Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Gerry Adams - Young people need to have their voices heard in consultation on way forward for peace process

4 November, 2006


Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking at the National Congress of Ógra Shinn Féin called on young people to take up leadership roles within Sinn Féin and to ensure that their voice is heard in the discussions which are taking place within the party about the way forward in the peace process.  Mr. Adams also spoke about the tragic loss of lives on Ireland’s roads and called on young people to talk to their friends and peer group about road safety issues, making bad driving socially unacceptable

 

Mr. Adams said:

 

“This is a time of transition, of change and with that, comes challenges and responsibilities. The discussions that have been taking place around the St Andrews’s Proposals and the way forward for the party must be owned by activists. Young people must ensure your voice is heard in these discussions.  There are many challenges facing us.  We need to strategic and long headed.  And united. 

 

“Sinn Féin needs to be bigger, and Ógra Shinn Féin needs to be bigger, we need more members and activists. We need more women members. We need to reach out to those people new to Ireland, or marginalised and bring them on board.  We need to make their fight, our fight.

 

Road safety must be a priority

I also want to mention here today the issue of road safety. Alongside suicide, accidents on our roads are killing more and more young people. A generation is being scared by the carnage on our roads. Not a weekend goes by without another life lost and a family and community plunged into grief. While education, or better roads, or safer cars have a part to play - the people who are best placed to tackle this issue are you. Young people, activists like yourselves need to talk to your friends and peer group about road safety issues, making bad driving socially unacceptable. You need to talk about the awful consequences of reckless driving.  Young people have a huge responsibility in leading the way on this issue.

 

Responding to the Taoiseach’s proposals regarding a constitutional referendum on the rights of the child Mr. Adams said:

“At the recent health rally I said that I would be very pleased if the government stole our health policies.  We are about change and setting the public and political agenda. So it comes as no surprise that the Taoiseach has proposed a constitutional referendum on the rights of children.  This is a good thing.  And I welcome it. Sinn Féin put forward a comprehensive proposal to the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution when it was dealing with the rights of the family more than a year ago.  In it we argued for the rights of children to be put into the constitution. We welcome Fianna Fáil’s support for this position and will contact them about the wording of a substantial new article on the rights of the child in the Constitution.

 

In 2004 Sinn Féin proposed the following new article on the rights of the child in the Constitution:

1.         The State guarantees to cherish all the children of the nation equally. All children, in addition to the individual rights guaranteed to all persons in this Constitution, are entitled to the special care and assistance essential to childhood. Each child has the right to reach his or her potential as an individual and as a member of the community.

2.         The State shall ensure, as far as is possible, that every child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, shall grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.

3.         The State shall ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

4.            Children have the right to be heard, to be consulted in all matters affecting them and to access information about their person.

5.         In all actions concerning children undertaken by or on behalf of the State the best interests of the child shall be the primary consideration.

 

Full text

 

A chairde, I am delighted to be here today to speak at Ógra’s eighth National Congress and I want to congratulate the organisers for the work that has gone into making this event a success.

 

Considering the year that is in it, it is especially appropriate that you are meeting here in Liberty Hall. It was in the basement of this building that the Proclamation of 1916 was printed, a document that continues to be the inspiration of modern Irish republicanism. And it was just outside this building that Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and Constance Markievicz set off on Easter Monday, ninety years ago this year.

 

I want to commend you all.

 

And I want to especially commend the work Ógra has done since the last National Congress. Republicans are so busy that we rarely have opportunities to reflect on what we have done, to realise what we have achieved. Your campaign work around collusion, political policing, and in particular demilitarisation, have been an essential, and successful, part of the party’s work. So were your campaigns on suicide prevention and to demand healthcare rights.  You have demonstrated time and time again that political change does not have to await the pleasure of those in power, but that young people can educate and organise to bring about practical change in the here and now.

 

There is a cliché often repeated by the establishment in this country that young people are not interested in politics. That they are turned off by it. But everywhere I look, it is young people who are involved in campaigns. Not just marching or protesting, but organising the marches, running the protests, dealing with the media, and even creating their own media.

 

It is young people who ran the anti-war campaign, who took the lead in the Rossport campaign, who were at the forefront of the Stadás campaign for the Irish language, who filled the streets in the Irish Ferries demonstration, and the Make Poverty History march. 

Ógra Shinn Féin activists were among the first to take the initiative in support of the Rossport Five when they were imprisoned. It is young people who flocked to the commemorations of the 1981 Hunger Strikes.

 

It is not that they are turned off by politics, it is that they are turned off by the political establishment, which has failed young people, failed to present a vision, failed to inspire. And it is young people themselves who are taking up that challenge, who are stepping into the frontlines of struggle with Ógra Shinn Féin activists prominent among them.

 

Young people do this because they have the idealism. That is what we have in common.We know that each of us, in our own way, can make a difference. Twenty-five years ago this year the hunger strikes were the culmination of years of struggle in the prison. Young people, no different to anyone in this room, in the prisons in Armagh and Long Kesh, at the mercy of a brutal, violent prison regime, clad only in blankets, defied an empire and broke one of the most powerful governments in the world.

 

Hopefully, no-one will ever again be called on to make those sacrifices, but that strength, that inner belief is a part of each and every one of us. It is what makes us republicans. We know we can make a difference and more than that, we are absolutely determined to do so.

 

I believe that one person can make a difference. But two people can make twice as much. And it is obvious that twenty, fifty, a hundred people can do even better. It is like a snowball. The more people we bring into Ógra Shinn Féin, the more people we republicanise, the stronger we are, the more change we can effect. And the more change people see us bringing about, the more people will want to be a part of that, part of changing our communities, our workplaces or our country.

 

So I am delighted to see that the Ógra is continuing to grow in the universities across Ireland as the only national political youth movement.

But it is also important, that in working to build Ógra in the universities, we do not lose sight of the need to reach out to the young men and women who choose not to go on to third level education or, who are denied that opportunity

 

Sinn Féin is a party on the move - moving our republican goals forward. Ógra is crucial to our ability to do that. Republicans have a vision of a new future, a better future and we have the spirit and confidence to work with others to achieve this.
 
25 years ago we failed to move an Irish government to challenge the Thatcher criminalisation policy. Why?

Because we were not politically strong enough.

We need to understand and learn that lesson if we want to achieve our goal of ending the union, ending partition and achieving the aims set our in the Proclamation.


So building political strength and using that strength effectively is of paramount importance in the time ahead. That means strategising, planning, debating and putting the outworking of our deliberations into effect.

Six years ago in my Ard Fheis speech I remarked on how close we had come to winning a European seat with Mitchel McLaughlin, and how Sean Crowe and Arthur Morgan and Martin Ferris had almost succeeded in taking seats in Leinster House.

Next time round we did better than that. Bairbre de Brun and Mary Lou McDonald are our two MEPs.  We have five TDs; 5 MPs and 24 MLAs, as well as several hundred councillors across this island.

A good position to be in but we can do better and not just electorally through that is crucial. We can be stronger - politically and ideologically - and in our policies and in our activism. And we must build political alliances.

Bobby Sands reminded us that there is a place, a role for everyone in our struggle. We in this room must understand that.

 

Sinn Féin needs to be bigger, and Ógra Shinn Féin needs to be bigger, we need more members and activists. We need more women members. We need to reach out to those people new to Ireland, or marginalised and bring them on board.  We need to make their fight, our fight.

 

At the recent health rally I said that I would be very pleased if the government stole our health policies.  We are about change and setting the public and political agenda. So it comes as no surprise that the Taoiseach has proposed a constitutional referendum on the rights of children.  This is a good thing.  And I welcome it. Sinn Féin put forward a comprehensive proposal to the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution when it was dealing with the rights of the family more than a year ago.  In it we advocated the need for the rights of children to be put into the constitution.

 

I welcome the initiative you are launching this weekend around an ‘anti-imperialist’ campaign. Imperialism can seem an outdated word, a concept that is past its sell-by date. But in simple terms, what it means is the bullying of the weak by the strong. The occupations of Iraq and Palestine, the crippling debt and economic exploitation foisted on the developing world, the efforts to undermine cultural identity and replace it with mass consumerism, are all the actions of the powerful against the rest of us.  So we have to learn how to challenge this.

 

In Ireland of course, we deal with our own legacy of imperialism. We are part of what James Connolly called ‘the re-conquest of Ireland, by its people’. It is about ending the partition of Ireland, about the people of this island shaping our destiny together. But it is also a re-conquest of the resources and wealth produced by our people and using them to tackle poverty and inequality. And it is about the restoration of our national language whose enthusiastic revival in gaelscoileanna throughout Ireland is an inspiration to everyone with a cupla focal.

 

The re-conquest of Ireland is the task Sinn Féin has set ourselves, and by embarking on this campaign, Ógra is leading the way in making the connection between our struggle here, and that of those people working for peace, independence and justice around the world. And leading the way is something you all better get used to.

 

It is the current membership of Ógra Shinn Féin who will be the party leaders of the future. Pearse Doherty is now a councillor and, we hope, after the next election a future TD for Donegal South-West. Eight years ago, he was elected onto the Ógra National Executive. Toireasa Ferris was also at the first National Congress. She is now a councillor for the party in Kerry and was the first ever Sinn Féin Mayor of Kerry last year. Going further back, even before the founding of Ógra, Deputy Seán Crowe was the party’s youth officer in the 1980s. Look through Sinn Féin today and you will see many of our elected representatives and our activists are people who first got involved in politics through the Ógra.

 

Sinn Féin, as the senior party, has a role to play in providing the support and resources that Ógra needs, and perhaps there is more we could have done, and more we can do. But the success of Ógra must be your success. You must not, and cannot, be reliant on anyone but yourselves.

 

I also want to mention here today the issue of road safety. Alongside suicide, accidents on our roads are killing more and more young people. A generation is being scared by the carnage on our roads. Not a weekend goes by without another life lost and a family and community plunged into grief. While education, or better roads, or safer cars have a part to play - the people who are best placed to tackle this issue are you. Young people, activists like yourselves need to talk to your friends and peer group about road safety issues, making bad driving socially unacceptable. You need to talk about the awful consequences of reckless driving.  Young people have a huge responsibility in leading the way on this issue.

 

Before finishing, I would like to say something about the choices before republicans today. This is a time of transition, of change. And with that, come challenges and responsibilities. The discussions that have been taking place around the St Andrews’s Proposals and the way forward for the party must be owned by activists.

 

Young people must ensure your voice is heard in these discussions.  There are many challenges facing us.  We need to strategic and long headed.  And united.  Short termism is for short termers.  We are about the long term –  the future.

Writing in An Phoblacht around this time last year Barry McColgan wrote, ‘Without youth coming through there is no struggle. The youth must not leave the work up to others. We must take leadership and influence decisions.’

 

There is a lesson in those words for all of us, young republicans. I hope they guide your debate and discussions this weekend. There is no future for the republican struggle, without young people coming through to carry it forward, to lead, to campaign and to organise towards what Joe Cahill always called, ‘that certain day’, when we achieve unity, independence, and socialism.  Remember, we will not get one without the other.  And we will only get what we deserve by working and organising for it.

 

Go raibh mile maith agaibh.

 

CRÍOCH

 

 

 

 

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