Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2004 Opening Address
Opening Address by
Mary Lou McDonald, EU Candidate for Dublin and Ard Chomhairle
Ba mhaith liom táilte a chuir ioimhe gach uile duinne anseo anocht ag ár Árd Fheis.
Friends I would like to begin of offering a comradely and warm welcome to all of you here tonight in this the 99th year of existence of the Irish republican movement known as Sinn Féin.
A few weeks ago I listened to a political discussion on a Dublin based radio station. On the panel was a TD from the Coalition Government parties and a TD from the so-called 'alternative coalition' parties. Tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee. The discussion took place in the aftermath of the most recent opinion poll by the Irish Times and followed a few weeks of unrelenting and unsubstantiated attacks on our party by the establishment parties. Despite a few moments of denial the two guests on the show were eventually brought around to discussing the fact that Sinn Féin were not only steadily increasing the level of their support throughout this state but were now running neck and neck with both Labour and Fine Gael in this the capital city of our island. In the words of the presenter "Sinn Féin was the story of the day."
To which the green-eyed representative of the 'alternative coalition' in an increasingly shrill tone said - "this is what I am talking about -they are on the news day in and day out - they are constantly being talked about - if we just stopped talking about them they wouldn't be so popular".
Ah bless him - in other words if we just ignore them they might go away.
Well I'm afraid I got some bad news for you. We're not about to go away. We are here to stay.
It is remarkable that exactly ten years ago this week the same denunciations, the same unsubstantiated and unfounded attacks on Sinn Féin that are dominating the headlines this week were taking place then. Those attacks while mainly focused on Sinn Féin also took in any individual, organisation or any community that dared to have anything to do with Sinn Féin or Irish republicanism.
So it was ten years ago this week that the people of Tallaght and Killinarden in particular were subject to a vicious and sustained onslaught against their decision to allow Sinn Féin to hold it's 1994 Ard Fheis in the Killinarden Community Centre. Vilfied and ostracised the people stood firm against this malign and anti-democratic onslaught.
The attacks then, highlighted the gulf that exists between the vision of ordinary working men and women and the political elite in this country. In Tallaght, as it was across a number of communities where Sinn Féin held its Ard Fheisenna, it was ordinary people who knew what could be possible and were willing try and achieve what the elite claimed was impossible.
And this comrades is the crux of the matter. This is the context we should be viewing recent events. And this is the context in which we should be looking forward beyond this Ard Fheis weekend.
We are the ordinary people of Tallaght, the ordinary people of Derry, Belfast, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Wexford, Cork and Kerry and all across this island and we have a vision for the future. We reject the status quo. We reject the lazy self-serving, self-promoting egomaniac politics of Fianna Fail, of the PDs, in Fine Gael and of the Labour Party in the South and the DUP, UUP and SDLP in the north who think they have fooled the people of this island in to believing that there is no alternative.
We know differently. And we know because we have already forced dramatic changes across all 32 counties of Ireland. Back in Killinarden Community Centre ten years ago who could have believed the progress that would be made over the following years. Who would have dared to dream of where we are now to where we were then.
It was you people who dared to dream - you and a lot of other ordinary people the length and breath of this island who dared to dream. You saw an alternative way and you grabbed it with both hands. You grabbed that alternative to the selfishness that permeates through the body politic in the 26 Counties. The politics that favours million euro racehorses over people on hospital beds. The politics that promotes the enrichment of property developers over providing housing for its people. The politics that encourages greed and corruption over social justice and community care.
You rejected the politics of exclusion in the Six Counties. You have rejected the notion of 'thus far and no further' that was long passively accepted by the so-called constitutional nationalists.
The people saw the alternative Sinn Fein is providing and have rewarded the party with increased electoral support that continues to expand and grow. The recent elections to the Assembly returned Sinn Féin as not only the largest nationalist/republican party but also the largest pro-Good Friday Agreement party. It wasn't a fluke?it wasn't an accident? It happened despite the best efforts of the British Government in disenfranchising over 200,000 voters because the people support our vision for the future.
This weekend we will continue to develop our policies over a wide range of issues. We will continue to look to the future. We will be launching numerous discussion and policy documents on subjects as varied as Garda Reform, a Charter of Rights for All and combating poverty. We will debate over 300 motions and receive a political update from the outgoing Ard Chomhairle. Above all we will rededicate ourselves to our Irish Republican objectives of establishing and Independent democratic socialist republic.
I would like to conclude by wishing you all a very productive and comradely weekend and say that I look forward to meeting friends old and new over the next three days.