The vision of 1916 is alive and well and achievable - McGuinness
Friends, comrades, guests, Irish women and Irish men welcome to the 2016 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis.
It is my great honour to deliver this address on such an historic occasion as we prepare to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising this weekend.
One hundred years ago, the men and women of 1916 raised the flag of freedom in this city. They declared a new Republic of equals. A Republic that would shine amongst the nations of the world as a beacon of justice and equality where all the children of the nation would be cherished.
It was a vision which inspired a freedom struggle, not only in this country but in nations across the globe.
It was the spark which would eventually engulf the British Empire.
That’s how momentous the Easter Rising was and we should never forget that.
Neither should we forget that the vision of 1916 remains unfulfilled in the nation which inspired it.
We don’t live in an Ireland of equals.
We don’t live in an Ireland where all of the children are cherished equally. We don’t live in an Ireland which is united and free from malign foreign influence.
But that is the Ireland which Sinn Féin is dedicated to building.
We are the only party which is committed to doing so.
We are the only party that is capable of achieving it.
Sinn Féin is the only all-Ireland party. We have elected representatives in every part of the island and we have a vision to create the equal and inclusive Ireland envisaged in the Proclamation of 1916.
Other parties pay lip service to the proclamation. Some have had the chance to do something about it when they’ve been in power in Leinster House.
But they chose cronyism over conviction. Golden circles over golden generations. Parties that abandoned northern nationalists to the sectarian, oppressive state created by partition.
Other parties failed to deliver the promise and potential of 1916. They were never serious.
Well we are.
We have the strategy, the commitment and most importantly of all, the people to achieve it.
This generation, including the people in this room, will be the generation that finally realises the dream.
I say that in full confidence because I stand on our record of delivery right throughout the peace process, within the power-sharing institutions in the North, the All-Ireland Ministerial Council, the Dáil and councils the length and breadth of the island.
I’m proud of our record in government.
Our Ministers Michelle O’Neill, Carál Ní Chuilín, Jennifer McCann and John O’Dowd have led from the front in terms of protecting frontline services and bringing equality to the heart of government.
We have led the way in decentralising an entire government department to the north west, we have directed additional funding to the most disadvantaged schools, we are revitalising the Irish language community through investment in Irish medium education and the Líofa Project, unemployment in the north has fallen by 26000 and levels of foreign direct investment are at an all-time high.
We have led on the progressive measures taken by the Executive, ring-fenced health spending, transformed the schools estate across the north, created 40,000 jobs as well as blocking water charges, keeping student fees affordable and protecting free prescriptions and pensioners' travel.
We also recognise there is much more to do.
There is no doubt we have faced many challenges in recent years, not least the relentless Tory onslaught on our public services and on those most in need.
We have faced these challenges head on while others walked away and we delivered.
We delivered half a billion pounds to support those most in need in our society.
While others called for the Assembly to be collapsed and all powers handed back to the Tories we stood up for public services.
We achieved an extra 500 million pounds for our public services and another 500 million shared education and integration.
We achieved this despite the negative agendas of London and Dublin governments wedded to the politics of cuts and austerity.
We achieved this despite the relentless negativity of smaller parties who opposed the Fresh Start Agreement and who, only weeks from the election, can't tell the electorate if they want to be in the government or in the opposition. Parties, which have set out endless uncosted and unfunded election promises they will never deliver. Parties, which call for joined-up government, while preparing to walk out of the Executive.
It's long past time to move beyond this narrow, self-serving point-scoring. We need a more responsible, a more mature approach to politics in the Assembly because we know when we have worked together collectively we have made progress.
We also need to ensure that we oppose any move by the little Englander mentality towards a Brexit from the European Union as that would be a hugely retrograde step. The prospect of border controls, the withdrawal of European subsidies and trade agreements would be disastrous for the socio-economic prospects of this island.
I am committed to providing positive and experienced leadership that will deliver more progress. Progress on jobs, progress on improving our health service, progress on key infrastructural projects and progress on gender equality.
We must also continue to face down the extremes within loyalism and so-called dissident republicanism who would seek to drag us back to the dark days of the past.
All they have to offer is fear, intimidation and pointless bloodshed. We have seen that in recent days and weeks with the murders of Michael McGibbon and prison officer Adrian Ismay in Belfast and the shooting of Harry Boyle in my own city of Derry.
The people who carried out these acts are waging war on our communities.
But their campaign – which couldn’t be called a military campaign - is not only futile it is without support.
The only purpose of those involved in these gangs is to see British military occupation of areas like the Bogside, East Tyrone, West Belfast and South Armagh.
They have been rejected by the people of Ireland and we won’t allow them to do that.
It is the Sinn Féin national and democratic project which citizens are embracing.
In increasing numbers, they are voting for us to build the peace, to promote consensus.
They are voting for an agreed Ireland, an Ireland of equals.
We are for ending division and I am pleased tonight that we have launched a document on reconciliation. I commend that document to all.
It’s an important step in setting out the republican vision of achieving a better and fairer society founded on tolerance and inclusivity.
That means standing up against racism, standing against homophobia and standing up against sectarianism and delivering marriage equality to the North.
We can deliver that fairer society.
The Proclamation of Easter Week continues to inspire us today. The men and women of 1916 proclaimed a republic, which guaranteed civil and religious liberties for all.
We take very seriously our responsibilities to respect and reach out to all our people.
We have a responsibility and a duty to reach out to the unionist community in a spirit of generosity.
I know that some people are uneasy at times about me reaching out to others but if we are to remain true to the spirit of the women and men of 1916 then we must continue this work.
Others don’t always reciprocate but that is not a good enough reason to stop doing it.
The Good Friday Agreement provides the political framework to achieve the vision of 1916.
A century on from the Rising and 35 years from the Hunger strikes, an agreed Ireland is desirable.
An agreed Ireland is achievable.
The vision of 1916 is alive and well, as relevant and inspiring today as it was a century ago.
Together we can make it a reality.
On May 5 let’s take another step forward and return the strongest Sinn Féin team possible to the Assembly.