Martina Anderson opens Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2007
Sinn Féin candidate for Foyle in the upcoming elections Martina Anderson this evening opened the party's Ard Fheis in the RDS in Dublin.
Ms. Anderson said: "On behalf of the Ard Comhlaire I welcome delegates,
party activists and guests. It is a privilege to be afforded the opportunity
to open this years AF and I hope that you enjoy the Conference.
We come together this evening, in the midst of two great elections - huge opportunities to take forward our struggle.
Our debates this evening and tomorrow will reflect a genuine re-awakening of republicanism, which all of us taking part in elections have experienced in the last few weeks. There is a new dynamic for change in the six counties - a palpable excitement in the broad nationalist communities, occasioned by recent events, and the un-tiring work of you - the party activists.
Why this re-awakening? Because the issues that concern us today, as Republicans, are the very issues that face the people in their communities, which we will debate here together.
They are the so-called 'bread and butter' issues, the issues which affect us in our everyday lives - issues of Education, of Health, of Economic and Social Justice, of Rural Regeneration and of the dire need of people for Housing.
But what is astoundingly new to people in our communities is that for the first time perhaps ever, they have the opportunity to make change. It is the beginning of the reality of political empowerment. It is a measure above all of how far we have come.
During the past year there have been momentous events, which have brought our struggle to this watershed, and put each one of us in the forefront of huge changes, which we have witnessed and participated in. We organised commemorations all across the country, to remember the hunger strikers, culminating in the huge Casement Park rally.
We felt our strength.
These commemorations brought us in touch with a generation of young people, who may not even have been born at the time. But they also gave us the occasion to rededicate ourselves, each and every one of us, to the ideals of the hunger strikers, and the impact of their deaths on setting the path to build political strength, as our key National Strategic Objective.
Today we are at the watershed of a hugely important election. It is an election which we are confident, in the long run, will restore the Assembly and with it, the institutions of all Ireland governance. We are confident because the politics of our struggle, and the advances we have made since the first cessation, offers no other alternative to rejectionists. They have no other place to go, but to concede the absolute necessity to share power with those elected to represent the nationalist/republican people -they must begin to comprehend the concept of political equality.
For now, Unionists politicians can no longer rely on sectarianism to secure political control of unionist areas. They are obliged to look to the interests of their people, the logic of which lies so clearly in the ending of divisions, within and between our country, which has cut off the 6 counties from the huge economic growth and wealth in the Celtic Tiger economy of the South. Even the British have claimed this as a fact beyond doubt.
Unionists have little choice but to concur with what is fact. Unionist politicians can no longer use sectarianism to distract the people of the Shankill from a reality that only 3% of their children pass the 11+. Thus 97% of children are debarred the chance to secure the best education they need to revive the social fabric of their communities. What chances have these kids of one of the few jobs that exist within the basket economy of the 6 counties, deprived as we have been by British rule of economic opportunities and growth? Unionists have no answer.
More important still, the O'Loan Report, which, thanks to the courage of Raymond McCord, has obliged unionists to recognise, that sectarianism was deliberately perpetrated and perpetuated by the British state, working through collusion with agents in their unionist communities, in truly shocking crimes against humanity. Sectarianism is a monster deliberately created by the British, precisely to subdue, terrify and divide the people - Unionist politicians have stood over all of this.
But sectarianism is no longer a remotely credible political basis for rejectionism. This represents an immense advance in our struggle towards an Ireland of Equals. Collusion will not go away. We owe this advance to the persistent and unrelenting courage of the relatives of the victims who day after day have sought the truth about the death of their loved ones, and day after day, have been met with the arrogance of silence.
They have given us all a lesson in how to make power accountable, and, That is our programme of work over the coming years - be it to make the power of Government accountable and to make accountable the power of policing, to mobilise the people to make power accountable to them.
And that of course is why these elections are amongst the most important that we have ever taken part in. With the Assembly restored and the All Ireland Ministerial Council and Areas of Cooperation between departments North and South, there will be two internationally recognised spokespersons for all of the people in Ireland. There will be the Taoiseach and there will be the Joint office of the First and the deputy First Ministers. The current Taoiseach has a tendency to forget this, or to wish it were not the case.
So our two elections are in reality one election, which brings us one great stride further towards the reunification of Ireland -an Ireland of Equals, an inclusive Ireland that makes power accountable to the people.
May I wish us all success in the election campaigns in the time ahead? We deserve it.
And may I wish you enjoyment and understanding in our debates together this evening and tomorrow.