Sinn Féin - On Your Side

McLaughlin - SF poised to take EU seats North and South

14 February, 2004


Addressing Sinn Féin elected Representatives from across the 32 counties in Navan, Co Meath today Party Chairperson, Mitchel Mc Laughlin gave an outline of the present political climate and what needs to be done in order to progress the situation.

Mr Mc Laughlin said;

"Following the Assembly elections last November Sinn Féin consolidated its position as the voice of majority nationalist opinion in the North. But this is not a time to sit on our laurels, as there are bigger challenges ahead.

Sinn Féin is the only party preparing to fight the European election in June on an all-Ireland platform, with all-Ireland policies and a strategy to promote Ireland as a unit within Europe. We are poised to take E.U. seats North and South. We are also positioned to make major gains in the 26 county Local government elections.

'Big Three' nations cannot be allowed to dictate the pace of change in EU

"In four days time Britain, France and Germany will meet at a summit in Berlin to discuss a range of important issues surrounding the EU. No other member states will be involved in this summit. Bertie Ahern has already commented that he has no concerns about the EU's most powerful nations meeting in advance of next months European Council meeting to discuss matters such as the draft EU Constitution and EU enlargement. Sinn Féin has been warning against this type of development for some time now - in effect we have the 'big three' trying to set the agenda for what is happening in Europe. Sinn Féin will be raising our concerns with the Irish and British governments

The 2004 EU elections present an unprecedented opportunity for Sinn Féin to bring our policies and agenda for change to the heart of Europe. We are fighting this election to win and return an all Ireland team to Europe. Sinn Féin is standing in this election on the basis of our alternative agenda for Europe and to challenge the failed politics of the establishment North and South.

These elections come at a pivotal juncture for the European Union in terms of the draft EU Constitution and with Ireland holding the EU Presidency and we must use all of our resources to ensure that a socially inclusive and just Europe emerges.

In 2001 53.9% of the electorate in this state opposed the Nice Treaty and in 2002 nearly 38% of people voted no. People voted no because they are concerned about how the EU is developing and there is still, today a considerable amount of disenchantment with the EU's structures and policies.

The EU does not have to continue in its present direction. There is a credible alternative. Sinn Féin wants a Europe where decisions are taken from the ground up and where national governments are in full control of the decision making process

We are opposed to a two tier, two speed EU where decisions are taken by an elite of the most powerful nations and the smaller nations are effectively relegated to the sidelines. We oppose the increasing militarisation of the EU. Sinn Féin is concerned that Irish neutrality is gradually being eroded as witnessed by the Irish government's disgraceful decision to allow US warplanes to refuel at Shannon airport We call on the government to ensure that the 26 counties, as a militarily neutral state, is exempt from taking part in any joint EU military force.

Sinn Féin is the only all-Ireland party standing in the EU elections and we provide a unique viewpoint on issues, which effect people throughout the entire island

I want to thank those councillors who have pioneered our work at local level -- very often as a single representative of Sinn Féin. But they will be joined the length and breadth of this state by teams of Sinn Féin representatives following the local government elections in June.

But as we increase our electoral and political strength throughout the 32 counties we must not lose sight of the purpose of our project. We are not involved in the political process just to get people elected in all 32 counties in a partitioned Ireland. We are in politics to create the conditions in which we can progress our all Ireland agenda - our united Ireland agenda. We are in politics to convince people of the benefits that would accrue to all the people of Ireland in the exercise of national self-determination.

In that vein I challenge unionists and particularly the DUP now that it has donned the mantle of leadership in unionism to abandon the crutch of preconditions and enter into direct unconditional discussions with Sinn Féin. I say to the DUP - if you believe that remaining in the Union with Britain in a constant state of dependency presents the best option then show some leadership and convince those of us that have a different perspective of the strength of your argument. If you are confident of your analysis then let the debate begin. For years you have been denouncing the British government as treacherous and dishonest. So why use the British government as a conduit to convey your position to Sinn Féin - there is no substitute for face-to-face debate! We're not afraid of dialogue, we are confident and we are ready. Are you?

While we work towards those face-to-face discussions -- and I have no doubt that the time will come sooner than later -we have much work to do in order to progress our own project. We must identify common issues and common solutions with our comrades in other parts of the country and co-operate in methods of highlighting them.

Registration

In preparation for the European election those of us in the North need to address the massive issue of registration and the disenfranchising of over 200,000 people. The Sinn Féin leadership has confronted the British Prime Minster and informed the Taoiseach on this issue. The imposition of legislation that discourages people from claiming their democratic entitlements or disenfranchises those that are eligible to vote is totally unacceptable. What is happening is an exercise in massive electoral fraud by the British government. Having failed to get the election results they want they are trying through fraud to get the electorate they want. It is nothing short of a modernised form of gerrymandering. Introduced ironically enough to placate the demands of an SDLP leadership that had forgotten one of the key demands of the Civil Rights struggle.

Last week, Martin Mc Guinness launched a campaign, to get people back on the register and we need to put all our efforts into this. A major aspect of this campaign is directed at having the rules and legislation that have created this crisis rescinded. Sinn Féin will not permit a system that is designed to disenfranchise citizens go unchallenged.

We are also calling on the Irish government to defend and demand democratic rights for Irish citizens in the North.

Collusion

In the time ahead it is also vital that we continue to support the campaign to expose the British government's refusal to co-operate with investigations that could lead to exposure of British state agencies colluding in the murder of Irish citizens. Collusion has been central to the prosecution of Britain's dirty war in Ireland -- North and South -- and the dismantling of the apparatus of collusion is a central component to resolving the conflict.

Many of you as elected representatives in the north will have witnessed an increase in British Army activity and the behaviour of a PSNI still wedded to the malign political agenda of the Special Branch. It is vital that this activity be recorded and does not go unchallenged either locally or centrally.

Peace Process

Many of you here today will be wondering at the prospects for political progress and what is likely to come out of the review. Let me make it clear - we will ensure that there will be no renegotiation of the Agreement. And no retreat from the commitments to change made by both governments. That includes the heart of the Agreement, the principle of inclusivity that also incorporates the All Ireland agenda and Equality and Human Rights. There will be no drawing back. In fact we intend to push for the expansion of the Implementation Bodies and areas of co-operation. In the year ahead we will campaign to build and expand on these areas of work.

The DUP proposals launched last week are a shift by that party from the never-never land politics that it has inhabited since its inception. The proposals basically break down into three parts.

The first option is a 'corporate' Assembly, that we would oppose given the fact that, its aim and effect would be to hand the DUP a veto.

The second is a voluntary coalition between parties other than Sinn Fein. This is also a non-runner, as it is simply a device to deny or devalue the mandate and the rights of the republican constituency.

And the third is in their own imitable way recognition by the DUP that power-sharing government is the only way forward.

This option is I believe a shift and it brings the DUP into the ballpark of the Good Friday Agreement politics. They're in the ballpark - now let them become players.

There is an obvious resistance within unionism, both Ulster Unionists and DUP to the process of political, social and constitutional change. It is also present within the British establishment. There is a job of work to be done by Republicans to convince the British Government to become persuaders of Irish re-unification as the only feasible option for long - term peace and stability. To build the argument for unity as the best guarantee of Unionist rights, democratic, social and cultural. That does not mean we must not challenge unionist intransigence or indeed their refusal to accept their responsibility for resolving the conflict and moving the peace process forward.

The British Government has a responsibility to examine how its approach to the Agreement has both undermined the Agreement and let unionism off the hook. The British government needs to ask if its failure to implement the Equality and Human Rights commitments has contributed to a hope within unionism that the Agreement can be destroyed. Has the British government considered that reneging on commitments has fed a unionist belief that the purpose of this process is not to create an equal society but to defeat republicanism by deceit and subterfuge? Has consistent pandering to unionist demands frustrated progress and fed into unionisms refusal to accept the dynamic of change?

Organisational development

In all of this there are many challenges for Sinn Féin.

We are the fastest growing political party on this island and everyday we are gaining new members. (Introduce Billy Leonard and Thomas Pringle) Are we able to respond to our increasing support and the hunger and enthusiasm of members new and old alike? In the coming year we have to continue to build the party to develop our structures. We need to open up the party and to empower everyone within Sinn Féin.

There is, I believe, a fair degree of optimism out there. There is a tremendous well of good will in the country generally. We must tap into it. There is a willing electorate keen to hear our message and it is up to the people in this room to keep on delivering at every level".

ENDS

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