“The Decade of Opportunity”
Dia daoibh a chairde,
I am delighted to be here in Derry for what is going to be a great Ard Fhéis.
We’ve a busy few days ahead.
And I look forward to the debates and discussions.
We are embarking on a decade of opportunity.
This is a defining moment in the history of Ireland.
And the decisions we make now will shape the direction of our country for the next generation.
We have lived a century apart, and partition has failed.
It has reinforced segregation, division, and inequality.
And the Brexit being imposed on us today serves to further this division.
We cannot allow that.
Our mission is to secure a better Ireland in a better Europe.
And bring all the people of this country together.
We face many challenges, but we also face huge opportunities.
Sinn Féin’s republican vision is about giving people hope.
HOPE, for a future which allows our children and grandchildren to grow up in better society.
HOPE, for a society where compassion, prosperity and social justice prevail.
That future is being obstructed by the DUP/Tory Brexit.
British politics is in meltdown.
Their reckless Brexit policy which we didn’t vote for is being forced upon us - By a Government that we didn’t vote for - And by a Westminster system that will never – never - put our interests first.
A stark choice is opening up between the narrow, inward-looking vision of Brexit Britain and the open inclusive vision of a New Ireland.
We are being dragged out of the EU, and into a little Englander nightmare.
The DUP saddled up to the Tories and have treated the people here with contempt.
This has caused huge anger and provoked a response that is unseen before.
People from all traditions have united in saying enough is enough to the Tories and the DUP Brexiteers.
Business and industry leaders have been out front, loud and clear saying:
No hard border.
And No threats to our economy and our peace process.
Over the past three years I have led a pro-remain alliance.
We have spoken for the majority of people in the north.
We have put the best interests of the people and businesses first.
And we have shown that a new kind of politics – in which progressive parties comes together for the common good - is possible.
The next test of this new politics will be the Westminster election.
Sinn Féin’s message in this election is clear.
In 2017 we made a pledge to the people.
We said we would use our influence and our political strength where it counts.
Taking our case to Capitol Hill, 10 Downing Street, the Dáil and to Brussels.
We did that.
We said we would ensure that our special and unique circumstances were understood across Europe.
We achieved that.
We said the DUP would have no Stormont veto.
We secured that.
We said we would protect the Good Friday Agreement, the All-Ireland economy, and prevent a hard border.
We delivered that.
One or two isolated MPs cannot and will not make a difference.
35 SNP MPs could not make a difference.
We have shown that, what does work, is Our Approach - outside of Westminster.
Brexit has vindicated the republican analysis that we must turn our back on Westminster. Our interests will never be served there.
All these things that we’ve achieved are the least, worst outcome.
We have successfully defended Ireland’s interests.
But there is no good Brexit.
Ultimately the solution to the Brexit mess is Irish unity.
And on Thursday 12th December people will have an opportunity to reject Brexit, reject the DUP and reject Westminster.
Sinn Féin is asking you to re-elect:
§ Derry’s MP Eilisha McCallion
§ Francie Molloy
§ Mickey Brady
§ Paul Maskey
§ Michelle Gildernew
§ Órfliath Begley
§ Chris Hazzard
Joining the magnificent seven will be John Finucane as MP for North Belfast.
This is the people’s opportunity to stop the Brexit architect Nigel Dodds.
John Finucane represents the Good Friday Agreement generation.
A human rights lawyer, like his father Pat before him.
A Mayor working for of all of the people of the city.
As the MP for North Belfast - John Finucane is the future!
So this is the election of a generation.
And for many - it is the election of a lifetime!
There is now a conversation underway across this island.
An unstoppable conversation.
A conversation like we haven’t seen before.
It is no longer a question of if – it’s a question of when the referendum on Irish unity will be held.
In April 2017 the EU made an important declaration.
They said that in the event of Irish reunification the North would automatically re-join the EU with the rest of Ireland.
So for many people from all traditions and backgrounds Irish unity is seen as the best way to stay within the EU.
Many of those of a British or unionist identity are now considering the merits of reunification-
Not to become republicans, but to remain European.
This is backed up by the unprecedented number of people applying for Irish passports.
People are acting in their own interests, and are coming to the conclusion that their interests are best served in a New Ireland that is part of the EU.
RESTORATION OF THE ASSEMBLY
Sinn Féin remains fully invested and committed to the Good Friday Agreement.
The commitment to a referendum on a united Ireland is within this Agreement.
It cannot be cherry-picked.
The Agreement also requires an Assembly that works for everyone.
The current political impasse is unsustainable and unacceptable.
Three years later, after the RHI scandal brought the assembly down people deserve and demand a functioning government and genuine power-sharing.
An agreement was reached in February 18, however the DUP regrettably walked off the pitch.
That is not a sustainable position.
The delivery of rights cannot be avoided.
At the start of the incoming year, after years of campaigning, same sex couples will be able to marry the one they love.
The injustice of women being criminalised has ended.
There is now a consultation underway which Sinn Féin will help shape, to provide access to compassionate health care for all women.
After years of waiting the Historical Institutional abuse victims can see some light in their journey for redress.
We should be legislating for these issues in the Assembly.
I stand ready to form a credible executive.
A New Assembly and a New kind of politics in the New year is what I am working towards.
For a full decade now the Tories - with the DUPs support -have stripped our public services of investment.
If the Executive is to be credible, then it must deliver on issues such as public sector pay, safe staffing levels in the health service, economic policies that delivers prosperity for all and that invests in rural communities, and an appropriate welfare mitigation package.
To be credible all of the outstanding issues must be dealt with including an Irish Language Act and reform of the Petition of Concern.
It must also deal with the legacy of the past.
The British Governments refusal to deal properly with the legacy issues is hindering reconciliation and wider political progress.
Victims and survivors have had to wait for far too long for truth and justice.
The Stormont House Agreement must be implemented by the British Government immediately.
There must be no special treatment for British soldiers who brought arms to this country and murdered Irish citizens.
There can be no amnesties for British State forces.
Everyone should be equal before the law.
We live in politically uncertain times.
However, I am certain of two things.
Firstly, that a referendum on Irish Unity is coming;
And secondly, that the foundations of a New Ireland are being laid.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar cannot ignore this reality.
I encourage the Irish Government to listen and to convene a forum that facilitates these discussions.
And I want to commend the Ireland’s Future initiative who published over 1000 signatures calling on the Taoiseach to establish such a forum.
Leo, you need to catch up - Because the people and society are miles ahead of you.
You said that northern nationalists would not be left behind - It seems they are leaving you behind.
Universities are now exploring what the constitutional future may look like.
Businesses are planning and investing on an All-Ireland basis.
Demographic shifts are occurring.
So it’s time for us all to be part of the conversation.
The Irish Government must avoid the mistake of the British Government which had the Brexit referendum without proper planning.
The people of this island have spent a century apart.
Unifying Ireland through peaceful means isn’t a new idea, but it’s the big idea of our time and more and more people are coming to that conclusion.
The opportunity now exists over this decade to bring people together.
To build a future together - A better future;
A prosperous economy;
World-class public services;
A zero-carbon society.
And crucially, an Irish national health service that provides healthcare free at the point of delivery for all.
Over the past number of elections the political unionist majority has gone.
This may create fears for some about the future.
But we will not replace one system of discrimination with another.
There must be space created for mature dialogue where nobody feels they are being asked to compromise or surrender their identity or allegiance.
As we approach the centenary of partition let’s not refight battles of the past.
Let’s look to the future.
Let’s present our vision for a new and agreed Ireland.
Let’s address the concerns of those fearful of change.
We want reunification not just for republicans, but for everyone.
This is not about victories.
This is about something better for us all.
For many people the frustration, impatience and urgency for change is growing.
If Brexit demonstrates anything it is that the British Parliament has never, and will never, act in our interests.
Only a national parliament in Ireland will do so.
So this is a time for big ideas;
Comrades, we are entering a decade of opportunity where the freedom to choose our own future will be decided by the people on this island alone.
It is a time for hope.
It is a time to bring people together in harmony and friendship.
It is a time to transform this country.
And it is a time to unite all of the people who share this island.
And to seize, the opportunity, of a lifetime.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.