Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Gearoid O hEara elected Mayor of Derry

8 June, 2004


I am proud and honoured to have been proposed by my party as its representative to take on the role of Mayor of this great city. I want to thank my proposer and seconder for their kind words; I hope it wasn't too hard for them. I want to acknowledge the achievements of Shaun Gallagher during his year as Mayor and indeed all previous mayors. I also want to acknowledge the ground-breaking work done by my colleague Cathal Crumley when he carried out this role on our party's behalf.

This is a great honour for our party and an acknowledgement of the positive work that Sinn Féin does, not only as a force for bringing about peace but as a positive influence at civic level. As a Republican I want to say to everyone that the motto of republicans 'equality for all' will act as a beacon for my year as mayor. I will use my year in office to represent all the people of the City, working to help create a City of Equals within an Ireland of Equals, and as people across Europe prepare this week to decide the type of Europe that they want to live in, as part of a Europe of equals as well.

Tá sé tráthúil ag an am seo agus toghchán ag teacht anuas orainn smaointiú ar cheangal s'againne leis an Eoraip. Má's saoránaigh na Eorpa muid, is Éireannaigh go fóill muid agus ins an chomhthéacs sin , ba mhaith liom Gaelachas s'againne a chéiliúradh. Tá sé de rún agam sin a dhéanamh le linn na bliana seo chugainn ar bhealach nach mbagraíonn éinne. Chomh maith leis sin, ba mhaith liom gúth s'agamsa a chur leis an éileamh go mbeidh stádas oifigiúil ag an Ghaeilge san Aontas Eorpach.

In seeking to achieve this I am also mindful that there are many areas of our City and district where people suffer from high levels of poverty and deprivation. This is a problem that has to be tackled in a serious and systematic way. Derry has been described as the gateway to and capital of the North West and I will endeavour during my year in office to focus attention on the major infra-structural issues which mitigate against the future development of Derry as the hub of the region. Substantial funding needs to be targeted at the most deprived areas across the Council District to redress the decades of under-funding and decades of institutionalised neglect of this area. It is vital that we all work together to seriously address the issues of poverty and deprivation and in doing this we must focus on creating sustainable jobs with a proper living wage. The latest job loses at Desmonds reinforces the challenges that we must confront.

Inishowen has been our natural hinterland for centuries, almost a part of Derry itself, and there are few in Derry who can't trace some part of their roots back into those hills and coastal villages. In many ways Inishowen suffered from partition as much as any other area and still does. My mother's family came from Clonmany and then moved to the border. I learned to ride a bike on a road that was cratered and blocked by barbed wire. The opening of the border roads between our two areas, and the amount of social interaction that has flourished since then, illustrates the communal bonds that still exist.

There are many areas of co-operation where we can work with our neighbours in Inishowen, and throughout Donegal to the advantage of the people of Derry and the North West region. Already both areas are represented on the North West Cross Border Corridor Group and the potential for civic co-operation is massive. Our party has already processed a number of motions through Derry City council in the areas of waste management, Irish language, housing, health services and European funding. I intend to develop these cross-border alliances into action initiatives, which create economies of scale and improve services to all.

Tá sé tábhachtach go dtugaimse aird ar leith don nasc idir Doire agus Gaeltacht Thír Chonaill. Le blianta anuas, tá na mílte daoine as Doire tar éis am a chaitheamh i nGaoth Dobhair, sna Doirí Beaga agus in áiteacha eile chun Gaeilge a fhoghlaim nó blás den Ghaeilge a fháil. Tá sé de rún agam aitheantas cuí a thabhairt don nasc sin.

And to the unionist community I ask you to take a serious look at republicans in this community, what shaped us and motivated us. We are all born the same, without memory, knowledge or experience. It is our environment that shapes us, forms our thoughts, our opinions and our personalities. Sadly for centuries conflict has dominated our homes, our streets and our city. We cannot change the environment that we grew up in but we can change the environment that our children will grow up in. It can be a culture of tolerance respect and equality or a culture of division, suspicion and conflict. We in this chamber are charged with building a future for the next generation. Now is the time to embrace the need for change.

In doing so I want to make a direct appeal to the unionist community. Let us work together and look to the future. There is much suspicion among unionists about the motives and intentions of people like me, but there is equal suspicion in my community about the motives and intentions of unionists. If we are all serious about ending conflict ending injustice and guaranteeing equal rights for every citizen of this city then we have to work together to bring that about.

Republicans have a dream of an Ireland at peace, an Ireland whose fate is decided by the people who live here, an Ireland where everyone has equal rights regardless of who you are or what you are, an Ireland where the richness of our diversity attracts people to come and spend time with us. Unionists dream of the good old days, which, when examined closely, were not so good for either community. We can make it better for everybody if we are prepared to talk to each other, examine each others positions and work to create a better life for everyone.

I want to work with the unionist community and their representatives to build peace in this city and to resolve the issues that divide us. Are you serious about making peace? Remaining in the past is taking us nowhere. Can the leadership of the unionist community not live with the concept of equality, is that why they refuse to budge? Your equality means our equality. Is the leadership of the unionist community not comfortable with that?

I have always wanted to speak the native language of my grandparents, and theirs before them, and learning to speak Irish was one of my goals. As an adult it was not an easy task. My children have had the benefit of learning it from a young age, thanks to the efforts of some very dedicated language activists, something that was not available to me, or many of my generation.

I regard it as part of the identity, something that gives me a great sense of my own cultural identity. It can't be wished away because somebody doesn't like it. It is part of me and many in my community. It is no threat to any person or to any other cultural tradition. It is just something that is valued and regarded as deeply significant to the community that I come from.

In fact, in my opinion, the more multi-cultural this society becomes the more tolerant and understanding we will become about those who we now perceive as different. I am interested in understanding the culture of those who have descended from the lowland Scots settlers and the other cultures that exist within our community and in helping them to celebrate the diversity that makes this such an interesting place. I invite those of different cultural and religious backgrounds to engage with the office of first citizen to ensure that this city council acknowledges and supports all traditions within the city.

Agus ar ndóigh ní bheadh óráid mar seo i gceart muna ndéanfaidh mé tagairt don Ghaeilge.

Just as important as political differences are the various cultural traditions within the district. Our district is diverse and all the richer for that diversity. There are many communities here, consisting of a wide mixture of geographical communities and communities of shared interest. They all add to the cultural richness and diversity of our district.

The Irish language is something that imparts a great sense of my own cultural identity to many in our community. Irish was the first spoken language of this area, from the days when this Doire or oakgrove was called Doire Calgach after the local chieftain, Doire Cholm Cille during the monastic reign and up until the 18th century. It is a part of our heritage, as much as the walls and the siege, something that is valued and regarded as deeply significant to a majority of people in this community. It can't be wished away because somebody doesn't like it. Today over 600 of our local children are being educated each year exclusively through the medium of Irish. It is no threat to any person or to any other cultural tradition.

The culture of those who have descended from the lowland Scots settlers and the other cultures that exist within our community are other aspects of the rich cultural diversity that makes Derry such an interesting place. Those of different cultural and religious backgrounds will be encouraged to engage with the office of first citizen to ensure that this city council acknowledges and supports all traditions within the city and district.

There are also many ethnic groups whose customs and traditions add to the already rich culture of our City. Regardless of the referendum results in the 26 counties I want to send out a clear message to our ethnic minorities, you are welcome here in Derry and we value the positive contribution that you make to the City's life and culture.

Throughout the year I hope to use the office of Mayor to promote a greater understanding of the contribution that you make to this city. The more multi-cultural this society becomes, the more tolerant and understanding we will become about those who we now perceive as different. One of the objectives of this mayoral year will be a St. Patrick's Day celebration, which involves maximum participation across the city.

Déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall teagmháil a dhéanamh leis na grúpaí sin chun na traidisiúin éagsúla a thuiscint agus a chéiliúradh.

It is my hope that in the coming year that the City Council can organise a St. Patrick's Day carnival which can be inclusive of all strands of cultural identity in the City and serve as an example of how to celebrate cultural differences rather than allow our differences to divide us.

Déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall teagmháil a dhéanamh leis na grúpaí sin chun na traidisiúin éagsúla a thuiscint agus a chéiliuradh.

Equality will guide all my actions, and that includes potentially divisive issues. One of the issues, which has been used in the past to foster division, is that of Remembrance. As First Citizen, it is my intention to initiate a discussion on the concept of Civic Remembrance. Whereas I have my own views on how this can be achieved, I want to listen to the views of others. Therefore I intend to invite representatives from a number of organisations, including the Bloody Sunday Trust, the British Legion, Cúnamh, Derry Republican Graves Association and Wave to discuss and consult with them on Civic Remembrance.

Our city can put in place a form of civic remembrance to commemorate "everyone who has died as a result of conflict from or within this Council area". It is my hope that we can provide a template which others can follow.

Tuigim go mbeidh deacrachtaí ag daoine áirithe leis an coinceap seo ach sin an dúshlán atá romhainn.

Mar fhocal scoir, tá mé thar a bheith a bheith buíoch as an tacaíocht a fuair mé le blianta fada ó mo chlann féin. Tuigeann sibh cad is ciall leis poblachtánach a bheith gaolta libh. Mo bhuíochas libh uilig.

And finally, on a personal level I want to thank my own family, my mother and father, my brothers and sisters, Deirdre and my children who are here tonight. This is a proud moment for them and in some way a vindication of what they have suffered because of the political path that I chose to follow. To all other families and friends I offer humble thanks.

Go raibh maith agaibh uilig.

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