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West Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Bairbre de Brún has accused the DUP of 'living in a political fantasy land'. Ms de Brún's comments come after the DUP held a series of meetings today with the Alliance and the SDLP stating that their intention was to achieve the exclusion of Sinn Féin from the process.

Ms de Brún said:

"The DUP must be living in a political fantasy land if they think that people will accept the exclusion of the largest pro Agreement and the largest nationalist party in the six counties from the political process.

"An aim of any process of conflict resolution is to end second class citizenship not underscore it. Any successful process demands inclusivity and respect for party's electoral mandates. Sinn Féin's commitment to this process cannot be questioned. Unlike the DUP whose agenda is to wreck the process, Sinn Féin will continue to promote and defend the Good Friday Agr

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A Sinn Féín delegation led by South Belfast Assembly member Alex Maskey will meet with the Electoral Commission tomorrow at 10.30am. The meeting is being held in the Electoral Commission Offices on Alfred Street and will discuss the disenfranchisement of up to 211,000 people.

Speaking today before the meeting Mr Maskey said:

"It is of serious concern to Sinn Féin that up to 211,000 people in the six counties are being denied their right to vote. This is the direct result of the legislation passed two years ago by the British government at the behest of the SDLP and UUP.

"The legislation has targeted in particular the young, those living in the most disadvantaged communities and those with disabilities and Special Needs.

"It is quite clear that unless the legislation is changed then the register will continue to shred year on year and confidence in the electoral process will fall further." ENDS

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South Armagh Sinn Féin Councillor Elena Martin has hit out at the disruption being caused by an ongoing military operation being carried out by the British Army at Silverbridge outside Crossmaglen.

Cllr. Martin said:

"It appears that a convoy of British Army vehicles were making their way from Newry to Crossmaglen in the early hours of this morning when what appears to be a tanker left the road. The area is sealed off and a crane is at the scene. British Army helicopters have been flying low over homes in the area since around 3am this morning.

"This sort of disruption is unfortunately not an unusual occurrence for people living in this area. However this does not make it any more acceptable. Ten years into a peace process people could justifiably expect that the days of low flying helicopter activity and military convoys to be at an end. They could justifiably expect the days of British Army road closures and harassment of local people to be a thing of the past.

"This incident is a timely reminder for people outside South Armagh that the days of military occupation are not over. That the British government continues to default upon its Good Friday Agreement commitments on demilitarisation at a time when they lecture republicans about alleged IRA activity.

"It is time for the British government to honour its commitments and removed the scourge of its military from this area and other areas across the six counties." ENDS

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Commenting today as members of the Finucance family take court action in a bid to force the British government to publish the Cory Report, Sinn Féín President Gerry Adams MP said 'that the British government must end the stalling and implement its obligations'.

Mr Adams said:

"It is now 15 years since Pat Finucane was murdered by a unionist death squad in Belfast. There is no doubt that this gang was being controlled and manipulated by British Agencies including the Special branch. All of those involved have subsequently been exposed as agents. The case for an independent, international, judicial inquiry into this killing is undeniable.

"It is a disgrace that the Finucane family are being forced down the road of court action by the British Government. After the Weston Park talks Tony Blair publicly committed himself to publishing Judge Cory's Report and more importantly acting on its recommendations.

"The British Government have been in possession of the Cory Report since last October. They are hiding behind security and legal matters in yet another stalling exercise to prevent the truth about their involvement in a collusion policy from coming out. This situation is not tenable. The British Government need to realise that the families of those killed through collusion will not simply stop demanding answers and demanding the truth." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh speaking at the Ard Fheis said 'The Fianna Fáil-PD Government is anti-immigration and anti-refugee full stop. As virtually his first act as Minister, Michael McDowell ordered pre-dawn raids to round-up illegal immigrants ˆ except that as it turned out nearly half of those he rounded-up were totally legal, and their arrests were arbitrary.' Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

Sinn Féin has identified three areas of Justice policy in this state that are in urgent need of reform on a human rights basis. You have heard me today promote the need for fundamental Garda reform. You have heard me speak of the need for fundamental prison reform. The third area needing fundamental reform on an urgent basis is the immigration policy of this state.

The Fianna Fáil-PD Government is anti-immigration and anti-refugee full stop. As virtually his first act as Minister, Michael McDowell ordered pre-dawn raids to round-up illegal immigrants ˆ except that as it turned out nearly half of those he rounded-up were totally legal, and their arrests were arbitrary. Since then, the Minister has introduced not one but two Immigration Acts that were the subject of intense criticism by the human rights sector and which contained elements that were denounced by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. This Minister is so intent on ridding this state of immigrants and refugees that he has issued deportation orders to the families of 11,000 Irish citizen children ˆ a policy that will result in the de facto expulsion of 11,000 Irish citizens on the basis of their ethnic background. Michael McDowell‚s actions are nothing short of outrageous. He has proven himself UNFIT to guide the immigration policies of this state ˆ much less to guide the development of a Common Migration and Asylum Policy for the European Union, as he plans to under the Irish Presidency

Most recently this week we were subjected to a deplorable and irresponsible compact between the Government and the media to whip up a xenophobic hysteria about phantom floods of migrants from Eastern Europe, based on no evidence whatsoever, and in direct contradiction to the Government‚s arguments during the resale of the Nice Treaty in the referendum re-run. But republicans aren‚t fooled. We recognise that this is nothing more than a pre-election scapegoat ploy to deflect criticism, buy votes and sell news.

The Government's whole immigration policy is hypocritical. It is built on lies. It is racist and it is wrong.

Comrades, once again the motion I commend to you is self-explanatory. That this Ard Fheis calls for an end to the Irish Government's war on immigration, and for the Minister for Justice to stop his criminalisation of immigrants and refugees.

We call for fundamental and comprehensive immigration policy reform in this state including the repeal of present unjust laws and the introduction of a positive immigration policy underpinned by respect for human rights and a humane ethos that more appropriately reflects an empathetic understanding gained through the experience of Irish emigration, and that recognises the massive potential contribution of migrants (including refugees) and migration to the Irish economy and society. To this end, I ask the Ard Fheis to endorse the very sound recommendations of the Immigrant Council of Ireland‚s report on Labour Migration Into Ireland and pledge that Sinn Féin will work with others to see these recommendations implemented. We must also call for the introduction on an urgent basis of a proper system of complementary humanitarian protection such as exists in other jurisdictions, so that people who do not fit the strict definition of „Convention refugee‰ but who nevertheless have a genuine fear of returning to their country of origin can be allowed to remain in Ireland. We must strongly reject and deplore as racist the Government‚s policy of deporting Irish child citizens along with their non-national parents, and to call not only for the deportation orders in such cases to be vacated, but also for the Government to introduce legislation affirming the equal right of all citizen children to remain in Ireland in the care and company of their parents regardless of the national or ethnic origin of their parents. BECAUSE WE CANNOT TOLERATE THE EXISTENCE OF SECOND CLASS CITIZENSHIP ON ANY BASIS WHATSOEVE

The only appropriate legacy for a nation scarred by emigration is a positive immigration policy that recognises the dignity and rights of migrants, and that also recognises that immigration is an enormously constructive social and economic force whose potential must be harnessed in the best interests of our future. Sinn Féin is calling for such a positive immigration policy for this state and for a United Ireland, and so I urge you to send a clear message that our party is promoting the best alternative.

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Ruane calls for Bill of Rights

Sinn Féin MLA for South Down Caitríona Ruane said 'we need a Bill of Rights can protect the most vulnerable, most marginalised and most disempowered in our society. And that is why unionism and the British Government are blocking, stalling a Bill of Rights and the All Ireland Charter of Rights.'

Dearcadh and stat seo go fol na coir do an finin bheith timpeall na haite.

That is why we need a Bill of Rights can protect the most vulnerable, most marginalised and most disempowered in our society. And that is why unionism and the British Government are blocking, stalling a Bill of Rights and the All Ireland Charter of Rights.

Do any of us believe that if we have a Bill of Rights or a Single Equality Act or a perfect human rights commission that we will wake up in the morning and everything will be alright -- of course we don't. But we need the tools to fight what is still a very sectarian state and a very cold house for Nationalists and Republicans.

We need to fight for an effective human rights commission that protects and promotes human rights. It needs to be restructured, it needs a new chief commissioner, it needs more powers and resources and should be governed under the Paris Principles.

And we have a message for the establishment -- North and South -- Sinn Fein is the largest nationalist party and largest pro -- agreement party in the Nroth of Ireland. It is the fastest frowing party on the island, the party that young people are looking to. All nationalists and republicans regardless of their party affiliation want to see change and sinn Fein will deliver change. The message is discriminate at your peril because Sinn Fein will stand up for people who are discriminated in Ireland. We are building an Ireland of equals and human rights and equality are at the heart of that vision.

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Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh addressing the party's Ard Fheis on prison reform said 'That this Ard Fheis opposes the Minister for Justice‚s prison restructuring plans as they are not evidence-based, do nothing to address the conditions urgently requiring change as outlined by the Prison Inspector, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and human rights groups including Amnesty International and the Irish Penal Reform Trust, and also do not address the primary source of overspending on the prison service which is unnecessary incarceration for minor non-violent offences such as non-payment of fines.' Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

No less a person than Nelson Mandela said that we must judge a society not by how it treats its most powerful citizens, but by looking inside its prisons to see how it treats its least powerful citizens. How true this is.

Historically, republicans have always been in the forefront of exposing unacceptable conditions and practices in prisons, jails, and places of detention throughout this island. Our concern about prison conditions extends beyond our immediate preoccupation with the conditions of republican prisoners and POWs. We recognise that general prison conditions are a major human rights concern in this state, and something that needs to be tackled. These conditions have been criticised by major human rights organisations including Amnesty International and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture but also by the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Prison Inspectorate here at home.

In the face of these widely criticised conditions does the Minister for Justice take the necessary steps to change this situation, to end human rights violating conditions in our prisons and jails? No. As we see from his closure of Loughan House that was scheduled for this very weekend as the last in the recent series of announced closures under this Government that will eliminate open institutions, we have a Minister who is intent on prison restructuring without reform, who is making prison policy not based on evidence or best practice, but his own right-wing ideology ˆ effectively, he is making prison policy on the back of a bar matt. That is not acceptable to Sinn Féin.

The motion I commend to you is self-explanatory. That this Ard Fheis opposes the Minister for Justice‚s prison restructuring plans as they are not evidence-based, do nothing to address the conditions urgently requiring change as outlined by the Prison Inspector, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and human rights groups including Amnesty International and the Irish Penal Reform Trust, and also do not address the primary source of overspending on the prison service which is unnecessary incarceration for minor non-violent offences such as non-payment of fines. That the Ard Fheis asserts its belief that the Minister is exploiting the prison officer overtime issue as a decoy to cover his plans to privatise or partially privatise the Prison Service, and expresses its opposition in principle to prison privatisation. That we believe that the most effective and socially responsible way to reduce prison spending is to reduce recidivism through state investment in programmes and services in deprived communities, for prisoners, and for ex-prisoners, and to introduce appropriate alternatives to custody in suitable cases to eliminate unnecessary incarceration. And that therefore this Ard Fheis calls for a transparent review of the prison system in the 26 Counties with a view to comprehensive reform and modernisation of the prison service based on international best practice and in keeping with human rights obligations. That we call for the reversal of funding cuts to the Probation and Welfare Service, the ringfencing of any savings from prison officer overtime for redeployment to rehabilitative services for prisoners including education and training, and an assurance from the Minister that no jobs in these areas will be lost as a result of his restructuring plans.

I believe that even after all republican prisoners are released, republicans will continue to be in the forefront of fighting for improvements to prison conditions and the human rights of prisoners because we are committed to human rights for all. Sinn Féin is the only party that can produce real, effective alternatives to the failed prison policies of successive Governments and so I seek your mandate to authorise the party to begin the process of developing a more comprehensive all-island prison reform policy that can deliver the necessary change, and that will provide the basis for a future justice policy for the United Ireland we are seeking to build.

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In my political report to last year‚s Ard Fheis I set out in some detail what progress had been made in what was then an ongoing and protracted negotiation with both the British and Irish governments and the various political parties aimed at resolving the political impasse.

One year on I want again today to set out where things are at on the negotiations front.

I want to focus on two particular negotiations over the past year - one which was ongoing at the time of our last Ard Fheis and which ended a short time afterwards and the negotiations which led to the events of 21 October last. I want also to deal with our approach to the Review of the Good Friday Agreement which is presently underway.

It is however, important to first set out the political context in which all of this was and is taking place: that is, a political crisis in the process which has existed in its current acute form for almost 2 years now. This crisis has essentially two different but related elements, one is the refusal or inability of unionist leaders to come to terms with the changes heralded by the Good Friday Agreement, and the other, and deeper element of the crisis, is the failure of the British Government to fulfil their obligations and commitments which have flowed from the Agreement.

David Trimble knows the Agreement is good for our society. But since April 1998 he has allowed his political compass to be set by Ian Paisley.

This is what has driven his 'ducks into the water, ducks out of the water' approach to the political institutions. For this has been part of his wider battle within unionism. As Ian Paisley set the unionist agenda of opposition to the Good Friday Agreement David Trimble's biggest mistake was to respond by trying to out Paisley-Paisley.

Even when the IRA leadership moved to save the peace process by putting a first tranche of arms beyond use in October 2001 David Trimble responded in the same vein as before. Mr Trimble‚s bluff had been called. He was now preoccupied with Mr Paisley at his shoulder rather than the Agreement or the peace process or indeed the issue of arms.

So while he initially responded positively to the IRA initiative he soon chose instead to up the ante at his Party Conference in March ‚02. Putting arms beyond use was no longer good enough. He reverted to the old demand of a complete surrender and he got the support of Tony Blair and John Reid for this. The British system after all had been trying to get an IRA surrender or defeat for decades.

Anti-Agreement unionist political forces with the assistance of sections of the British system were now setting the political agenda. At the UUC meeting in September ‚02 Mr Trimble signed up to an anti-Agreement motion tabled by Jeffrey Donaldson. This was the point when the political process tilted into political crisis - September ‚02, a full one and a half years ago; when David Trimble signalled his intention to pull the institutions down in January ‚03.

But rather than having the UUP seen clearly as responsible for this the British security system in the form of the PSNI stepped in with the Stormontgate charade. This was pure street-theatre. In the past few week it has been exposed as no more than an attempt to provide a spurious validation to David Trimble and provide a pretext for British Government suspension of the institutions again. That is the second and deeper part of the crisis.

Instead of holding up its end of the Agreement and in a vain attempt to preserve him as the leader of unionism the British Government chose to cosset David Trimble. Even when 'saving Dave' meant following him onto Paisley‚s political ground

Our job however is to confront setbacks, to deal with them and move on.

This is the approach which underpinned the two mammoth negotiations we were engaged in throughout 2003.

At the time of last year's party conference we had been locked for a period of months in discussions with the two governments which centred around their failure to faithfully implement the Agreement and we had also begun what we considered to be a significant and meaningful engagement with unionists.

At that time we had secured commitments from the governments on a range of issues, many of which I reported to you at the time. Many of these commitments were brought together in a Joint Declaration by the two governments which was eventually published at the end of April. But lets be absolutely clear about this declaration. Although it deals with many of our concerns, it is a bilateral position agreed only by the two governments. It is not a Sinn Féin position. It does not and cannot supplant the Good Friday Agreement. The validity of any aspect of its content only obtains insofar as it matches or is consistent with the Agreement. Sinn Féin has rejected those elements of the Joint Declaration which do not meet this test.

We had of course sight of the content of the Joint Declaration in its early draft form and well in advance of its eventual publication. And as I have just said, we were not totally happy with its final form. It contains difficulties, some of which were then and remain wholly unacceptable to Sinn Fein. We believed nevertheless that it committed to significant progress across a range of issues. Indeed it showed just how much of the Agreement the two governments had failed to implement. These commitments, if and when acted upon by the two governments, would see the commencement of a process that could see the implementation in full of the Good Friday Agreement.

Consequently, the IRA leadership was persuaded to take yet another initiative to support and inject momentum into the peace process.

On Sunday, 13 April, Gerry Adams and I passed the final copy of a proposed IRA statement to the two governments.

It contained several highly significant and positive elements unparalleled in any previous statement by the IRA leadership.

A copy was also shown to the Ulster Unionist Party leadership.

Ten days later the British Prime Minister publicly raised three questions about the proposed IRA statement.

There is little point in rehearsing the detail of what amounted to an exercise in political scrabble by Mr. Blair. Other than to point out, firstly, that the IRA statement was clear on each of the issues raised by Mr Blair, and secondly, lest there be any doubt, each and all of the questions were subsequently, publicly and clearly, answered by the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

In an attempt to break the stand off the IRA leadership had authorised a third act of putting arms beyond use to be verified by the IICD.

The UUP responded in the negative. In doing so they made it clear that their primary concern was the forthcoming election battle with the DUP and conceded that this battle would be fought on the political ground of their opponents within unionism. With unionists rejecting the IRA initiative both governments reneged on their commitments and we were back to square one, stalemate.

Fast forward to October last year and the script is the same. Protracted negotiations, Sinn Féin secure commitments from both the Governments and the Unionists, the IRA are persuaded to take yet another initiative ˆ which they do ˆ David Trimble reneges, the Governments in turn renege and the process is put on hold. Back to square one, stalemate.

Again I have no wish to rehearse the twists and turns in the October negotiations. But I do want to make some things absolutely clear.

At Hillsborough castle, in the early evening of Sunday, October 19th Sinn Fein and the UUP reached agreement on a sequence of events. That night I asked David Trimble for his word of honour on this agreement and he gave Gerry Adams and I his solemn word.

When the two governments were informed that we had reached agreement they also signed on for it.

This agreed sequence was the product of many weeks of intense discussions involving Sinn Féin, the UUP and the British and Irish governments and would allow for the restoration of the political institutions and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and allow elections to be held in a positive context.. It involved many hours of direct engagement between ourselves and the leadership of the UUP.

Everything you have heard which seeks to explain the breakdown in the sequence as something to do with misunderstanding, ambiguity, confusion, lack of clarity, deception or non delivery by republicans is absolute rubbish.

There was no confusion, no ambiguity and not the remotest possibility of misunderstanding.

All elements of the sequence were agreed in advance, including the public statements containing the commitments, which we would all make as part of this agreement.

The sequence involved:

  • An announcement by the British Government confirming the date for an Assembly election.
  • A statement by Gerry Adams
  • A statement by the IRA
  • A further act of putting arms beyond use by the IRA, and verified by the IICD.
  • A report by the IICD
  • A statement by David Trimble
  • A joint statement by the two governments.

Gerry Adams and I have in our possession copies of the statement that Mr Trimble was to make. We have copies of the Joint Statement that the two governments were to issue.

In fact because Mr. Trimble wanted to ensure that everything was done quickly to create a political momentum, Gerry Adams agreed, at David Trimble‚s request, to bring forward his remarks by one hour.

Sinn Féin delivered our part of this sequence as agreed. The IRA delivered their part of the agreement as agreed. The IICD presided over a substantial act of putting arms beyond use and reported this. The UUP however, at the point of delivery on their side, effectively walked away. Only they can explain why they did so.

And likewise with the two governments. They failed to publish their joint statement and, thus far, they have failed to follow through on a range of commitments which formed part of this agreement.

So where does this leave us? Two protracted negotiations culminating in each instance in Republicans stretching ourselves in an effort to save and advance the peace process and, also in each instance, a negative response or reneging on commitments by both the governments and the leadership of unionism. Stalemate.

Are we any further on? Is it time to think anew with respect to our approach, our strategy? What have we to show for our efforts. Some might think - not a lot. I take a different view. But these are all legitimate questions. Not just for now. These are the questions we must ask ourselves on a regular basis.

Yes, eleven months on, with the political institutions in continuing suspension and no movement on issues of equality, human rights, and demilitarisation you could be forgiven for concluding that we have made little progress or that we have nothing to show for our efforts of the past year.

There is certainly no getting away from the fact that the process is in serious crisis. Gerry Adams has told it as it is in his presidential address yesterday. This is a dangerous crisis.

But remember, at the time of our last Ard Fheis the governments were declaring that there would be no further negotiations. Despite their assertions we have, over the past year, engaged both governments on a continual basis on what is required to move the situation forward.

And more importantly we do have something to show for it. In the course of our engagements with both governments and on more than one occasion we have frustrated their attempts to sell the Agreement short, we have resisted their efforts to impose a deal which allows them to evade or dilute their obligations. And we have managed to hold the two governments to the Good Friday Agreement as the template for change.

And crucially we have built and continue to build our political strength which is the only guarantee that the process of change will continue.

We have reminded them again and again that the commitments they made in the Agreement, in last years Joint Declaration and in subsequent discussions, commitments on prisoners, on OTRs, on demilitarisation, on policing, on the rights of Irish citizens in the north to representation in the Oireachtas haven't gone away, not will we allow them to go away.

I want now to turn now to the Review

So how have we approached this review and what of its prospects?

Despite the negative context within which it is set Sinn Féin is bringing a positive attitude to the review.

We submitted a comprehensive agenda for discussion to the governments covering a range of issues under the broad headings of Stability of the Institutions; Equality and Human Rights; Expansion of the All Ireland Elements; Demilitarisation, and Policing and Justice.

We have prepared detailed positions on all of these including specific proposals for action to advance the equality and Human Rights agenda, to increase the number of Implementation Bodies and Areas of Co-operation, to establish an All-Ireland Inter-Parliamentary Forum and All-Ireland Consultative Forum, to enable the transfer of powers on policing and justice.

We have also raised the disgraceful situation of electoral registration in the north and the resulting disenfranchisment of over 200,000 voters.

The issue of collusion is on the agenda, including the refusal of the British government to publish the Cory report and their failure thus far to initiate independent inquiries demanded by families of those killed by State forces or through collusion between British forces and unionist paramilitaries.

We have argued also for a genuine and substantial social economic peace dividend for deprived working class areas, both unionist and nationalist.

These are all matters directly linked to the Good Friday Agreement and which require focussed discussion and action.

While we have adopted a good faith approach to this review we are under no illusions with regard to its prospects.

We are very mindful of the inconsistency between the British Government's assertion that the Agreement cannot be renegotiated and their failure to restore the political institutions which are the democratic core of the Agreement.

We are equally mindful of the contradiction in the Democratic Unionist Party‚s position of taking part in a review which is about determining how best to implement the Agreement when they have declared their intention to subvert it.

The DUP tell us all, in their published documents, and I quote, „Any agreement must command the support of both nationalists and unionists‰.

Sinn Féin emerged from the recent Assembly election with 60% of the nationalist vote.

Surely the logic of the position outlined by the DUP must mean that they graduate now from sitting in councils with Sinn Féin or sitting in TV studios with Sinn Féin to face to face negotiations with our party. The logic of their position is, as Gerry Adams put it yesterday, they should be in government with Sinn Féin.

Of course, neither the British Government nor the DUP has attempted thus far to explain the contradictions in their respective positions.

And everyone knows the Ulster Unionist position. Last week David Trimble threatened to walk out of the Review. He declared that any further participation by his party would only be on the basis of discussions around the issue of paramilitary activity.

And what is the governments response to this? Well, lo and behold, Review business on Monday has been cancelled and Review business on Tuesday is now scheduled to be focussed on what the governments describe as „paramilitarism and its detrimental impact on our collective efforts to find a basis for sustainable devolution‰.

We, of course, have no difficulty with such a focus. In fact we welcome it. We have many many questions with respect to paramilitary activity.

We know that the PUP for example during last summer used their influence to help bring about a decrease in loyalist activity on their side. We hope to hear that this will continue.

We don‚t know as yet whether or not the announcement last week by the UDA that they are extending their ceasefire will mean anything. However we are prepared to wait and see. We certainly welcome the UPRG signalling an intention to work towards this end.

But there are other issues of concern to us which we intend to raise in next weeks discussions. There is the very big issue of the continuing British Government involvement in loyalist paramilitary activity. And of course there is ongoing concern about the DUP involvement in Ulster Resistance.

So, it will be interesting to see how the respective parties address these particular concerns about their connection to paramilitary activity, and also about their future intentions in this regard.

As to the prospects of the Review - well, we can be certain of one thing, it won‚t lead us out of the current stalemate. It was not designed to deal with a crisis in the Agreement.

Yes, the current stalemate is a crisis, a dangerous crisis. But it is not a crisis that - began one week ago outside a bar in Belfast. It is not a crisis around the IRA or IRA intentions. The institutions have been suspended now for almost 18 months. This is the 4th suspension. In the same period the IRA have taken a number of initiatives to move the process forward, whereas both governments, and particularly the British Government, have failed repeatedly to deliver on their commitments. In the same period the securocrats have succeeded in stalling the process of change. But that is all they have managed to do. They have not halted this process, nor have they reversed it. Nor will we allow them to.

We have negotiated, and campaigned and argued to have the Good Friday Agreement implemented not only because that is our obligation, not only because it is the right thing, but also because it fits into a strategy of providing and maintaining a political alternative to conflict, a means of sustaining and anchoring the peace process and a transition to the free independent Ireland we have worked long to achieve. That is what our negotiations strategy is about. That is what we will continue to do. Sinn Féin is in this process to the end

Our intention is clear.

Our intention is peaceful.

Our intention is to succeed.

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Let me begin by stating the obvious.  The RUC was established as a partisan, political, protestant and paramilitary police force.  Its raison d'etre was as an instrument of political repression, counter-revolution and terror.  No wonder then that republicans put the issue of policing, at the core of the negotiations and peace process. 

For the first time in the history of the 6 county state the potential to utterly change the unionist, paramilitarty and sectarian character of policing in the North is substantially in our hands.  We have not yet reached the point of fully achieving our objectives in this area but huge advances have been made since the negotiations of 1998. 

All of the parties to the Good Friday Agreement accepted the need for 'a new beginning' to policing.

The Patten commission was set up to formulate that new beginning.

While the Patten report fell short of full disbandment of the RUC, we believe that the 175 Patten recommendations, if implemented in full, hold the potential to fundamentally and radically change both the nature and composition of policing in the 6 counties and Ireland as a whole. 

However, following the publication of the Patten report the British Government began immediately to pull back from its commitment to implement the recommendations in full.

The Mandelson Bill which appeared in Westminister in the spring of 2000 reflected a substantial dilution of Patten in all the key areas.

Sinn Féin refused to endorse the Police Act 2000 on the basis that it did not measure up.  We also lobbied other parties to do likewise.

The SDLP claimed that new legislation was not achievable. Surprise, surprise!  However, by early 2001, Sinn Féin had won the argument with the British that a new second Police Act was required.

In the negotiations of spring 2001, Sinn Fein secured further changes in policing arrangements and a commitment to reflect these in new legislation. This advance, while important was, however, insufficent to reach the required threshold.  The British Government set out the new position after Weston Park. But before that Bill was even tabled, the nationalist consensus was broken by the SDLP.  They joined the Policing Board.  In jumping too soon they protracted the negotiation and weakened the hand of Irish nationalism in seeking to secure the required new beginning to policing.

In spring 2003, negotiations between Sinn Féin and the British government secured commitments to further amendments.  The second Police Act of 2003 reflected the advances negotiated by Sinn Féin.

Critical to a new beginning to policing and justice is the issue of transfer of powers to Ireland through the local Assembly, the Executive and hence into an all-Ireland context through the all-Ireland institutions.  But transfer of powers is also crucial because it is the only way that control of policing and justice can ultimately be wrested out of the hands of British securocrats in London and the NIO who have run policing as a paramilitary force for generations.

The transfer of powers will require the enactment of a third parlimentary act by the British government, surrendering power on policing and justice matters which are currently controlled by the NIO and by London.  Without transfer Policing and justice will remain unaccountable and a tool of repression. 

Other outstanding issues which remain to be resolved include:

· A ban on the use of plastic bullets.

· In the meantime an accountability mechanism is required to deal with plastic bullets which are fired by British Army personnel.

· The necessary and additional resources needed by the Police Ombudsman to carry through her work.

· Commitments to boost the number of Catholics in the Part-Time reserve are outstanding.

· We have negotiated changes to the inquest system.  We await the outcome of the Luce Review to see if the wholesale abuse of the past will cease.

· The British government has yet to repeal emergency legislation and instead, has extended powers

· The British government must publish the Cory report and instigate the inquiries demanded by the families such as those of Pat Finucane, Robert Hamill and Rosemary Nelson

· The British Government must acknowledge state violence. In particular, disclosure of the policy of collusion, disavowal of this policy and dismantling the structures which perpetrated collusion.

The old system is resisting, it's fighting back.  We should not be surprised.  Resistance to change can be seen in the efforts by the RUC to regroup within the PSNI, particularly in the new variations of Special Branch such as REMIT.   Policing is and will continue to be a battle a day. How to work with others, such as the Oversight Commissioner, the Police Ombudsman, human rights and community groups in promoting critical, radical debate and responses to policing is vital. Policing is a site of struggle. We must bring the battle of ideas to our opponents and to the wider public.

Policing on this island is an instrument of state power. Only through the transfer of powers on policing and justice to a democratic local Assembly in the north, can the potential be unlocked to achieve a realignment of policing on an all-Ireland basis.  Policing is obviously an instrument of state power in the 26 counties, as well. As we advance an agenda for change in the north, there is an imperative to devise and advance a complimentary agenda in the south. In recent weeks and months, the development of that agenda is reflected in the critique of policing advanced by SF in Leinsteir House, and in our document on Garda reform which I commend to the Ard Fheis. There is a policing and justice deficit on the island of Ireland. The gap needs to be filled. All the people of Ireland want a new beginning to policing and justice. SF is the only party with the leadership and elected representatives, north and south, to advocate, legislate and agitate for that all-Ireland vision.

So, where does this leave us? The job given to the negotiations group was to achieve a new beginning to policing and justice, we have made significant progress especially through new legislation.  It is not an impossible task and republicans need to be acutely aware that if the Leadership achieve the objectives set in this area then this in turn will raise fundamental questions and problems for all activists. While we are still a substantial distance from that point, activists need to realise that we can achieve it, and with achievement there is responsibility.

Republicans are accused by unionists, the British and indeed other nationalist politicians of wanting too much, of being insatiable, of actually being against policing. Let me be clear. Those who have suffered from bad policing want proper policing more than anyone else. That includes me, the parents of Holy Cross, the residents of Short Strand or North Belfast or South Armagh or Tyrone, sex crime victims, drugs victims, car-crime victims, victims and survivors of collusion and all the others who want a better way of life who want justice on an equal footing.

The unionist population is afraid of losing their police force whether it is RUC or PSNI.  If we are honest, republicans too have a fear of achieving the new beginning to policing. We fear getting it horribly wrong. Our whole lives have been in rebellion against a police force in rebellion against us.  The whole idea of a police service in the 6 counties, transitional or otherwise is a massive debate.

But nobody said it would be easy. Here is the challenge facing us. As political activists we must rethink strategically, debate strategically and decide what is best for our party, for the cause we represent and most importantly for the people we represent.

Policing and justice cannot be viewed in isolation from other key issues such as the stability of the interdependent institutions, equality and human rights, demilitarisation, the ending of discrimination, collusion and so on. The militarised barracks, armoured vehicles, guns and plastic bullets do not auger well. The force within a force, the continuing political raids, and the lack of action on sectarian attacks and drug dealing makes it extremely difficult for republicans and  nationalists to envisage a radical new policing service in the future.  But we will pursue proper policing and justice with all the energy.

 

We have not yet achieved our goals. There are gaps, but as we negotiate we are filling more and more of those gaps.

People are angry and Michael Mc Dowell needs to listen if he can, above his arrogance and vomiting.  It is a Justice and Policing system for the people we will achieve -- not for the privledged few or the brown envelope brigade.  Hugh Orde, Des Rea and Denis Bradley also need to know that they are not the justice ministers in the North.  We as Republicans will not be a part of a Police force which is involved in collusion or protects Human Rights abusers, or Drugs barons, or Sectarian murderers because they are state agents. 

There will be no force within a force when we are finished.  We will accept nothing less than the entitlements of people to have a community police service representative, accountable and free from partisan political control.

No-one should be bigger than justice and certainly not the police force.  I call on this Ard Fheis and activisits to support us in this very fundamental struggle for an enduring and All-Ireland Justice system.

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Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin speaking during the health debate said 'Molaim Rún 52 ar son an Ard Chomhairle agus táim ag tacú ar son an Ard Chomhairle le Rún 48 in éineacht le Comhairle Ceantair Mhuineacháin agus Ógra Mhuineacháin Thuaidh.'

The disastrous record of the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government on our health services is not the failure of one Minister alone. It is the collective failure of a Taoiseach, a Cabinet and of two political parties who have betrayed the trust of the people. Almost two years ago Fianna Fáil sought and received the mandate of the people on an election manifesto which promised to permanently end hospital waiting lists within two years, to extend medical card eligibility to over 200,000 extra people - with a clear priority being given to families with children - and to end waiting lists for appropriate care places for people with disabilities.

And they are only three of the 14 promises on health, all of which have been broken. There are 27,000 people on hospital waiting lists and we are only weeks ago away from Fianna Fáil‚s deadline of zero waiting lists by May 2004. Medical card cover has not been extended and low income families with children who do not qualify are now worse off than they were two years ago. People with disabilities are still denied appropriate care places and many are waiting years for such places. Our A&E departments are overflowing. Instead of real reform we have piecemeal plans for bureaucratic change which will remove democratic accountability from the strategic management of our health services.

And on top of it all we have the Hanly report - a recipe for the closure of services and hospitals. We welcomed the long overdue reduction of working hours for Junior Hospital Doctors in Hanly but we deplore the use of that issue as a Trojan horse to close services in local hospitals around this State. Monaghan and Dundalk were the guinea pigs when their maternity and A&E services were axed. It is primarily women and children who are worst affected by those cuts. And so it will be throughout this State if the Hanly cutbacks are implemented. I pledge here today that Sinn Féin, in conjunction with local communities, will defend our hospital services and fight these cuts tooth and nail.

We must challenge the record of this administration. We must defend services that are under attack. And we must also present a real alternative. Real health reform is about the best primary care available to all regardless of ability to pay. It is about hospital services available on time and to the best standard without discrimination on the basis of what you earn or where you live. It is about the right not to have to spend hours or days on a trolley in A&E and the right to have dignity in old age. It is about cherishing all our children, and supporting people with disabilities.

Mar a deireann an rún tacaíonn Sinn Féin le ceart aimsithe seirbhísí cúram sláinte atá sásúil agus oiriúnach do chách gan aird ar chumas íoctha. Iarraimid deireadh de réir a chéile leis an chóras dhá shrait agus go gcuirfí Seirbhís Náisiúnta Sláinte ina áit le cúram saor ag láthair an tsoláthair.

In June of this year the people have the opportunity to give their judgement on the broken health promises of Fianna Fáil and the lamentable record of this Government. Let us get out there and make them pay the price. Let us get out there and present the real alternative.

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Sinn Féin's North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton speaking at the party's Ard Fheis said 'It is shocking and unacceptable that in the north of Ireland the winter deaths of over 1,300 pensioners are linked to temperature.' Ms. Staunton said:

Multiple deprivation, including fuel poverty, requires a multi-faceted solution which combines assessing the occupants of a home and their specific needs along with the physical characteristics and location of the property. Sinn Fein proposes that in the short term geographic fuel poverty programmes should be created to tackle fuel poverty in the worst council areas. These programmes should include examining and using renewable technologies to tackle fuel poverty.

Fuel poverty has a wide-ranging effect on the health, educational and social well-being of individuals and families. Being fuel poor can limit the life choices, opportunities and functions of people. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, under Sinn Féin minister Bairbre de Brún, and she is to be commended for this - has already laid some good groundwork by the goals set in 'Investing for Health' and the specific regard which it has to fuel poverty.

It is shocking and unacceptable that in the north of Ireland the winter deaths of over 1,300 pensioners are linked to temperature. The latest figures from the House Condition Survey (2001) which show that 203,000, or 33% of households, suffer from fuel poverty are equally shocking and unacceptable. Comparable figures in the south of Ireland and England are 16% and 9% respectively. Child poverty ˆ an area identified in this consultation paper, is particularly acute with 37% of children in low income households. Many of these children can be counted amongst the fuel poor.

These statistics, combined with the figures in Low Income Households published at the end of September 2003 by OFM/DFM and mid-October 2003 by Queen‚s University and the University of Ulster in a joint study on poverty show the huge efforts required to eradicate poverty in our society and the abject failure of many government policies in this area. We have the data, we have the information on levels of poverty, now is the time to take action. In tackling fuel poverty we all have a chance to make a difference to the quality of people‚s lives. We should not squander this opportunity.

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Dr. Dara O'Hagan supporting Motion 179 on Fuel Poverty called for the establishment of a cross departmental Ministerial Task Force. Dr. O'Hagan said:

Cross-Departmental Ministerial Task Force

The problem of fuel poverty needs to be given political leadership at the highest level. The creation of a Cross-Departmental Ministerial Task Force is the best way to achieve this. Government departments, local councils and political parties all have a leading role to play in tackling fuel poverty. It is clear that political leadership can get positive results much more quickly, the example of the energy efficiency levy being approved in the Assembly is a case in point.

A Cross-Departmental Ministerial Task Force would have the necessary political 'clout' and ability to move the issue along with the speed it deserves and it would be treating fuel poverty with the seriousness and urgency it deserves. This Task Force should also be responsible for monitoring targets for eliminating fuel poverty and for publishing an annual report to this effect.

Another necessary component of tackling fuel poverty is additional resources. It is disappointing that DSD has done nothing in this regard. This calls into question the department's commitment to seriously dealing with this issue.

All-Ireland Fuel Poverty Strategy

It has long been recognised that the existence of two separate energy markets on such a small island is neither cost effective nor politically sensible. An all-Ireland energy strategy is now in place with one of the desired outcomes being a lowering of fuel prices throughout the island as well as ensuring security of supply. An all-Ireland fuel poverty strategy should be part of the all-Ireland energy strategy with responsibility for this under the All Ireland Ministerial Council and the Cross-Departmental Ministerial Task Force.

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Sinn Féin MLA for North Antrim Philip McGuigan today addressed the party's Ard Fheis and said 'Sinn Fein isn't being prescriptive in this regard. We don't have a blueprint, nor are we attached to any particular model of truth recovery. Any process should be victim-centred and, to ensure impartiality, has to be independent and international.' Mr. McGuigan said:

A chairde agus comradaithe, our motion today calls for a focussed debate and political engagement with all relevant parties on the timing and purpose of truth recovery processes. In October last year we launched our paper on truth - 'Truth - A Sinn Fein Discussion Document' to promote a debate about the issues this entails.

I commend this document to you comrades, it is available from the usual outlets and can be downloaded from the party website. Bring it into your cumainn and discuss it. This is an important issue and we need to acquaint ourselves with all the arguments and sensitivities around it.

The Sinn Fein position on truth is clear. We support relatives in their search for truth. We have been consistent over the years in supporting campaigns for full and open disclosure in the quest for truth and justice. This includes the campaigns for inquiries into the killings;

  • On Bloody Sunday
  • Of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill
  • Those arising from British and loyalist collusion on both sides of the border.

Some families have spent years, in some instances decades, in dogged pursuit of the truth, coming up against one closed door after another. In some cases there have been results. Inquiries have been granted in some instances, most notably in relation to Bloody Sunday. This Ard Fheis would like to pay tribute to those relatives and tireless campaigners who never gave up on this.

In most instances however, those who have lost loved ones at the hands of the British state, whether directly or less directly by means of collusion, have been pointedly denied the truth. In fact every effort has made to block and cover up what happened to those hundreds of people killed by British state and semi-state forces.

This included different sections of the British government blocking avenues of inquiry being pursued by the Saville inquiry, the destruction of evidence in relation to Bloody Sunday; the character assassination of John Stalker when he was unearthing the truth, the curtailment of the terms of reference for the Sampson/Stevens inquiry and the refusal of the PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde to provide information to inquests in Belfast and Derry in respect of the killings of Pearse Jordan and Roseanne Mallon.

Evidence has been destroyed, lies have been told, files have been 'lost', inquests have been denied, injunctions have been granted and Public Interest Immunity Certificates issued each and every time it looks as if someone is getting near to the truth about Britain's dirty war in Ireland.

It is against this backdrop that the recent highly publicised interventions of Chief Constable Hugh Orde, himself at the centre of blocking inquests, and the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Policing Board must be seen. 'No more inquiries, perhaps a Truth Commission' they say 'Inquiries cost too much, they're a drain on police resources and are affecting morale.'

Part of this is to protect the policing board and the PSNI from having to deal with the human rights abusers, especially in Special Branch who have moved en bloc into the PSNI.

Well, if they really support a truth process why don't they just give us the truth? There'll be no need for any inquiries if they open up the files and encourage their employees to tell us how and why they killed hundreds of people over the years. Full and open disclosure.

It is wrong for anyone to dip his or her toe into this issue, to come out with some broad sweeping generalisation and then walk away from it. If anyone is genuinely interested in discussing ways to bring healing and closure to all those who have suffered as a result of the recent conflict, our door is open.

Sinn Fein isn't being prescriptive in this regard. We don't have a blueprint, nor are we attached to any particular model of truth recovery. Any process should be victim-centred and, to ensure impartiality, has to be independent and international. It should have national reconciliation at its core and should be informed by humility, generosity and a desire to learn the lessons of the past."ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin opened the debate on the Economy at the party's Ard Fheis on Saturday 28th February said 'Instead of building the services that our people need, instead of eliminating poverty, providing housing and improving health, Fianna Fáil and the PDs have used wealth to reward the wealthy and to feather the nests of their friends in big business.' Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

Ba mhaith liom Rún 156 in ainm an Ard Chomhairle a mholadh.

The past decade has been a time of unprecedented prosperity in Ireland with unprecedented resources in the hands of the Irish Government. Never was so much money at the disposal of so few people in Irish society. But never did a Government make such an enormous mess of the opportunities that were handed to it on a golden plate. They have deliberately and deceitfully squandered resources which do not belong to them but to the Irish people. Instead of building the services that our people need, instead of eliminating poverty, providing housing and improving health, Fianna Fáil and the PDs have used wealth to reward the wealthy and to feather the nests of their friends in big business.

In successive Budgets since 1997 Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy has imposed this agenda of inequality. Only this week in Leinster House he put through a Finance Bill implementing Budget 2004 and which exposes all the twisted thinking of this Minister and this Government.

His Bill extends tax breaks for developers of multi-storey car-parks while rural communities are denied public transport.

It extends tax breaks for developers of hotels, holiday camps and holiday cottages while 50,00 family housing units languish on waiting lists and local authorities are deprived of funding to provide social housing.

McCreevy's Bill also extends tax giveaways to developers of private hospitals and private sports injuries clinics. While Minister McCreevy throws money at the lucrative private health business our public health system is in a state of continuing crisis.

And what is the cost of all these tax giveaways to property speculators and developers that will continue until 2006? Neither the Minister, nor his Department nor the Revenue Commissioners know the answer. I asked the Minister in a Dáil Question last week and he admitted that they simply do not know. Yet they will carry on the giveaway until 2006. This is the same Government that has imposed a miserable and miserly cut in Rent Allowance to make a so-called saving that is causing real hardship and driving people into homelessness.

This is the thinking of a Government that cares more for housing horses in Punchestown than it does for housing people in homes. It is a Government that is more eager to please its friends in the Fianna Fáil hospitality tent at the Galway races and the high flyers at Cheltenham than keeping their promises to the people who elected them and whom they have betrayed.

I also want to support the motions on privatisation. We saw this week what privatisation actually means. Tony O'Reilly alone is set to receive €36 million when he sells his stake in the privatised Eircom. In 1999 over half a million people were persuaded by this Government through a multi-million pound advertising campaign to buy shares in the privatised company. In November 2001 the people who bought Eircom shares were faced with the Hobson's Choice to sell their shares to Valentia at a loss or lose all that was left of their share value.

The vast majority of people who bought those shares, and who lost substantial sums which many of them could ill afford, were ordinary citizens who had never bought shares before but were persuaded by this Government to buy into a company that they, the public, had owned. This has turned out to be a device to enrich a handful of privateers with no benefit to consumers.

We now have a private company, Eircom, with a virtual monopoly, 80% of the landline market in this State. We have a situation where this company was allowed to increase line rental charges by 25% in the past 18 months. So much for the benefits of competition. This is a prime example of the folly of the privatisation agenda being pursued by this Government and one they plan ultimately to replicate in the case Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta and CIE. They must be stopped and they will be stopped.

Since my election to the Dáil in 1997 I have presented on behalf of Sinn Féin 7 pre-Budget submissions setting out our alternative to the bankrupt policies of Fianna Fáil and the PDs. We are presenting the only alternative based on the sharing of the wealth of this nation. Let us take that alternative to the people in the local and EU elections and beyond and let us give Minister McCreevy and his cronies the answer they so richly deserve.

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Sinn Féin EU candidate for the South, David Cullinane speaking during the peace process session of the party's Ard Fheis called on political parties, north and south, to put their energies into pursuing the all Ireland and equality agenda, rather than pursuing an anti-Sinn Féin, anti-peace process agenda.' Mr. Cullinane said:

The Good Friday Agreement, as republicans have said on many occasions is not a republican document. It does however, offer republicans a template to actively pursue our legitimate aim of a United Ireland. The considerable potential of all-Ireland structures for governance, as provided for within the Agreement and adopted by a majority of people, north and south, has created a new political dispensation and framework to enhance the re-unification agenda. Sinn Féin is the political party leading the all-Ireland agenda.

As an Irish republican party, Sinn Féin is committed to the development of the all-Ireland structures necessary to foster an Ireland of equals, structures which will impact positively on all aspects of Irish life and society. The all-Ireland agenda isnot, as some Unionists and others would have use see it, a sop to Nationalists and Republicans, it is real and offers positive opportunities for all the people of Ireland. It entails the complete integration of Ireland's political, economic, cultural and social environment. It is of value to people from Derry to Kerry and from Waterford to Belfast.

In this period of transition that we, as republicans, find ourselves in today, the all-Ireland element of the Good Friday Agreement is a vehicle for driving Sinn Féin's all Ireland agenda towards a society of equality and justice for all. Sinn Féin, at all levels of our party, must promote and seek to expand the effective remits of the all-Ireland institutions. The all Ireland Consultative Forum, the Joint Parliamentary Forum, the all Ireland Charter of Human Rights adn the all Ireland Ministerial Council are institutions we need to develop and expand.

It is evident that the unitary logic that informs the work of these all Ireland instituitons represents a step towards the ultimate integration of existing systems of administration and government, taking us closer to a United Ireland. This is why we see so much opposition tothem from within Unionism and the British establishment. That is why we must ensure that not only do they work but that they grow and expand. They offer us a road map to a United Ireland.

Irish people, north and south, who suffer discrimination in such areas as housing, health, education, employment and social services are entitled to redress and justice. These vital issues are within the competency of the social partners and the all-Ireland Consultative Forum. They have an essential role in advising the all Ireland Ministerial Council on the implementation of an all Ireland anti poverty and social inclusion strategy.

Economic, political and social reconfiguration on an all Ireland basis holds out the prospect of substantial opportunities in many sectors of society. You cannot partition issues from health to education, agriculture to environment. Sinn Féin believes the all Ireland Implementation Bodies should become more dynamic, with work programmes that complement the expanded remit of the all Ireland Ministerial Council.

The six areas currently identified as areas of co-operation - health, agriculture, transport, education, tourism and the environment should be replaced with Implementation Bodies. New Implementation Bodies on justice, policing, energy and the social economy should be established. The Good Friday Agreement and the new political dispensation in Ireland provide a potential framework to address the needs of people in real and measurable ways.

The creation of all Ireland institutions was not an exercise in window dressing. They offer real and immense opportunities to develop island wide politics capable of delivering on the bread and butter issues within the overall rfepublican aim of progressing an Ireland of equals, based on social inclusion and a human rights agenda. With the conviction which underpins our party to promote an equality agenda, we cannot and will not allow that opportunity to be squandered.

In terms of the all Ireland and equality agenda, we in Sinn Féin are leading the way. We encourage other political parties, north and south, to put their energies into pursuing this agenda rather than pursuing what is at times an anti Sinn Féin, anti peace process agenda. The all Ireland agenda is for all of the people. Equality threatens no one. The people of Ireland, north and south, voted overwhelmingly for the Good Friday Agreement. Let us all together, channel our collective energies to ensure that reintegration and reunification is an actionable reality.

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A chairde

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh gach duine atá anseo inniu, na hoifigigh, an ceannaireacht, na baill uilig agus chomh maith leis sin ár gcairde ón tír seo agus thar lear.

Tá súil agam go bhfuil sibh ag baint sult as an chaint agus dióspoireacht thar an deireadh seachtaine.

I want to welcome all of you here to this very unique gathering, the Ard Fheis of the only all-Ireland political party on this island.

I want to greet our international visitors, our delegates, members and activists and our Friends of Sinn Féin visitors from the United States, Australia and Canada who do such a great job for us.

I want to extend a particular céad míle failte to our team of MLAs, those men and women newly elected to represent Sinn Féin in the Assembly in the north - if we had an Assembly in the north. Failte romhaibh uilig.

I also want to extend, on behalf of the Ard Fheis, a warm greeting to two people who cannot be here today but who are watching on RTE. Bheatha agus slainte to Joe and Annie Cahill.

The process of change has been set to one side

A lot has happened since our last Ard Fheis.

Sinn Fein has become the largest pro-Agreement party in the north.

In the south increasing numbers of people are looking to us as an alternative to the self-serving politics of the conservative parties.

Little wonder that the more hysterical of our detractors are regurgitating the old propaganda nonsense of the past.

So, this party is once again in the eye of the storm, the main target of invective by all the other parties.

More importantly and of greater concern is that the process of change has been set to one side.

So today I will resist the temptation to react to the agenda put forward by our opponents. Today is a day for talking about our agenda.

Tá Sinn Féin ar an phairtí is sine ar an oileán seo. Tcífimid an bhliain seo chugainn ceiliúradh céad bliain ar an tsaol don phairtí seo. Tá muid iontach bródúil a bheith pairteach sa phairtí mór stairiúil seo.

Ach cosúil le stair na tíre seo tá stair Shinn Féin á scríobh go fóill. Tá an cuid is fearr le teacht go fóíll.

The History Makers

Next year is the centenary year of the foundation of this party.

A hundred years is a long time in politics.

Yet the history of Sinn Féin continues to be in the making and you, the people assembled here, are among the history makers.

If I was asked to measure Sinn Féin's successes in our era, I would not only cite our political growth - the number of votes cast for us - though that is important.

I would also state that the success of a party like ours has to be measured by how much change we have brought about. And I believe that this has been considerable.

Other parties have more votes than us. They have been in power many times but what changes have they created?

A decade of change - Moving out of conflict into a better future

Let's look briefly at the situation a decade ago.

1993 was a violent year. Eighty-eight people lost their lives and many others were injured and maimed. Seventeen people died in the Shankill bombing and the Greysteel attacks alone.

It was also the year of the Hume/Adams initiative.

The Peace Process was emerging from a protracted bout of secret and private diplomacy involving Republicans, John Hume, the British and Irish Governments and influential Irish Americans.

There was a huge resistance from elements in both establishments on these islands to such developments.

Remember, this party was censored, denied the use of municipal buildings in Dublin city, and party colleagues and family members were killed. John Hume was stigmatised for daring to talk to us. His detractors included leading members of the coalition government and of his own party.

As you all know John Hume announced his retirement last month. I want to pay tribute to John. I extend best wishes to him and Pat, and wish them well for the future.

John Major, the British Prime Minister, was vehemently denying any knowledge of the Hume/Adams initiative. He declared that his stomach would 'turn-over' at the thought of dialogue with Republicans.

Predictably the unionist leadership declared that they would not participate in dialogue. In November 1993 Ian Paisley announced that unionism 'faced the greatest threat to the Union since the Home Rule crisis'.

At this time exactly 10 years ago, just two months into the new year of 1994, 8 people had already lost their lives.

I rehearse all of this today only to underscore the massive changes that have occurred and the progress that has been made.

While there are now very real and immediate difficulties in the peace process I can say without any fear of contradiction that we are still in a far better place than we were 10 years ago.

I can say without fear of contradiction that Irish republicans have driven that process while others have tried to bring it to a halt.

All of this change has happened because of courageous and imaginative thinking in the early 1990s by republicans and others.

Within republicanism the debate about conflict resolution crystalised in the Sinn Fein peace strategy which was the catalyst for breaking the stalemate in the conflict in the north.

The key lesson from that period for Irish republicans is that we did not allow ourselves to be locked into or paralysed by the immediacy of the conflict, by the hurt we suffered or by the short-sightedness of our opponents.

We sought to create a political alternative by initiating dialogue, by politically empowering our own constituency, by mobilising and campaigning in new and innovative ways.

We sought to bring an imaginative, creative and magnanimous approach to our political work.

We sought to engage our opponents and to understand their perspective.

We sought to over-come rather than sustain difficulties and differences.

Therein lies the key to the resolution of the current difficulties.

Firstly, everyone genuinely commited to the process has to recognise that the current situation is untenable in the longer term.

Secondly, we have to resolve that the improvements, hard won by dint of huge effort, will not be destroyed by those whose only vision of the future is the past.

Thirdly, there has to be an ongoing process of sustainable change.

In other words the peace process must deliver.

British are allowing anti-Agreement unionists to dictate pace of change

Last April, the British government in their Joint Declaration with the Irish government acknowledged their failure to implement many outstanding elements of the Agreement.

They did so again in October.

In November Ian Paisley's DUP emerged as the strongest unionist party.

That shift to the right within unionism occurred because the UUP leadership allowed the rejectionists to set the agenda.

And worse than that the British government acquiesced to, and at times encouraged, this approach so that the process of change became dependant on the whim of a unionist leader constantly looking over his shoulder at his rejectionist rivals.

Thus, for the last six years rather than fully enforcing the Agreement London has proceeded only at a pace, which unionism and its own government agencies, have been prepared to tolerate.

This is the core difficulty in this process.

And now we are at our greatest crisis because we have no process of change.

At this time the process is static.

This process, any process by its nature cannot be static. It either moves forward or it moves back. We are determined that it moves forward. That is why we are arguing that the programme of change must continue.

The reality is that we do not have parity of esteem and equal treatment for different allegiances.

The Human Rights Commission is in a mess.

There is no Bill of Rights. Discrimination remains endemic. The Human Rights Commission failed the children of the Holy Cross Primary School in Ardoyne. The Chief Commissioner should go and go now.

We still do not have the new beginning to policing and justice promised in the Good Friday Agreement.

Where stands the promised demilitarisation of our society when the British Army is still in occupation of republican heartlands?

There is a need for stable political institutions with the people's elected representatives making decisions on important issues, which affect all our lives, across a range of social and economic issues.

The suspension of these institutions must be lifted. It is a breach of the Agreement.

So we have our work cut out for us. Bringing the process as far as it has come has not been easy.

It will not be easy in the time ahead.

It will challenge us.

But the challenges are not only for republicans.

The British state in Ireland is a contrived political entity. It was created and moulded to ensure a permanent unionist majority. It is entirely unionist in its ethos, symbolism and management. So any attempt to bring about equality is bound to be very difficult.

And this isn't just about the section of people in the north who are unionist. I think that they know that London has little loyalty to them.

They distrust London even more than nationalists. And correctly so. London acts and will always act in London's interests.

But the senior policy makers within the British system and particularly those unaccountable branches of the so-called security agencies are entirely anti-Irish, anti-republican and anti-democratic.

Their version of the peace process had a very different script from the one that has been written in recent years.

In their script the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party were to form the so-called centre ground. In essence British policy is about modernising the union so that a section of Protestants and Catholics in the north, and these are British government words, not mine, could be persuaded to support the union.

Sinn Féin was to be perhaps a significant but nonetheless small, incohesive element of an anaemic political system in the north.

But it hasn't turned out like that. Sinn Féin is now within 15,000 votes of being the largest party.

We have the right to the position of the Deputy First Minister.

The Good Friday Agreement has also correctly been seen as an instrument of change, real change in real ways in peoples‚ lives.

All of this is a nightmare to the securocrats.

The truth on collusion must be revealed

Despite their protestations to the contrary, so far the Good Friday Agreement has been too big a challenge for the British government, or perhaps more accurately it is a bridge too far for its agencies.

And let there be no doubt about the continuing power and influence of these elements.

The refusal to co-operate with a range of investigations into state and state-sponsored violence is symptomatic of a culture of concealment that infects the entire British system.

They have obstructed the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday, the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; they have refused to initiate full and independent inquiries into a number of controversial killings, and vital inquest evidence in respect of numerous state and state-linked killings is being withheld by the PSNI and the Chief Constable Hugh Orde.

The British government has also refused to publish the Cory Report. 15 years after the death of Pat Finucane his family is still waiting for the truth.

Bhí baint láidir ag rialtas na Breataine i ndúnmharú na céadta daoine in sa tír seo. Bhí siad ag comhoibriú leis na gasraí dílseacha agus tá siad ag obair leo go fóill.

Bhí na grúpaí marfacha seo ag obair lámh le chéile leis na péas agus le arm na Sasann agus le polaiteoirí is stat seirbhísí den leibhéal is airde i rialtas na Sasann.

Mharaigh siad na céadta poblachtánaigh, náisiúnnaigh, caitlicigh.

Dúnmharíodh 20 baill de Shinn Féin, ionadaithe tófa san aireamh, maraíodh ár gcairde agus baill clanna san fheachtas fíochmhar de sceimhle polaitiúil.

Collusion - the control, resourcing and direction of unionist death squads by British state agencies - was sanctioned at the highest level of the British government.

It resulted in the deaths of hundreds of republicans, nationalists and Catholics.

Twenty members of Sinn Fein, including elected Sinn Féin representatives, our family members and friends were killed in a vicious campaign of political terror.

This is a human rights scandal, which anywhere else would have brought down governments.

The murder of citizens through collusion with Unionist death squads has been and remains British state policy in Ireland. The apparatus is still in existence.

Earlier this month 100 families of victims of collusion took their campaign for the truth to London.

Some of them are with us today. I want to acknowledge and support them.

Irish government must represent Irish national interests

Issues of inequality and injustice will continue to demand our attention. That is why an Irish government must have additional and more far-reaching strategic objectives than a British government.

British government strategy aims first and foremost to serve British national interests.

Are Irish national interests the primary focus of Irish government strategy, now or over the past 5, or 30, or 80 years? The answer, unfortunately, is no. The Barron report is eloquent, tragic, pathetic testimony to that.

Conservative and neo-unionist elements in the south serve only their own narrow interests which in some cases are fundamentally anti-republican and pro-partitionist; and at times against the national interest. They are comfortable with the status quo. It has served them well.

So the strength and energy of an alternative, radical republican view is as important in the south as in the north.

But we don't have all the answers and in our endeavours to make progress we readily recognise that republicans are not exempt from criticism. I have consistently acknowledged this in a very public way and I do so again today.

Irish people are not stupid. We can tell the difference between slick opportunism and legitimate comment; between people doing their best to make progress and people doing their best to prevent it.

Republicans take risks and governments and unionists walk away

The outworking of the British government's strategy was brought very much into stark profile when Mr. Trimble aborted the sequence of initiatives agreed on October 21st last year, after republicans honoured commitments as part of an agreed sequence of statements and actions.

This included the IRA putting its third and largest amount of arms beyond use.

But Mr. Trimble wasn't the only one to walk away from his commitments.

He was joined by the British and Irish governments and neither one of them have moved one inch since then on the undertakings they gave.

Only Sinn Fein and the IRA upheld their parts of the agreed sequence.

This has caused profound difficulties for the Sinn Fein leadership. Many republicans have raised what they and I consider to be reasonable questions about our handling of that episode.

There was, as one comrade put it to me, a question over the decisions made by us and by the Army leadership. 'Surely you knew better than to depend on David Trimble? Did you really expect the two governments to keep their commitments?' 'Why is it always republicans who have to take initiatives?'

And the irony of it all is that there is no doubt, even among its detractors and opponents, about the significance of the IRA's act.

Governments and rejectionist unionists alike have acknowledged this fact.

Despite what happened subsequently I want to make it clear that I stand over the remarks I made that day.

I set out a peaceful direction for republicans because I believe that is the proper position.

I will argue that position with anyone, in any place and at any time.

But the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach must deliver also.

They must stand up to the rejectionists.

They too must take risks for peace.

Leadership is needed

There is an understandable focus on the DUP at this time. It is right that their position should be explored. Sinn Féin is for that. But we're against time wasting.

The process of change and the rights of citizens cannot wait for Ian Paisley to embrace the concept of equality.

The two governments have to face up to that reality.

They also have to face up to the reality that republicans have very little confidence in them and their commitment to the Good Friday Agreement at this time.

So, the governments have to be energetic in how they approach the next phase.

This places a heavy responsibility on them - and especially on Mr. Ahern and Mr. Blair - to provide the essential political leadership that this dangerous crisis urgently demands.

This means that the two governments have to honour their obligations made in the Agreement, made in last years Joint Declaration and in subsequent discussions.

They know that a vacuum will encourage those who want to tear down this process. We only have to look to the Middle East and the terrible events there to realise the danger of a stalled peace process.

For our part republicans recognise that building peace is a collective endeavour.

We who want to see the maximum change are called upon to take the greatest risks.

So there can be no doubt if the two governments apply themselves to acts of completion of the Good Friday Agreement then others must do likewise.

In fact the IRA leadership clearly put its position on the public record in May last year when it said that the full and irreversible implementation of the Agreement and other commitments will provide a context in which it can proceed to definitively set aside arms to further its political objectives.

Such a commitment would have been unimaginable ten years ago.

So too would the last decade of IRA cessations.

The opportunity provided by these developments should not be wasted.

This party is actively working to ensure this.

But threats, ultimatums, or the imposing of preconditions can be no part of this. Holding up a process which is essentially about basic rights and modest entitlements is totally counter-productive.

No matter how daunting, tedious and frustrating this process may be for the governments and the rest of us there is no alternative way forward.

The resolution of difficulties will only be found through dialogue and keeping commitments.

Efforts to put Sinn Féin under pressure are a waste of time.

I state that as a fact, plainly and simply, not through any wish to be macho.

Republicans are committed to this process by choice. We want it to work. We intend to make it work. But we will not be bullied or denied our rights.

Two of the great challenges facing us nationally are to get a British government to embrace a strategy to bring an end to the union and to work with the representatives of the people of this island to bring about a united and independent Ireland.

But why should a British government move on these democratic objectives or even on the Good Friday Agreement when others will accept less?

The Irish government in particular should know that nationalists and republicans look to them to persuade the British government on these matters.

The Irish government is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and that Agreement is both an international treaty and a part of the Irish Constitution.

Citizens want delivery on those issues, which are directly the responsibility of the Irish Government.

This includes the status of the Irish language and proper funding and resourcing for it.

There is also the issue of prisoners within this jurisdiction who should have been released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

And most importantly the right of Northerners to have representation and participation in political institutions in Dublin continues to be withheld.

The Taoiseach needs to explain why this is so? He needs to sustain and build confidence in the peace process and in politics - all the more so when others seek to undermine the process.

He should act energetically and consistently on his commitments. He should resist and confront the securocrat agenda, which now openly demands a return to exclusion and repression - to the failed policies of the past.

Dialogue must be about change and equality

At the same time all of us who share the republican ideal are continuously challenged by the need to agree with unionism about how we should live together on this island.

Caithfidh muid smaoineadh ar siombalachas an bhrat náisiúnta - agus an dóigh chun aontas is síochán -idir buí agus glas - a chur i gcrích.

Caithfidh muid glacadh go mothaíonn aontachtóirí faoi bhagairt ó phobhachtachas agus náisiúnachas.

Tá eagla ar aontachtóirí dá mbeadh an seans ag poblachtánaigh agus náisiúnaigh go gcaithfimis leo mar saoránaigh den darna leibhéal.

Ní dhéanfaimis a leithid agus ní dheanfaidh.

Tá na laethanta mar soránaigh darna aicme críochnaithe.

Nuair a éilímid comhionannas, tá muid ag éileamh comhionannas do gach aon duine.

How do we make the symbolism of our national flag - unity and peace between orange and green - a reality?

We must acknowledge that unionists feel threatened by republicanism and nationalism.

Unionists fear that if given the chance republicans and nationalists would treat them as second-class citizens.

We would not, and we will not. The days of second-class citizens are over.

When we demand equality, we demand equality for everyone.

So, these fears must be dealt with.

We have that duty, as do the leaders of unionism.

For this reason Irish republicans are ready to do business with the various unionist camps.

The DUP and the UUP, the two largest unionist parties, are involved in a cynical, frustrating exercise in macho posturing.

Ian Paisley and David Trimble are fighting for control of unionism, both trying to prove how tough they are. And while they play their power games, the peace process stalls, and withers.

Sooner or later, we and the unionists must begin a real dialogue, an anti-sectarian dialogue, designed to move us all beyond the impasse of the present into a living, hopeful future in which they, as well as we, tell the British government to butt-out; that no longer will London, which is not trusted or respected by any constituency in Ireland, set the terms for us.

The DUP is now the senior unionist party.

The logic of its position is that it should be in government with Sinn Féin.

Republicans are not naïve about the DUP.

We know that they want to minimise the process of change.

But the DUP also knows that if it wants a return to sustainable devolved administration that it will be with Sinn Féin in government and it will be with the all-Ireland model contained in the Good Friday Agreement.

So, our party is prepared to explore the DUP position, not because we have any illusions about Mr. Paisley's position, but because we have confidence in our own position and because one of our objectives is for a strategic alliance with unionism for the benefit of all our people.

We recognise and respect the mandate of the DUP, they must recognise and respect our mandate.

So too must the parties here in the south.

Remember, in the Assembly elections we didn't compete only with the unionists and the SDLP. Fianna Fáil, the PDs, Fine Gael and the Labour Party opposed us.

In what was a great national effort by our activists from all over this island we roundly defeated them all.

So the battle lines have been drawn for the next contest. Between now and June and the local government and European Union elections we can expect more nonsense from Minister McDowell.

The Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil should not be part of this short-sighted anti-republican agenda.

These elections are important for us and the other parties but they are not more important than the peace process.

This isn't to say that we should not defend ourselves and the integrity of our party. On the contrary we will do that with gusto. We will also put before the people our record, our policies, our agenda for change.

I never take voters for granted but I have a feeling that Sinn Féin is going to advance again at local level.

I wish all our candidates well and look forward to another national effort to build republican politics, to send a clear message to our opponents and to consolidate support for our peace strategy.

Another Europe is possible

The European Union elections have already begun. Sinn Féin is the only party contesting on an all-Ireland basis.

Sinn Féin wants a Europe of equals.

We will not accept an EU where more than 55 million people face poverty and social exclusion.

An EU whose combined military spending is almost three times higher than the global development aid budget.

We, who live in this part of the world, have a huge responsibility towards our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

There can be no doubt that the greatest global sources of insecurity are disease, poverty, hunger and injustice.

So, I welcome this week's Dublin Declaration. It is a step in the right direction.

Global military spending remains 14 times higher than the global development aid budget. This is a disgrace when you consider that 30,000 children in Africa and in other parts of the world die each day.

Eliminating poverty is not impossible.

It requires far-sighted, progressive global leadership.

It means taking the actions which are necessary and making these an international priority.

There is also a need to end wars.

It is an outrage that the occupation of Iraq continues, it is an outrage that the conflict in the Middle East continues and that the suffering of the Palestinian people continues to be largely ignored.

The apartheid wall is a human rights outrage. It is contrary to international law and it must come down.

So, we want to be part of a European Union that leads by example on human rights, on demilitarisation and conflict resolution.

Sinn Féin is pro-Europe but we want to be part of a European Union that defers to and supports the United Nations, a European Union that leads the way in the cancellation of debt in the developing world, that is nuclear weapons-free, that protects the environment, and that trades fairly with other regions.

We want a mandate to argue that the European Union should promote and work towards the full spectrum of national, collective and individual rights.

We want to defend our fishing industry, our farmers, and our small indigenous businesses.

I also have to say that I totally reject the Irish government's attitude to the status of the Irish language within the EU. It is totally unacceptable that during the Irish Presidency of the Union that the government has refused to move in order to secure official status for the Irish language as a working language.

The Nice Treaty referendums are proof that our view is shared by almost 40% of the electorate.

I want to appeal to voters who traditionally vote for the other parties to look at the record of those parties.

I want to appeal to them to vote for the only all-Ireland team.

In the north we have Bairbre de Brún, South - David Cullinane; North West - Pearse Doherty; East - John Dwyer; and Dublin - Mary Lou McDonald.

Transforming Irish society

The past decade has been the decade of the peace process in Ireland.

The politics of Sinn Féin's peace strategy is to empower people.

But the past decade has also been the decade of tribunals when the corrupt relationship between leading politicians in this State and big business was exposed as never before.

Most of the scandals centred on planning.

Corrupt politicians, land speculators and property developers profited from the misery of others.

Communities suffered from atrociously sub-standard housing in bleak estates without facilities. They endured the worst of the drugs scourge and the poverty and the unemployment of the 1980s and early 90s.

This party stood shoulder to shoulder with those people.

We opposed cuts in health and education. We fought for facilities and decent homes. We stood up to the drugs barons. We organised in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

We protested at the senior politicians who grew rich through criminality while they cynically urged the rest of us to tighten our belts.

Since then of course and for the last decade the wealth of this state has been greater than at any time in its history. We welcome that.

Do we have better schools, better hospitals, affordable homes?

Have people with disabilities benefited? No.

May I in an entirely non-party political way applaud all of those people who cherish those citizens with disabilities. The Special Olympics was the best event in this country last year. I thank everyone involved especially the athletes and the voluntary workers.

Today, despite the wealth created, children and teachers are forced to teach and to learn in substandard school buildings.

Today land speculators and property developers benefit from Government policy while young people who have obtained a mortgage are working all hours to keep up payments.

Those who are most in need and who can least afford to pay for housing are left at the end of the line.

There are nearly 50,000 family housing units - representing some 130,000 people - on the local authority housing lists.

There are families living in overcrowded homes, and tenants living in sub-standard accommodation for which they are paying exorbitant rents.

Within walking distance of this Ard Fheis there are homeless people preparing to sleep rough in doorways in one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

The housing crisis is a direct result of the disastrous housing policy of this coalition government.

Our TDs have proposed a constitutional amendment to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution and Sinn Féin is committed to the implementation of that right in law and in bricks and mortar for all who need homes.

During the general election in 2002 Fianna Fáil promised the people that if they were re-elected they would, and I quote 'permanently end waiting lists in our hospitals within two years'.

That two years is up in ten weeks time.

Do you think they'll do it in ten weeks?

Ten months?

Or in the remainder of their term of office?

Not a chance.

Over 27,000 people are languishing on waiting lists.

Staff in Accident and Emergency departments are struggling to cope.

There is a bed shortage and a staff shortage in our public hospitals while the private health business flourishes.

I believe it is an obscenity that a public patient diagnosed with a serious illness requiring surgery must join a massive queue while those who have the money to do so can skip the queue and receive private hospital care almost immediately.

That is the reality of the two-tier health service in this State. It is wrong.

Let us send a clear message from this Ard Fheis that Sinn Féin is in the business of righting these wrongs.

People have the right to a home, to a job, to education, and to health care from the cradle to the grave.

Campaigning on all of these issues is the core of Sinn Féin activism. It is the key to bringing about change now.

By acting locally, while thinking nationally we tie together the great historic elements of our philosophy.

Tá a lan obair le deanamh againn.

Tá pairt ag gach duine, is cuma cé chomh mór nó cé chomh beag.

We as individual republicans do not put ourselves above anyone else.

Equality is the key.

We are committed to building the Ireland that Bobby Sands, Maire Drumm, James Connolly and Padraig Pearse and their comrades gave their lives for, an Ireland of equals, a united and free Ireland.

The downside of the 100 years of Sinn Féin is that we have yet to achieve our objectives.

The upside is that we are capable of doing so. In fact what this generation of republicans is attempting is unprecedented.

We are seeking energetically to build the peace while vigorously debating and campaigning on social and economic questions.

We are endeavouring to bring an end to the union, while constructing a political party that will both improve conditions now and be ready to take power in the future.

to shape a new Ireland,

in collaboration with its people, into a truly national and egalitarian republic on this whole island.

We have a lot to do.

Ar aghaidh linn.

Lets go out and do it.

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Sinn Féin Councillor Sue Ramsey speaking in support of motions 101 and 103 said that 'Inequalities in housing provision acted as a catalyst to the civil rights movement 35 years ago. Despite all the progress that has been made since then, inequalities in housing provision remain to this day.' Ms Ramsey said:

The number of households presenting themselves as homeless in the 6 counties is up 16%, mortgage repossessions are up 25% on last year, the average price of NHBC registered houses is up 10% and Housing Executive stock is down by over 7,000. These figures send out a warning signal.

95% of all new dwellings started in 2002-03 were commissioned by the private sector. This points up a huge imbalance in the building of social housing. Unless there is a radical rethink about meeting the demand for social housing there will continue to be unacceptable increases in homelessness and increased pressure of Housing Executive waiting lists.

These motions demand that there be a significant increase in social housing provision in the six counties. I would like to strongly support this demand -- current provision is totally inadequate. However, it is not just a matter of increasing the amount of investment being put into the development of social housing -- it is also a matter of ensuring that this investment is used to promote equality.

Inequalities in housing provision acted as a catalyst to the civil rights movement 35 years ago. Despite all the progress that has been made since then, inequalities in housing provision remain to this day.

The issue of poor housing has dogged the six county statelet since its inception. It needs to be sorted out once and for all. That will require determination; it will require organisation and it will require resources. None of these are adequately forthcoming at the moment. Until they are, the scourge of inadequate and unequal housing provision will remain. What is needed is for a properly funded Housing Executive to be allowed to fulfil its role in providing a volume of social housing that is sufficient to deal with the needs of the population.

Twelve months ago there were 14,000 homeless applications, these new figures show that since then almost 16,500 people have presented themselves as homeless. We need too help people avoid homelessness, to bring people out of homelessness and to continue to provide support for people escaping homelessness. This requires sustained action and political will

Need for emergency accommodation and support accommodation. Pay tribute to Simon Community for work they carry out and to those organisations who have ensured that this issue remains on the political agenda.We need to radically review the current strategy because the reality is that the current housing strategy is failing to meet need.

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Sinn Féín MLA for South Down Caitríona Ruane supporting motion 75 on the Cory Report said: Sinn Féin will continue to support the families of those killed through collusion and we will raise the issue of the publication of the Cory Report at every opportunity. And we pay tribute to the families who have kept fighting for justice and truth against all the odds.

Ms Ruane said:

The right to be equal before the law, before the institutions of the state is an inalienable fundamental right.

The right not to be targeted for murder by the state because of your political beliefs is, if possible, an even greater fundamental right.

But today the truth is that for nationalists living in the north that the state in question -- the British state refuse to accept that nationalists must be equal.

An Firinne inniú de náisiúnteóirí ina cónaí sna sé contae go bhfuil an Stáit sé sin an Bhreatain -- ag diúltadh glacadh leis gur gá do náisiúnteóirí bheith cothrom.

A system of collusion runs to the heart of the British governments strategy in the 6 counties.

Yet if we are to move forward into a new island based on human rights and equality then the British government must come clean. They must dismantle the collusion machine.

Confirmation that the British government intend to delay the publication of the Cory Report is yet another stalling tactic by the British in their attempts to keep the lid on the collusion scandal.

The British Secretary of State has claimed in the British parliament that one of the reasons for not publishing the Cory report was because of human rights considerations. Presumably he was referring to the continued cover up around those who perpetrated the killing of people as a result of collusion.

The facts are now well known and accepted that the British state was involved in the importation of weapons and the targeting and murder of citizens in the six counties. They have been attempting to hide the truth of collusion for decades.

Paul Murphy should be aware that those who colluded and killed have breached the right to life, the most fundamental of all rights and that no amount of excuses from him will justify the decision not to publish this report. His comments are merely an excuse and will be seen as such by the families of those killed and by the wider international community.

The British government must stop stalling on inquiries into the killings in which British state agencies were involved. Judge Cory has reported yet we are now witnessing further delays, excuses and stalling. The families involved are entitled to the truth.

Sinn Féin will continue to support the families of those killed through collusion and we will raise the issue of the publication of the Cory Report at every opportunity. And we pay tribute to the families who have kept fighting for justice and truth against all the odds.

Neither the British government nor its agencies have accepted responsibility for collusion, the arming, organising, resourcing and direction of loyalist death squads, the killing of hundreds of people and the protection of those responsible. There have not been thorough investigations in these cases. On the contrary British state agencies have denied involvement and systematically concealed the truth. Even in the context of the Saville Tribunal, established by the British government, the British state has withheld, hidden and destroyed vital evidence.

There is no denying that there was a brutal conflict in this part of Ireland for 30 years and that many, many people suffered as a result. But one of the key issues, so far unacknowledged, is that the British state was involved in a policy of systematic murder and violence against whole sections of the nationalist community.

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Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin speaking during the peace process debate at the party's Ard Fheis in Dublin this morning said: It is not good enough for the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to throw up his hands and say that he has to believe the British when they claim they supplied all relevant information to Judge Barron. They most certainly did not. He needs to challenge Blair as we in the Sinn Féin delegation did in his presence in Downing Street last December.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

In supporting motions 68 and 69 on attacks and collusion in this State by the British government I want to assert first of all the right of Irish republicans to raise these issues. Let us be very clear. There must be no hierarchy of victims and each and every death in the conflict since 1969 was a tragedy. That includes combatants on all sides and civilians. However grievous the armed actions of republicans in that period they accepted responsibility for them. All those actions were pursued and investigated by the British state in the Six Counties and many hundreds of republicans were tried and imprisoned. Many were imprisoned for actions for which they were not responsible. But what of the participants in the armed conflict from the British side? The British state has never admitted responsibility for most of its armed actions resulting in deaths and injuries on a huge scale, including in this jurisdiction. Not a single one of them has served a day in prison in this State for their offences here.

The British made their intentions clear for anyone who chose to investigate. British Army Brigadier Frank Kitson described their strategy in his book Low Intensity Operations in which he said the law should be "just another weapon in the Government's arsenal" and "little more than propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public". He brought to Ireland his experience in counter-insurgency in Kenya, Malaya, Oman and Cyprus and set out the strategy of using loyalist paramilitaries as the tools of the British armed forces. For nationalists in the Six Counties and the Border counties during the '70s and '80s such collusion was not a hidden hand -- it was obvious to everyone. The UDA was not even banned by the British government until 1988.

This is the background against which we must judge the failure of successive Irish governments to confront the issue of collusion and the responsibility of the British government for the deaths of at least 47 people in this jurisdiction and hundreds in the Six Counties. As the Barron Report on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings makes clear, the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition government of that time chose to turn away.

They showed little interest in the investigation. They would not face the implications of the fact that the government of what they described as a neighbouring friendly country could be responsible for an atrocity deliberately carried out against civilians in this State. Because of that refusal to confront reality and to confront the British government itself, successive Irish governments abandoned their own citizens -- the injured, the survivors and the bereaved of Dublin, Monaghan, Belturbet, Dundalk, Castleblayney, Kildare and Buncrana.

It is not good enough for the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to throw up his hands and say that he has to believe the British when they claim they supplied all relevant information to Judge Barron. They most certainly did not. He needs to challenge Blair as we in the Sinn Féin delegation did in his presence in Downing Street last December.

This May we will mark the 30th anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the only fitting way for that anniversary to be marked is for the truth to be told.

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Given the drastic housing shortages experienced in the six counties, it is essential that a comprehensive and adequately funded programme of social housing development be instituted as a matter of urgency.

Take the opportunity to say some words about housing and homelessness in the North and make some comments about my own constituency.

The main reason for homelessness in the North is conflict in the home which represents over 40% of those who approached the Housing Executive, followed by no accommodation within the North (11%), loss of tied/rented accommodation (11%) and intimidation (9%).

There are huge numbers of people on waiting lists classified as A1 priority or in 'stress'

This is compounded in areas like North Belfast by intimidation and sectarian violence. Intimidation accounts for almost 10% of the figures for those approaching the Housing Executive as homeless. Across the six counties Unionist paramilitaries have been waging a campaign of violence and intimidation particularly in mixed area such as South Antrim and around interface areas such as North Belfast with the very deliberate objective of creating 'no-go' areas for nationalists by forcing them out of their homes.

Nowhere are sectarian inequalities in housing starker than in North Belfast. The figures speak for themselves. In 2002, the housing waiting list for North Belfast contained a staggering 1,748 applications. Of those applications, over 80 per cent were made by Catholics. The figures for those classified as being in housing stress are very similar, with 764 applicants suffering from housing stress being Catholic as opposed to 172 Protestants. In other words, if you are a Catholic in North Belfast, you are four times more likely to be suffering from housing stress than your Protestant counterpart.

This is not to belittle the plight of those Protestants who find themselves without decent housing -- their rights to adequate shelter are no less than anyone else's. It is to say that in relation to this most basic human right, the discrimination that has characterised the northern statelet throughout its existence has not gone away.

The time has long gone when this problem should be sorted out. There is no excuse whatsoever for such inequalities. I want the strong message to go out from this Ard Fheis to the British government and to the Housing Executive that Sinn Féin will not tolerate this discrimination in any form. We demand that adequate funds are provided for the development of social housing, and we demand that that funding is distributed in such a way that inequalities are eradicated.

Let me make this clear, we are not talking about equality of allocation -- that will do little to narrow the gap. We are talking about equality of outcome -- resources need to be allocated in such a way that in the very near future, it will make no difference to your likelihood of suffering housing stress whether you are a Catholic or a Protestant. Indeed, in a western European country in the 21st century, there is no reason at all why anyone should be suffering from housing stress. Sinn Féin pledges itself to do all in its power to ensure that this scourge on human rights becomes a thing of the past, and to expose those who fail to live up to their responsibilities.

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