And our national conversation needs to be truly national and indeed global. Our Diaspora have a stake in our future. Let us begin the work today of structuring a proper engagement on the type of new Republic we want to build – let us engage without preconditions and engage with those who have previously not had their voices heard.

Let us have meetings in every Irish county in the next year – let us meet every group who has a stake in building a new republic. Remember the men and woman of 1916 came from different backgrounds and different places. They had a vision and they had a purpose.

Let the new republic offer hope to those currently under pressure. Let it be based on equality and fairness and let it be a proper Republic with citizens at its core.
And as part of this let us deal with the legacy of the conflict. For too long this issue has been dodged by the two governments. Proper reconciliation is key to the future.

We have already stated that it is our preferred view that a proper international truth commission be put in place. Others have reservations, others are hiding on the issue. But let us be realistic the current status quo is not working for victims and is not working for the wider process. No amount of HET inquiries or even prosecutions will deal with this issue and indeed as some have argued it is making the task of genuine reconciliation all the harder.

The British government shunted the issue onto Eames/Bradley and then quietly placed their report on the shelf. It seems to me that the biggest obstacle to properly dealing with the past is a continuing refusal at the very top of the British system to acknowledge their combatant role in the conflict. This needs to change. And republicans need to realise that dealing with the past will not be an easy process for us – Republicans inflicted much hurt during the conflict - but if we are to build a new Republic and a new future it is necessary and it is a road none of us should be afraid to go down.

And in my experience of recent years many within the unionist community are up for a journey of reconciliation and dialogue. Tonight one of those the Rev. David Latimer from First Derry Presbyterian church has demonstrated that by his courageous decision to accept our invitation to address this Ard Fheis.

No doubt David will say things tonight which will challenge many of us in this hall. And likewise David will hear things tonight that will challenge his view of the future. And that is key – that is what the national conversation I have spoken is all about – we don’t have all the answers and have never claimed to have.

A new Republic can be built. But it will only be built if we take the lead in building it. I trust in the Irish people. I trust in our ability to fulfil the legacy of 1916, I trust in our ability and I trust in our vision for the future.

Five years isn’t a long time in the history of any nation – but in five years as we have already shown political conditions can be transformed. My message from here is that Ireland can be transformed in the next five – join with us in making that happen.

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Our country is in crisis;

It is a crisis that has been created by the unbridled greed of speculators, gamblers and their politician friends.

We find ourselves in hock to the IMF and European Bank; our economic sovereignty lost and the future investment for our children’s education the subject to the whims of the Troika.

Just this week a survey showed Trinity College falling 22 places behind Cambridge, the highest ranking university.

The Head of Trinity said: “That the quality of Irish higher education faced a speedy decline unless the funding crisis is addressed by introducing fees for those who can afford to pay.”

Apart from my obvious indignation that such an elitist institution as Cambridge University is used as a benchmark for Irish third level education, he is right about fees for those who can afford to pay.

Quite simply, those who can afford to pay fees at private “elite” schools should also pay fees at third level.

For too long in education, as in our health system, workers of this country have subsidized the rich.

Many schools are in an appalling state with class sizes increasing to unmanageable levels.

Yet thousands of unemployed construction workers are currently without work while many children spend their entire school life in rundown prefabs.

So-called ‘voluntary’ fees are forced on parents. The cost of arbitrary uniforms combined with having to pay for essential text books, are increasing the burden on parents, many with reduced incomes or without jobs.

So does Minister Quinn have a plan to address this hardship?

Possibly, but don't hold your breath as you might have to wait a year or two for any progress.

Hundreds of children with special needs or behavioural difficulties are losing their Special Needs Assistants.

They are being callously cast aside and viewed as an unnecessary burden on the State. This is clearly wrong.

Development, Integration, Inclusivity and Mainstream in education are the usual buzzwords peddled at election time. Yet six months into its term, the FG/Labour Government continues to implement the same slash and burn policies of its predecessors with our most vulnerable citizens considered fair game.

Access to our education system , at all levels, is becoming a privilege not a right.

And will only lead to even greater inequality.

And now in the midst of this latest crisis, we are ever more dependent on our paymasters in Europe. If the current situation continues then the outlook for people, and society as a whole, is looking bleak.

Sinn Fein believes that funding for Education needs to be mainstreamed and linked to directly to our GDP and not reliant on mood swings of Finance Ministers

Another casualty is the Irish language. An Teanga Gaelige

The heritage of our nation is increasingly seen as dispensable.

Continuing attacks on Gaelscoileana remain government policy when a more progressive and sensible strategy would be to concentrate on immersion in Irish language education in the context of a sea of English.

More recently, increasing numbers of teachers are being unfairly redeployed in Gaelscoileana without having the adequate standard of linguistic competence to discharge their responsibilities in the classroom.

Let us be clear about this, it is not a question of forcing the Irish language on anybody.

But parents who wish to have their children educated through the medium of Irish should be supported and encouraged.

Instead, we have a Government that is hell bent in trying to prevent them from doing just that.

And this is happening against a background where we have been striving to gain full acknowledgement of the rights of Irish language speakers in the six counties.

Speaking here in Belfast, at this historic Ard Fheis, I am conscious of the all-Ireland dimension in education.

This is an area of huge potential and opens up real opportunities, especially at third level, for co-operation throughout the island.

Different institutions have different specialities and these can aid student exchanges and student mobility.

We must avoid unnecessary duplication and ensure greater coordination in various public services across this small island.

Finally, with November’s budget fast approaching people are fearful that education will again bear the brunt of unsustainable cuts. We don’t want to see an already dire situation made even worse.

Those on low and middle incomes have been hammered enough. There is a better and fairer way forward to improve our education system.

Budgets need to target the rich; in property and cash tax evaders and tax exiles should be held to account.

Sinn Fein views Education as a right not a privilege.
We will be using our increased strength to make that aspiration a reality.

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Mol an óige tiocfaidh an sí – Praise the young and they shall flourish.

Now in our third term in the department of Education in the Northern Assembly, Sinn Féin, have once again set out quite clearly our intention to do just that, Mol an oige Tiocfaidh an si.

As a party we have clearly set out our intention to continue to praise the young, to promote equality, to promote learning and to empower our people, young and old to build a new Ireland,

It is our mission to build a new nation, where citizens, through learning, value themselves as individuals who have a beneficial contribution to make to society and the economy.

At this Ard Fhéis I want to put on record our party’s appreciation of, Caitríona Ruane’s, work and undaunted commitment to education, and on behalf of our party I want to acknowledge her commitment to the promotion of equality and the ending of educational underachievement. Go raibh mile maith agat, Caitríona.

Through our first Minister of Education, Martin McGuiness, and then through Caitríona, we as a party have celebrated all that is good within our education system and we have quite rightly challenged all that is wrong within our education system. As the current Education Minister I will continue that course of action on behalf of Sinn Féin.

I am able and pleased to report to our Ard Fheis that as a result of our commitment to change, we are beginning to witness a turnaround in educational under achievement. The latest figures show an improvement in the number of young people leaving school with good qualifications but we cannot and we will not be complacent.

The polices this party introduced, such as, the Every School a Good School policy, the Sustainable Schools policy , the Irish Medium review and our continued drive towards the implementation of the Entitlement Framework, are all delivering a change in education. And they are delivering positive change to young people lives
We continue to challenge the use of Academic selection.

Our position is clear. The use of Academic selection to grade young people is wrong. We met the challenge and others now need to step forward and accept their responsibilities. , 3 of the 5 parties which sit around the Executive table are opposed to Academic Selection. , there is a challenge to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the Trade Union movement and leaders in the Business sector.

I ask, not for you to come out to support and implement Sinn Féin policy, I ask that you support and implement your own policy and make the final push and bring to an end the out dated, educationally unsound, marketing device, based on the rejection of 11 year old children.

As the Assembly resumes I will be outlining the, Next Steps in Education, I will set out the detail of how we will face the challenges and opportunities ahead. I will set out our plan for making the school estate it meet the requirements of a 21st century education system.

We have to recognise the reality of 50,000 empty school desks; we have to deal with the challenges presented by the British government imposed cuts to the budget.

No school, and no sector, regardless of their history will be able to, stand alone in the delivery of education, nor should they be allowed to,. Politicians in the North were rightly told to break down barriers and share power, it is now time to start sharing education, not only across religious lines, but also across the socio economic divide
Education as with so many other services on the Island of Ireland can only benefit from greater integration at local and national level, the border should not and it will not be allowed to stand in the way of educational attainment.

I will work with my counterpart in Dublin, Minister Ruairi Quinn, to break down barriers real and perceived. Together we can improve the conditions and learning experiences of both pupils and teachers across this Island and I believe there is a will in both administrations to work together.

Through education we can help eradicate poverty, we can tackle discrimination, instil the ethos of equality and bring quality to the life of each citizen, each neighbourhood and each community, across society.

Education is the engine of the economy and through education we will empower our citizens to fashion an economy that delivers for them as valued citizens in an Ireland of Equals.

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A chairde, it is an absolute honour for me to formally open this year’s Sinn Féin Ard Fheis here in Belfast. Indeed I want to welcome all of you to my own constituency of South Belfast.
Throughout this weekend we have delegates and visitors from all parts of Ireland and honoured guests in solidarity from the Basque Country, Palestine United States and South Africa and this evening we are delighted to hear directly from Reverend David Latimer.
On behalf of every Republican in this city - Cead Mile Failte.

Once again Republicans are making history. Who would have thought, not that long ago, it would have been possible to hold a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis here in the North never mind in the heart of the city of Belfast, but here we are.
This indeed is another sign of the growing strength and confidence of modern day Republicanism led by this proud party.

From the United Irishmen in 1798 to the present day Belfast has made an enormous contribution to the Republican struggle for justice, equality and freedom and of course that struggle continues unabated and with much work yet to be done.
We have made monumental sacrifices and I want to pay tribute to all
patriots who gave their all in this noble cause for Freedom.
This year of course we have commemorated the 30th anniversary of the deaths on hunger strike of comrades Bobby Sands, Joe McDonnell and Kieran Doherty, Fiann John Dempsey who died hours after Joe McDonnell.

From this wonderful Waterfront Hall we can literally see Belfast City
Hall, that once renowned bastion of unionist bigotry where in 1983 we had just one councillor elected, where Nationalists and Republicans were excluded from even the most token of civic positions.

Today we enjoy the largest political mandate from the good people of this city – a hard won mandate at that. We see the surrounding neighbourhoods of the Market and Short Strand which have all too often been the victims of state repression and sectarianism, yet the people stood strong and defiant. Today I think of all those from within these hard-pressed communities who have recently passed away but who would rejoice at the holding of this Ard Fheis in the heart of our city.

40 years ago in 1971 this city was engulfed in the throws of
Internment which saw the attempted suppression of all things
progressive and Republican but what a failure and at such a cost.
Today Republicans are proud of our history and proud of our record of seeking to end this long conflict and begin the journey of national
reconciliation with our unionist neighbours.

Our support for unionist working class communities is genuine and strong while others have abandoned them.

The work of this party never ceases and this Ard Fheis will debate,
strategise and re-commit to tackle the many issues as diverse as
victims, suicide prevention, the economy, education and health, Irish language, the scourge of sectarianism and racism, International solidarity and support for the people of Palestine and of course Irish reunification.

Leading All-Ireland politics by example our TDs, MPs, MLAs Senators,
MEP, councillors, Ministers and thousands of activists will discuss
all these matters on an All-Ireland basis in discharge of our substantial National mandate.
In strength, confidence and solidarity comrades savor this historic occasion but take forward the serious business at hand and have a truly successful Ard Fheis.

Videos

Peace and Reconciliation discussed at Féile


Photos

Mary Lou McDonald and Cathal King