This has been a mighty year for Sinn Féin since we gathered in that historic Ard Fheis in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. We have fought a hugely successful Assembly election campaign in the north receiving the endorsement of the northern electorate as their political leaders and of course we made an historic and spectacular breakthrough in the southern general election. Republican politics is now at the heart of political life in this state.
Our TDs and senators have become the voice of ordinary people across the country ravaged by the austerity politics of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail. During my Presidential election campaign I visited every one of Irelands 32 counties. I was the only candidate to do so. And I did so because it was important to recognise the rights of Irish citizens outside the 26 counties, rights long ignored by the political elite in Dublin.
However in the course of that campaign, all of the other candidates from the other parties indicated support for the extension of Presidential voting rights for all Irish citizens, including those in the north and those forced to emigrate from their homeland. Hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens, including myself, where denied the right to vote, this is blatant discrimination and must end. And I want to give notice from this Ard Fheis that that this is a commitment we intend to hold this government to.
Talk during elections is one thing now is the time for action. Last night I spoke in greater length about the commencement of a process of National Reconciliation in Ireland. Our republican ideology is based on inclusion and recognition of the different cultural traditions and identities that share Ireland. I recognise that there are 1 million people on this island who are British and let me state here and now that as a proud Irish Republican I not only recognise the Unionist and British identity I respect it and in return all I seek is for my Irish identity and tradition to be respected as well.
Respect is a two way street. People who think that a new Ireland, a united Ireland can be built without unionist participation, involvement and leadership are deluded. During my Presidential campaign I called for the next decade of commemorations to become a decade of reconciliation, I reiterate that stance here today.
We have an opportunity to engage, learn and promote understanding between our different traditions but we also have a responsibility to ensure that the mistakes of the last century never happen again. As we look back over the last 100 years all of us and I mean all of us regret many of the actions and terrible events that resulted in conflict and death, we won't forget what has happened in our past but we also won't be constrained by it.
The recent convenient lecture by Peter Robinson in Dublin was an important and positive contribution to the need for the commemoration of our past history to support rather than to undermine the peace process. And indeed I was encouraged that the recent Orange Order commemoration of the signing of the covenant passed in a peaceful and dignified fashion.
Our future is in our hands it must be about building a new and shared community based on tolerance and respect. The naysayers say it can't be done, they pour scorn on all our progress and they focus on all the time on the negative, it is quite clear that the electorate north and south have a better understanding of where we are going – nothing is impossible.
There are still those in our community who claim to be republican and claim to still be fighting for Ireland, these people claim they love our country but clearly they don't love our people as the murder of Ronan Kerr a young GAA loving Police Officer in April last year showed. If anyone can claim to understand the mindset of those opposed to peaceful Irish Republicanism I think I can.
Those involved in these violent acts don’t believe for one minute that they further the cause of Irish reunification, what’s more they also know the agreements we have negotiated are solid and secure. They also know that the unity of the Irish people and their elected representatives in defence of our historic agreements will never be broken.
Nuala Kerr and Kate Carroll who I have met and respect are good people who are genuine and sincere supporters of peace and change, my message to those who remain committed to violence is that it is not much of an achievement to think that the only thing you have shown the capability to break are two fine women’s hearts.
And other families and other mothers have suffered likewise, including in my home city the families of Brian McGlynn, Jim McConnell, Andy Allen, Kieran Doherty and Emmett Shiels, shameful murders carried out by the enemies of the people Derry and of Ireland. The actions of these small groups underline their opposition to progress and their rejection of tolerance and change. These people present no alternative to the peace process or to building a better future, they talk about the conflict in romantic terms and criticise Sinn Fein.
Well today I want to send a message directly to them, I am offering them an opportunity to meet and talk, come and tell us what you hope to gain by deluding yourselves and the gullible that your actions will succeed in what is certainly a pathetic and futile attempt to turn back the clock. The war is over and we are in the process of building a new Republic and you can still be part of that.
There is plenty of room within the political process for voices who oppose the Sinn Féin strategy. I was part of the conflict, I was there during the difficult and tragic times we had in the past and let me tell you there was nothing romantic about the war, it was hard, it was painful and it was traumatic and I never ever want the children of Ireland who live today in peace to be subjected to the conflict, pain and hurt that we lived through.
I never want to be attend another funeral of a Police Officer or any other member our society who lost their lives due to violence, so I appeal to you for dialogue but I also say to you that the process of building a new future will continue with or without you, it is your call. Others in Derry have recently embarked on a series of shootings and beatings against vulnerable young people. Over thirty years ago I spoke out against such attacks and I do so again today.
These attacks are deplorable, they are not wanted and they need to end. Sinn Fein are moving forward regardless, we are progressive and forward thinking, proudly Irish and respectful of those that are not, our membership spans all the so called classes and our support continues to grow. However we cannot take our support for granted, we must work for the community, earn every vote and proudly represent the people who elect us to speak for them.
Through our work and with the peoples support we have made Sinn Fein a party of Government in the North and in the South we have made massive strides forward. It is up to us to give a voice to people silenced by poverty, by illness or by emigration.
Significant challenges remain ahead, but Ireland needs Republican politics like never before. Ireland needs patriots and Ireland needs leadership. As we approach the centenary of the 1916 Rising, Ireland needs a strong relevant and bold Sinn Féin party – standing up for Ireland and standing up for you.