Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP opening elections and electoral strategy section
2005 marked the centenary of our party and the Cead Blain celebrations were
an integral part of last years political calendar. We also fought four
election campaigns - two in the north and two in the south. Despite attempts
by the establishments north and south to try and stifle the continuing
electoral rise of Sinn Féin, and what was a difficult electoral climate for
the party, we continued to grow and advance in these polls.
In the six county Westminster election Conor Murphy MP secured the Newry/Armagh seat from the SDLP, and we increased our local government representation up to 126 Councilors and gained seats on a number of councils for the first time including Ballymena and Banbridge.
In the 26 Counties for the first time ever we secured a seat on Údarás na Gaeltachta when Gráinne Mhic Géidigh secured a seat in the Donegal Gaeltachta.
And in Meath in the face of an unprecedented media campaign against the party Joe Reilly pushed his vote up to 12% and set down a firm marker for the future.
Congratulations to all candidates and all activists.
But fighting elections and securing seats has to have a purpose. We also need to guard against simply becoming a well oiled election machine. Sinn Féin has to be about a lot more than that.
Political strength and more importantly increasing political strength is about creating change.
It is about building momentum - an unstoppable momentum towards unity, independence and equality. It is about strengthening our hand in political negotiations. It is about minimising the ability of our political opponents to protect the status quo. It is about allowing us to broaden and internationalise our struggle. It is about bringing republicanism into every parish and district in this country all 32 counties of it.
It also has to be about delivering change in the here and now. People cannot logically argue that decent hospitals, or decent schools, or decent public services, or decent policing should have to wait until Britain disengages from our country.
Communities deserve these and other basic rights and entitlements here and now - and it is our job as political activists and representatives to deliver it for them. If it is left to the establishment parties north and south it simply will not happen. Remember when Fianna Fail first got elected in the 1930's it was on two policy platforms - Irish Unity and the revival of the Irish Language - they paid lip service to both and delivered neither.
Political reality dictates that elections have to be a part of the project of driving forward the agenda of change. But they are not the only part. Sinn Féin are a campaigning party, we need to do more and we need to do it better. The potential of campaigns was there for all to see through the course of the past 12 months with the Rossport 5 and the Irish Ferries campaigns and of course the Make Partition History Rally last November. There is an appetite out there for a radical campaigning party. People are looking for an alternative as the TDs and Councillors from the establishment parties slowly wind their way through the various Tribunals and Inquiries. People want an alternative to the stale politics of partition. Sinn Féin are that alternative.
We have good, sound policies on a range of social, economic, environmental, cultural and of course constitutional matters. But having sound policies gathering dust in manifestos is not what we need to be about. We need to be about getting these policies implemented. In the north we have in the past entered into the unique Good Friday Agreement arrangements, but of course not before passing two fundamental tests. Firstly the party membership had their say at a special Ard Fheis and secondly the electorate had their say at the ballot box. Those two tests will have to be passed again, before any question of coalition arises.
But we should not kid ourselves. The issue of coalition in the 26 counties will never arise if we do not substantially increase our mandate and our representation. That is the real politick. It is also the fact that our policies will never see the light of day if we do not all leave this hall and deliver the best possible electoral performance in the next Leinster House and 6 county Assembly election- and that includes our primary political objective of securing our freedom.
We should also not take the Irish electorate for granted. The time for any decision on coalition is when the people have spoken and the votes are counted and we should not preempt that decision. We should continue with our preparations. We should continue to campaign, agitate and lobby. We should continue to build the party and develop into new areas. If after a future election other parties come knocking on our door seeking to talk about future government then well and good. But ultimately it will be up to all of us gathered in this hall to make that call if that time does indeed come.
So we have a major job of work ahead of us in the coming 12 months. We need to be up and running in the Leinster House campaign and we also need to be prepared for an Assembly poll in the north.
There is massive potential for our party out there. We have yet, for a variety of reasons, to maximise this potential despite the gains of recent years. Tapping into this goodwill and delivering on this potential has to be the goal set for the coming year.
We have the policies. We have the candidates. We have the determination. Let's leave this Ard Fheis determined to deliver the best ever results for this party. ENDS