Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Gerry Adams - Equality for all is Sinn Féin's priority

12 February, 2005

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams this morning gave the opening address to a Sinn Féin Women's conference in Newry.

Mr. Adams said:

"I want to thank you for asking me to open your conference this morning. The title 'Unfinished Revolution - from Beijing to Newry' got me thinking about the last ten years - about the peace process, about what has changed for all of us on the island and about what is happening around the globe particularly in terms of poverty and debt. Ten years ago there was huge expectation about the peace process, about the economy and about the opportunities to fundamentally change Irish society. Gone were the years of conflict, dole queues, emigration, poverty, inequality and corruption - or so we were led to believe.

If the last ten years have taught us anything it is that improved circumstances mean little for the disadvantaged if those who are in power continue to retain power and implement the same policies.So while many things have improved, 2005 has begun with the peace process in difficulty, the gap between rich and poor wider than ever before, gender inequality as prevalent as ever it was and with public services in chaos north and south.

But the last ten years have taught us another lesson - people, working together, can bring about change - can start a revolution. Can finish it as well.

In the peace process, despite the current difficulties, huge progress has been made - this came about not because of any great desire on the part of the political establishment but because people supported the peace process and supported the work of Sinn Féin and others to bring about change.

People have also got a glimpse of what can happen if you vote for a party with a different vision - a vision for Irish unity, for equality, for real change.

Last December we saw the Irish government changing political direction after 342,000 people voted for Sinn Féin - returning Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald - to the European Parliament.

It was a great day for republicans to see them address the opening session of the Parliament - talking about Irish unity, equality and peace.

We hope to see that success repeated in the months ahead. I particularly look forward to seeing Michelle Gildernew and Caitríona Ruane returned for Fermanagh/South Tyrone and South Down.

Irish Republican Women

Of course, from the very start, women have played an important role in the struggle for Irish freedom, in the fight for equality and social justice in Ireland and in the development of the Sinn Fein party.

This year as we celebrate the centenary of Sinn Féin it is timely that we acknowledge the huge advances that have been made across society, many of them as a result of the hard work of revolutionary Irish women.

In the early part of the 20th century republican women were actively involved in many of the emerging organisations and bodies which were giving voice to the sense of renewal and rebirth that was evident in Irish society then, among them the Trade Union movement, the Co-Operative movement, the development of Irish industries and agriculture, Inghínne na hEireann and the movement for Women's Suffrage, Irish Womens Workers Union of Ireland.

It was a woman Máire de Buitléir who proposed the name Sinn Féin. Constance Markieviez, Minister for Labour in the First Dáil, was one of the first women Cabinet Ministers in the world.

Margaret Buckley was President of Sinn Féin from 1937 to 1950.

But too often women have been the workers in the background, the invisible foundation of this party and this struggle. Their contribution to this struggle have all too often been overlooked, undervalued and unrecorded.

We have made progress in redressing the balance but much more needs to be done and one of our key aims in this centenary year must be to increase the number of women in Sinn Féin and the number of women in positions of leadership, including more republican women standing for elected office in winnable seats across this island.

Also, in recent years a number of fine publications have set about correcting the historical record of the role of women in Irish history by rewriting women into that history.

As part of our Céad Bliain celebrations Sinn Fein is commissioning the writing of the story of Irish republican women's' involvement in political life over the past thirty years. This work will chronicle the many and varied contributions and experiences of women in that critical episode in our history.

Today we also remember the many women who were killed during 30 years of war. Some as a consequence of republican actions, some by unionist death squads and some by the British Army and RUC. Many others suffered enormous trauma from the deaths of loved ones, from raids on their homes, from being imprisoned and from visiting prisons. Twenty members of this party or close family members were killed, among them Vice President of Sinn Féin Máire Drumm. We must help all of the survivors but we must also dedicate ourselves to the task of ensuring that no one else ever has to endure the awful effects of conflict.

Peace Process

I want to talk for a few minutes about the peace process. I'm sure many of you here today are concerned at the difficulties in the process and are asking where all of this is going.I'm sure many of you are also very angry at the sustained attacks on our party and supporters. Many of those who are attacking us are back where they are most comfortable.It's almost like the days before the peace process when the Irish and British establishments and unionists parties ganged up trying to out do each other in anti-Sinn Féin hysteria, aided at times by compliant sections of the media.All that remains of the peace process at this time is the IRA cessation. There is no political process. No effort at meaningful dialogue. No serious attempt to resolve difficulties.

Rather than press the British government to implement outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement or to deliver on their own commitments, the Irish government is leading the charge in the campaign against Sinn Féin.

Sinn Féin will weather this storm. There is confusion out there. There is anger. But for the first time in decades Irish republicans are politically organised throughout this island and no amount of misrepresentation or vindictiveness is going to prevent us from continuing with our work.What is that work? To continue the process of change by defending the peace process, by opposing any return to violence by anyone, including British government agencies, by campaigning for the equality and other elements of the Good Friday Agreement and by upholding the rights of all citizens, including those who vote for our party.

Sinn Féin is prepared to enter into meaningful dialogue at this time and while I believe these outstanding issues can be resolved, and the work to do this should commence at this time, all of our detractors are already fighting the elections.They are setting out their agenda and creating the most negative context possible. This is nothing new. In the northern elections Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the PD's, and Labour have always campaigned vigorously for our opponents.We will not abandon the peace process for anyone. We will continue to make it our priority.

Women in Irish society

I have spoken of how united our opponents are in attacking us. They are united also in their conservatism on many social and economic issues and in their failure to do little more than pay lip service to the very serious issues affecting women in Irish society today. Women do not enjoy equal status in Ireland today. This is reflected, not just in politics, but in the workplace, in the home and in every other area of a woman's life. One in every four women in Ireland raising children or managing households on their own will experience poverty despite our economic boom.

Women are still disproportionately concentrated in low-skill, low paid and part-time employment. Older women are more likely to live in social isolation and one quarter of women experience domestic violence. And last year rather than address any of these issues the Irish government fostered a negative climate around pregnant non-national women and young non-national mothers as an election strategy.

There has also been a campaign of vilification of unmarried mothers. Kevin Myers, the P. O'Neill of that movement, gave us all a sample of this philosophy this week.

Sinn Fein is for changing all of this. We certainly don't have all of the answers but our commitment is to equality in Irish society. That means for example confronting anti-traveller prejudice and an end to the criminalisation of that section of our people. It means legislative change to recognise the full diversity of partnerships, including lesbian couples. It means recognising the right of women with disabilities to make their full contribution to society as equal citizens.

For Irish women this means real and substantive support for women as workers, pensioners, students, homemakers, carers and mothers.

It also means increasing the representation of women in all areas of Irish society. It means creating changes to the political systems to encourage more family friendly practices. This society needs a complete sea change, if women are ever to be given the rights that they are fully entitled to. It also needs men to move over.

Change - its in your hands

So comrades, today is a day for celebration, a space for reflection and an opportunity to plan for the advancement of women's rights. In the course of our deliberations we will consider the progress, or lack of it, in realising equality for women in Ireland. We will address the issues of a rights based approach and assess the distance we have yet to travel to realise this goal. We will reflect on the experiences of women in the political field, as campaigners, advocates and as elected representatives. We will, I hope, resolve to find ways of engaging more women in the political process and to ensure that the voices of women are raised and heard in our political life.Our goals of freedom, of justice, equality and peace will only be realised with the full participation of women from across our society.

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