Martin McGuinness Ard Fheis 2013 – Saturday 13th April 2013
“It always seems impossible until it's done.” – so said the former South African President Nelson Mandela.
While he was clearly talking about the great struggle for liberation in South Africa his words are as relevant to those of us here involved in 40 years of unbroken struggle
Impossible, Unachievable and Undeliverable are not words that are part of our vocabulary.
We are the doers, the achievers and the deliverers.
Politics for us is not about gaining political strength for the sake of it – politics for us is about how you use that strength.
We are the only political party in this State putting forward a sensible and coherent alternative to the failed politics of austerity – introduced by Fianna Fail and slavishly followed by the coalition.
You see being in government is about making choices – choices which impact directly on peoples’ lives.
And I say that as somebody who jointly leads a coalition.
We chose not to have water charges – the government here made a different choice
We support free universal healthcare – the government here made a different call
We chose to invest hundreds of millions in new school builds and in capital projects to stimulate the economy and boost the construction industry.
We chose to break from Westminster and protect the EMA payments to young people in education and to refuse to raise student fees.
And there are countless other examples of choices we chose to make– be it investment in new sports stadia, the development of the Long Kesh site, the rates relief scheme for small businesses or investment in heath - and that is within the constraints we work without the necessary fiscal powers.
So don’t be fooled by the efforts of some in this state who claim as they do not have any choice in the decisions they make.
Everyone in government has choices to make.
John O’Dowd in education made the choice to invest in £180m in new schools. But that is only part of the picture. What we are about in education is raising standards and ensuring every child reaches their full potential and in two recent surveys the standard of primary education in the north came out top in the English speaking world.
But I would appeal again to unionists to seriously look again at this issue. It is simply not credible for you to complain as you have in recent months about educational underachievement in the Protestant Working Class and then stand up and defend the very system of academic selection at 11 which delivers this. And people living in those areas need to make their voices heard– does mainstream unionism really represent your views on this and a raft of other issues?
I wish to commend the efforts of our Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill in dealing with the recent weather crisis. Her prompt action undoubtedly helped alleviate some of the hardship in what was a totally unprecedented situation.
Carál Ní Chuilín’s Liofa initiative has hit a chord with people across Ireland and it has been particularly encouraging to see people from traditional unionist background embracing the language.
Again ordinary unionist people taking a lead and waiting on their political leaderships to catch up. It is time for the irrational opposition to Irish language and culture which some within political unionism adopt to end.
And on that note I would wish to extend an invite, to all here and watching at home to visit Derry this year as we celebrate the City of Culture and in particular I look forward to Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann taking place in the north for the first time.
Jennifer McCann as a Junior Minister has been taking the lead in working with the survivors of the horrific institutional abuse which took place not just in the 26 counties but in the north also. And I would appeal to any survivors who have not yet felt able to contact the inquiry to do. You have a right to justice and you have a right to have your voice heard. And as Deputy First Minister I am absolutely committed to achieving justice for you.
In the coming months we will be reviewing the operation of the political institutions. We will consider all proposals which have the potential for enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of government. Among these we include the size of the Assembly, the number of government departments and the north south institutions and joint working.
We will also be progressing the RPA which involves a new configuration of local councils and the formalising of power sharing arrangements in local government for the first time. Those who hark back to majority rule, or believe that the job of government ministers in the north is to deliver for one section of the community will find no comfort in the prospect of changes ahead.
Inclusivity and powersharing are the bedrock of the political institutions in the north. Any proposals for change will be meticulously proofed against both.
Enhancing and building confidence in the institutions must mean better delivery for everyone and it must mean those charged with the responsibility for this delivery fully embracing the principles of equality, mutual respect and genuine partnership.
As I said last night to the Ard Fheis I was unimpressed by the recent meeting I had with David Cameron.
He had no answers on the mess his government has made on the issue of corporation tax and he had even less to say on the issue of what has become known as welfare reform.
Welfare Reform is a misnomer for what is taking place under the Westminster government. What we are witnessing is an attack on the most vulnerable, the sick, the disabled, those out of work because of the coalition’s policies and those on low incomes by a cabinet full of millionaires. They are being made to pay for the excesses of the wealthy, of the bankers and the tax dodgers.
Let me be clear, Sinn Féin will resist this onslaught on the most vulnerable. We will not tolerate the introduction of a “Bedroom Tax”. We will deploy a petition of concern on this clause if it is brought to the floor of the Assembly.
We will not allow the erosion of the hard won rights of women to be diminished. We will ensure that they are treated as equal partners in all payments. We will campaign to ensure that people are paid a Living Wage rather than them having to depend on the state to help ensure a quality of life.
And I think the way the British government has approached this issue raises an important point for all of the Executive parties.
We need to have a proper and open debate on what is known as Parity. It has become increasingly obvious to me that the idea of parity with Westminster doesn’t work for people in the north. And not in any grand political way but in the practical reality that what works in the South East of England does not work in the North East of Ireland.
Let us have that debate in a sensible rational way and come to a consensus amongst the parties in the Executive on charting a new way forward.
There are real and significant challenges facing the Executive in the time ahead. But no challenge is insurmountable.
We are up for real partnership and real engagement. And that is both with those parties inside the political institutions and those outside.
I have offered dialogue with those republicans opposed to our strategy.
I have sought dialogue with the Orange Order in advance of the marching season.
I repeat those calls today and make it clear that there are no closed doors to my office for any section of society.
I am absolutely confident about the future of this island. I am also confident in our ability to reach new agreements, to build new relationships and to construct a new Republic built upon Equality.
That is the work of Republicans in the here and now.
More and more people share our vision of the future.
Those people now need to take the next step and join with us in a peaceful and democratic journey to Irish unity.