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Sinn Féin – Looking forward with confidence: Adams

4 November, 2007


Sinn Féin President, West Belfast MP Gerry Adams MP MLA speaking at an internal Belfast party conference has said that republicans are looking forward with confidence as we embark on potentially the most rewarding phase of our struggle.

Mr Adams said:

"It was here in Belfast, just over 200 years ago, in the late 18th century that Irish republicanism took root. And in particular it was the notion of The Republic - a state in which the people are sovereign - which attracted the interest of a radical group of Belfast Presbyterians. It is from these roots that modern Irish republicanism draws its core political values.

"And today Irish republicanism is thriving in this the city of its birthplace. In the Assembly elections earlier this year Sinn Féin won more seats in the city than any other party. We now have 8 MLAs. And within the greater Belfast area, including Dunmurry Cross, we also have 17 Councillors. Tens of thousands of Belfast citizens vote for our party. That places a huge onus on republicans to deliver for them, as well as for all of the other citizens of Belfast.

"We are now embarking on the most difficult but potentially most rewarding phase of our struggle. It is about building political strength and using it to improve living conditions for citizens, to build prosperity and equality, and to advance toward national freedom. It's about tackling disadvantage and being relevant to citizens in their daily lives."

Mr. Adams called on party activists to develop an entirely new relationship with unionism. He said:

"At community level, in the Councils, on voluntary and statutory bodies, in the Assembly, and in many other places, republican activists are meeting unionists everyday. Republicans need to engage with them at every opportunity; to talk about the future, to listen to their concerns; to find ways in which we, and they, can work together to overcome problems; and to persuade them that their future, their best interests, are better served in a united Ireland.

Commenting on the major work which is ongoing in rebuilding and expanding the party in the south Mr. Adams said:

"In recent years we have been very successful in doing this electorally - especially in the north. The Assembly election in March provided ample evidence of this. Sinn Féin secured almost 181,000 votes - our highest number ever in the north. 28 seats. 5 Ministers. However, this year also witnessed a disappointing result in the southern general election. There were high expectations internally and externally about that election which we didn't meet.

"Many will remember the election of April 1992 when we lost the west Belfast seat. That too was a disappointment. Our enemies thought it was a fatal blow - that they had us on the run. Well, they didn't. We immediately got down to the business of winning the seat back. Of building republicanism. Of planning and strategising and of looking forward. That's the lesson of that time. And we have a lot to build on in the time ahead.

"The party's vote in the 26 counties went up overall and we came very close to taking a number of extra seats. And over the summer Pearse Doherty from Donegal was elected as Sinn Féin's first Senator. Since the election the party has been meeting locally and nationally, reviewing what happened, and we are putting a plan in place to get us back on track. This will see two major party conferences take place before the end of the year. But these are only part of the way forward. We have to build on that; build on our republican roots and policies; shape them to take account of the political realities of Ireland today, and move forward confidently. We have to grasp the major political opportunities which are now open to us." ENDS

Full Text of Speech

Sinn Féin - Looking forward with confidence: Adams

Irish resistance against the conquest of Ireland by Britain is probably the oldest colonial struggle in world history. It began almost at the start of one millennium and continues today as we enter the next.

But it was here in Belfast, just over 200 years ago, in the late 18th century that Irish republicanism took root. And today Irish republicanism is thriving in this the city of its birthplace.

Mainly Irish Presbyterians, but others as well, took inspiration from the revolution in Britain's American colonies in the 1770's and 80's, and then from the French Revolution of 1789.

It wasn't simply that in one they forced a foreign government to leave; or that in the other a corrupt regime was removed from power, it was the ideas, and philosophies, and debates which flowed from those momentous events which caught the imagination of people here in Belfast.

And in particular it was the notion of The Republic - a state in which the people are sovereign - which attracted the interest of a radical group of Belfast Presbyterians.

The 'Rights of Man' - the seminal work by the English writer Thomas Paine published in 1791 - which argued for rights and equality, was a hugely influential pamphlet which was widely available in this city.

Later that same year, in September, Wolfe Tone published his "Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland". In that he stated his belief that religious divisions were being used by the establishment to divide and exploit people. He argued for the unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.

Like Paine's pamphlet, Tone's was hugely influential. Consequently in October 1791 Tone and friend Thomas Russell were invited to meet with a group of like-minded Belfast Presbyterians.

From this meeting the Society of United Irishmen was born, and the rest - as they say is history.

It is from these roots that modern Irish republicanism draws its core political values.

And today Irish republicanism is thriving in this the city of its birthplace.

In the Assembly elections earlier this year Sinn Féin won more seats in the city than any other party. We now have 8 MLAs.

And within the greater Belfast area, including Dunmurry Cross, we also have 17 Councillors. Tens of thousands of Belfast citizens vote for our party. That places a huge onus on republicans to deliver for them, as well as for all of the other citizens of Belfast. So, how do we do that and at the same time advance our political goals?Our starting point has to be our national and democratic objectives.It is these that guide us in all that we do.What are they? Simply stated Irish republicans seek:

  • A free, sovereign independent Ireland.
  • An end to partition.
  • An Ireland in which the Irish people are responsible for independently charting our own future.
  • An Ireland which is democratic, and in which citizens are able to enjoy the benefits of the goals of 'liberty, equality and fraternity' that inspired Irish republicans 200 years ago.

The Republic

We seek a republic. Specifically, we seek a republic shaped by Tone and his comrades, by Lalor and Mark and Connolly and by those of this generation and many others.

A republic shaped by the 1916 Proclamation, but most of all a republic to suit the needs of this century and our people today.

Our republic is one in which the people are sovereign and equal and free - in which people are citizens, not subjects.

A republic in which citizens have rights - and which is fashioned around people - citizens - not political or economic elites, or monarchies or hierarchies.A republic in which citizens are tolerant of each other, and of each others views, opinions or beliefs and which is inclusive.Why should gender or disability, or race or class, or skin colour or creed give one group of human beings the right to deny other human beings their full rights and entitlements as citizens.The republic we seek must deliver the highest standard of services and protections to all citizens equally.

It would be secular and anti sectarian.

And it would promote a culture of inclusiveness and equality.

It would strengthen and promote the Irish language.

It would guarantee equality for all cultural traditions. That means parity of esteem for Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Jew, those of other faith and none, traveller or settled, national or non-national, Irish speakers and English speakers or those with first languages.

And cherishing children would be a priority.

To achieve all of this means for us as Sinn Féin activists that we have to be about building republicanism in both parts of this island and making it relevant to citizens in the political conditions in which they live.

This is a huge job of work - an ambitious task - that requires this party building significantly greater political strength throughout this island.

Great Challenges ahead

Last year in my Presidential speech I set out the five great strategic challenges facing Sinn Féin in the time ahead.

These are as relevant now as they were then.

First, and foremost, I said, "we must concentrate our efforts on the current negotiations. Our task is to advance the peace process and ensure that the

Good Friday Agreement is implemented in full. Included within this will be the deeply problematic issue of policing in the north."Well, the political institutions are once again in place and we now have more MLAs - 28 - than ever before.And because of our enhanced electoral representation Sinn Féin holds five Ministerial positions.

Martin McGuinness is Deputy First Minister. That is he is equal to Ian Paisley in all matters.

Michelle Gildernew is the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development. Conor Murphy is the Minister for Regional Development. Caitriona Ruane is the Minister for Education. And Gerry Kelly is the Junior Minister in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.

No mean achievement.

We have also democratically discussed and debated the policing issue and earlier this year at our special Ard Fheis agreed to engage with the policing arrangements.

So, we have made considerable progress in respect of this challenge but much work still needs to be done.

There remain vital areas of work around the Good Friday Agreement - specifically in the areas of the Bill of Rights; equality; the Irish Language, the north-south bodies and the transfer of power on policing and justice, which require considerable work.

I am confident that we can continue to make progress on all of this.

The second challenge I identified is the need to develop an entirely new relationship with unionism. I said: "Our engagement with unionism must deepen and broaden in the time ahead. This is a major challenge for this party and I would urge everyone, every activist to take up this challenge personally.

This is especially true here in Belfast. At community level, in the Councils, on voluntary and statutory bodies, in the Assembly, and in many other places, republican activists are meeting unionists everyday.Many of them are good people who care deeply and passionately about their community. People who want to see stability, peace and prosperity.

Republicans - each of you in this hall - need to engage with them at every opportunity; to talk about the future, to listen to their concerns; to find ways in which we, and they, can work together to overcome problems; and to persuade them that their future, their best interests, are better served in a united Ireland.

We can do this.

The third great challenge facing this party is to build support for Irish unity in Britain. This is an area of work which needs more focus in the time ahead. It is a crucial area of struggle if we are to achieve our national objectives. Our fourth great challenge is to build an Ireland of equals. What does that mean?

We are Irish republicans. We want a republic on this island. I have given you some sense of what kind of republic.Achieving it means developing political strategies and tactics, and policies which take account of the differing political realities north and south, and shape our republicanism accordingly.

Sinn Féin believes in building strong communities; in working in partnership with communities; in making it possible for communities to protect and care for the weak, the vulnerable and the aged. We are about empowering people. We have to develop political programmes on the economy, on health, on education, on the environment, on every thing that impacts on the daily lives of people. Programmes which are rooted in our republican politics, and which have as a clear priority the goal of eradicating poverty and discrimination, and promoting equality.

We have to seek to implement these in every way we can, and through every public body, agency and institution we are a part of.

A recent example of this was in the publication by the Executive of the Programme for Government for the north.

Sinn Fein succeeded in ensuring that there is an explicit commitment that economic growth and Public Procurement - the buying power of the departments - will now be used to address inequality and tackle poverty.

There is also a commitment to tackle regional disparity and poverty, and sustainable development.

And for the first time the draft Budget, Programme for Government and Investment Strategy will all be subject to Equality Impact Assessment.

These are important advances and we now have to apply ourselves diligently in the Assembly and in the Executive to ensuring that these commitments are adhered to.

In these ways we can advance our republicanism while making it relevant to citizens through improving their quality of life.

Our fifth and final strategic task is to build Sinn Féin. In recent years we have been very successful in doing this electorally - especially in the north.The Assembly election in March provided ample evidence of this.

Sinn Féin secured almost 181,000 votes - our highest number ever in the north. 28 seats. 5 Ministers. Two years ago in the Council elections it was 163,000 votes. And 126 Council seats.All of this provides us with significant political strength in this part of the island.

However, this year also witnessed a disappointing result in the southern general election.There were high expectations internally and externally about that election which we didn't meet.

Consequently, some republicans were understandably deflated.

Well, that was then and this is now.

Many of you in this hall will remember the election of April 1992 when we lost the west Belfast seat.

That too was a disappointment.

Our enemies thought it was a fatal blow - that they had us on the run!

Well, they didn't.

We immediately got down to the business of winning the seat back.

Of building republicanism. Of planning and strategising and of looking forward.

That's the lesson of that time. And we have a lot to build on in the time ahead.

The party's vote in the 26 counties went up overall and we came very close to taking a number of extra seats. And over the summer Pearse Doherty from Donegal was elected as Sinn Féin's first Senator.

Since the election the party has been meeting locally and nationally, reviewing what happened, and we are putting a plan in place to get us back on track.

This will see two major party conferences take place before the end of the year.

But these are only part of the way forward.

There is enormous goodwill for Sinn Fein in every part of this island.

Moving forward with confidenceWe have to build on that; build on our republican roots and policies; shape them to take account of the political realities of Ireland today, and move forward confidently.

We have to grasp the major political opportunities which are now open to us.And Sinn Féin in Belfast has a critical contribution to make to this.Belfast is not just the cradle of Irish republicanism; it is also where a substantial percentage of our electoral strength lies.

We have not yet maximized that electoral strength in this city. There is still plenty of opportunity for growth.And what you do here has to be tied directly in to what we do in the north and across this island.

So, building greater electoral strength aside, we must also develop a greater level of strategic co-ordination between our grass roots activists, our local councillors, MLAs, MPs, TDs, MEPs and Ministers. This is not, and never has been about political strength for the sake of it. It is about building political strength and using it to improve living conditions for citizens, to build prosperity and equality, and to advance toward national freedom.

It's about tackling disadvantage and being relevant to citizens in their daily lives.

The fact is that we are now embarking on the most difficult but potentially most rewarding phase of our struggle.

We can build the party bigger and stronger. We can develop internal mechanisms to make greater use of our political strength.

We have to begin the job now of preparing for the European and Council elections north and south in the next two years, and we have to advance our national goals and objectives.

Two hundred years ago the founding fathers and mothers of Irish republicanism had a vision of a new kind of Ireland - sovereign, free, in which the rights of citizens was paramount and equality the bedrock of society.

That's our vision today and we are in a better place than they to deliver that vision.

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