I will work for all citizens, and for all communities as a First Minister for All – O’Neill
Míle buíochas do gach duine as bheith linn inniu. Tá fáilte mhór romhaibh uilig.
It’s so good to be with you all here today
We meet at a time of major change right across our entire island
That change was demonstrated most loudly six months ago, when the people of the North voted in huge numbers in the Assembly election.
It really was a defining moment.
For the first time, the balance of power at Stormont shifted, and Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party, topping the poll with 27 seats.
The electorate overwhelmingly endorsed our message of hope, optimism and of working in partnership with others to get things done.
They voted for us to invest extra money in our health service and to help them through the cost-of-living crisis.
They voted for us to build more homes and to create good quality jobs.
I campaigned to lead a new Executive as a ‘First Minister for All’.
And I meant what I said during the campaign.
I will work every day as First Minister Designate to demonstrate through word and deed a spirit of partnership and respect towards everyone in our society.
For politics to work it must be inclusive.
That means the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement must work, serve and deliver fairly and equally for all citizens, and for all communities.
My commitment is to make politics work for everyone and to lead an agenda for change through partnership, not division.
I want to co-operate across party lines and deliver in government by working with others who want progress.
Our mission is to deliver on health, housing, education and jobs.
We need to put money into people's pockets to help deal with the rising cost of living.
To agree a budget and an extra £1 billion into the health service to reduce waiting lists.
To support cancer and mental health services, and recruit more doctors and nurses.
Since day one after the election Sinn Féin has stood ready to form a power-sharing government.
We have been ready to work with other parties and to serve all communities.
It is wrong that progress on the issues affecting the daily lives of people are being put on hold, because one party refuses to accept the democratic outcome of last May’s Assembly election.
At any time, this would be unacceptable.
But in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis it is utterly disgraceful.
As you all know the DUP are using the Brexit Protocol as cover not to enter power-sharing.
And the real reason is because as an Irish nationalist, I will be at the helm as First Minister.
And everybody knows it.
Last Friday, Caretaker Ministers were forced from their departments leaving civil servants in an impossible position.
They are now expected to run our essential public services, with no budget and no powers.
Not good enough.
I want to thank our outgoing Finance Minister Conor Murphy; Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey; and, Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd for their hard work and delivery.
Back in May the people voted for change.
Yet the DUP and Tories offer only disruption, dysfunction and chaos in Belfast and London.
The British Secretary of State repeatedly stated he would set a date for an election should the DUP fail to restore power-sharing.
Yet come the day and come the hour he backed down and failed to do anything whatsoever.
He has left people in limbo with indecision and the dithering.
He needs to step out a definitive pathway be restore an executive.
Instead of fueling instability and uncertainty.
If an election is called, we stand ready to refight a positive campaign.
A campaign to deliver on the change you voted for in May.
A campaign about a future built on inclusivity, togetherness, and respect.
In the meantime, we cannot allow the vacuum to be filled by threats of violence or intimidation from loyalists who want yesterday.
Let’s be clear, yesterday is not available to them!
From this Ard Fheis today, I send our solidarity to James Nesbitt, and Professor Colin Harvey of Queen’s University, who have both come under attack from senior DUP politicians, and some loyalists.
This attack on them is an attack on democracy and us all.
This must stop.
Earlier this week I was honoured to attend the funeral service of the late Baroness May Blood.
I was privileged to join her beloved family and all those from the Greater Shankill community who mourn the loss of their greatest and deeply respected community champion.
A mill worker.
A trade unionist, a community worker, a campaigner for social justice and integrated education, and the founder of the Women’s Coalition.
As First Minister Designate I wanted to pay my respects and go onto the Shankill because at the end of the day we all live together.
Our battles are the same.
To make our communities better.
To offer families a secure life.
To build a better future for our children.
We have so much more in common than divides us.
Reaching out the hand of friendship to advance reconciliation is our common ground.
Where together, we can all build for the future and do so, in a way that reflects the diversity of our different but equally legitimate, Allegiances, Identities and Aspirations.
That is why in September I attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
I was being respectful to all of those of a British and unionist tradition from across our society who felt her loss dearly.
It reflects maturity as a new era of change is ushered in where we can celebrate difference and diversity.
A chairde, last week after decades of campaigning the Irish language was given official recognition in law in the north for the first time.
Tá Acht Gaeilge againne/ anois!
This will mean gaeilgeoirí will have guaranteed protections in law, and the legal right to access public services through Irish.
Resistance to rights has failed.
Let’s value, not diminish each other’s culture and identity.
I am working to build a society not of Orange and Green, but a rainbow of colours and multi-culturalism which reflects who we are and what we stand for today.
Since we last met some progress has been made on women’s rights.
Finally, women in the North have the right to modern compassionate healthcare when they need it.
Those services need to be put in place now.
A new generation of women will not abide a repeat of the failures of the past, particularly when it comes to our healthcare.
I want to address the issue of the Brexit Protocol.
You see, it is an irrefutable fact that the Protocol is working, and that Jeffrey Donaldson is incapable of accepting that is the case.
He has now been rebuffed on numerous occasions in the past week about his misleading claims.
Including scaremongering about vital medical care.
A chairde, Jeffrey doesn’t just need a fact-check, he needs a reality check.
Most working people, businesses and key sectors I meet want the British Government to urgently reach a negotiated settlement with the EU around the Protocol.
They want certainty and stability so they can invest for the future taking full advantage of our access to the EU single market and the benefits this brings to our economy.
We welcome the unstinting support of the White House and Congress.
This was reaffirmed in a call between President Biden and the British Prime Minister last week.
We must defend and protect the gains of the Good Friday Agreement and the need to reach a negotiated agreement with the European Union.
We welcome the new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meeting with European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen.
What we all want to see is a deal done to make the protocol work better.
But for the avoidance of doubt.
Neither the Assembly or the Executive has any mandate or role in these negotiations.
So holding back power-sharing in the meantime is simply to punish the public.
This is reckless and it needlessly polarises our society and politics.
My call is for London and Brussels to Propel the Protocol Talks and for Downing Street to demonstrate the political will to get a resolution.
As for the Stormont Leaders, now is the time for renewed unity of purpose and determination to deliver a stable power-sharing coalition that works, and delivers.
Next April we will mark 25 years of peace and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
And we will reflect on the transformation of our island over the last quarter century.
We will also take the opportunity to look forward and to imagine the future.
We are now in the decade of opportunity.
Friends, let’s embrace it and let’s do better for all.
Tá obair le déanamh againn ar son an phobail.
We have work to do, and people to represent.
The people want Government, and we all want change.
I am firmly committed to both.
Sin mo ghealltanas daoibh uilig.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.