Sinn Féin - On Your Side

McGuinness keynote address to Sinn Féin Ard Fheis

29 February, 2008


Since we gathered here last year for our Ard Fheis we have all lived through momentous political developments. 'On May 8th last year Irish Republicanism embarked on a new journey. We went into government with the DUP and against the odds we have clearly made huge advances.

 

'Who would have predicted myself and Ian Paisley jointly heading up an executive in the North. Who would have predicted that each and every day Sinn Fein and the DUP sitting down working together - solving problems - delivering effective government.

Already we have already delivered a budget - agreed and equality proofed, an £18 billion investment strategy and an effective Programme for Government

 

'Every week Ministers North and South are working together, taking decisions affecting the lives of every person on this island. This is all-Ireland politics at work. And this after less than a year of us traveling along this road. Imagine the strides we will make by unlocking the undoubted potential of the opportunities which will lie ahead.

 

'Each one of you in this room has played your part in the transformation of politics and indeed relationships on this island.

For years the SDLP and others branded Sinn Fein as a problem party. They claimed we could not do the deal.

 

'Well Sinn Féin have delivered sustainable institutions. We have delivered on the Good Friday Agreement. Unlike David Trimble and Seamus Mallon - myself and Ian Paisley have refused to allow differing personalities and political outlooks to grind government in the north to a halt.

 

'Government with the DUP is not easy. Not easy for us and not easy for them. Nobody expected it to be. But there is an obvious mutual benefit for all of our people in making this arrangement work. And work it has done and work it will continue to do.

 

'Sitting in government with the DUP has not and will not dilute my Irish Republicanism one bit. Ian Paisley knows that my allegiance is to Ireland. But we should acknowledge the journey which the DUP have undergone in recent years.

 

'For too many years the people of Ireland were only too aware what the DUP were against. They were against Sinn Fein, they were against power sharing, the Good Friday Agreement and changes to policing.

 

Now the people of Ireland are intrigued by DUP Nua. People are pleased that they are sharing power with Sinn Fein and pleased that they are participating in the All-Ireland institutions.

 

'An increasing part of my work sees me meeting with business leaders from every corner of the island. People I have to say who have already embraced the logic of all-Ireland economics. For the developing all-Ireland economy the border is already irrelevant. For those planning major infrastructural road and rail projects the border is already irrelevant, as it is to an increasing number of policy makers across a range of sectors.

 

'None of this came about by accident. It came about following years of political negotiations and difficult strategic initiatives on our part.

And as we now grapple with the new challenges faced by leading the government in the north we again need to show the same political skill and thinking.

 

'The same tenacity, the same ability and the same skills which we as a party brought to developing the peace process are the very same skills we now need to bring to every part of our work be it in the institutions in Dublin, Belfast or Brussels, or in every city and town the length and breath of this island as we go about building a united Ireland.

 

'Despite the fact that we have the institutions in the North up and running there are still many opponents of change out there.

These people are part of the old guard. They are still there, in the system, in the civil service, in sections of the media and in elected office. We are about dismantling the effects of decades of discrimination, of repression and state terror, of poverty and under investment and of conflict on our streets. Our task is to confront those opposed to change.

 

'That is why we see opposition to any progressive proposals to change the outdated Education system or bring new all-Ireland thinking and approaches to agriculture and regional development. But we will not be deterred by any of this. We have manifesto commitments to deliver. A fair and equal society in the north should threaten nobody.

 

'But it is not simply the task of the individual Sinn Féin Ministers or even our MLAs to fight these battles. All activists must play their part in driving forward this project. Just like when we embarked on building the peace process over 15 years ago we said that it could not become a spectator sport for republicans.

 

'Let me be clear we would not have made the progress we have without each and every republican playing your part - be it campaigns around policing, or prisoners, or border roads, or victims, or cultural and political rights.

 

'Progress would not have been possible on these and other areas during negotiations without the campaigning element outside. We need now to adopt the same joined up approach to dealing with many of the social and economic challenges our communities now face.

 

'In the coming weeks we will once again engage in a political battle to secure the transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London and into the hands of locally elected politicians. For us this is more than simply a commitment already agreed at St. Andrews. It is a vital component of the wider battle of transforming policing in the six counties and creating, for the first time ever in the north, a representative and accountable policing service.

 

'During the talks which led to the first meeting of the Sinn Fein and DUP leaderships on March 26th a senior member of the DUP delegation said that his party would stand by the St. Andrews Agreement. People are now demanding that they do just that.

The transfer of power is both logical and necessary. It is also supported by the vast majority of people from all backgrounds. The DUP need to approach all of this in a sensible way. The days of simply breaking deadlines for the sake of it have to end. The two governments must fulfill their commitments on this issue. They need to act and act decisively in the coming months.

 

'For our part we want to work with the DUP to resolve this issue and also to resolve other important and pressing issues. Representative and accountable government is for the first time ever in place in the north of Ireland. This government must deliver, it must tackle the inequality, division, disadvantage and poverty for people of all religions and none. It must deliver better and better -paid jobs, a better health and education system.

 

'We are working on a day and daily basis with the DUP. Not because we have to but because it is the right thing to do. Building national reconciliation and peace is a key element in the work of this party and we must continue to reach out to the unionist community, to ally fears where they exist and to demonstrate that difference does not have to mean division. We are all on a journey to a better future in Ireland. We must also reach out to the growing number of new communities who are now a significant and welcome part of our society on this island.

 

'These and other issues will continue to demand the attention and the political campaigning that defines us a radically different version of politics to the tired and grey, male dominated politics of the establ

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