Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin opens Sinn Féin Ard Fheis
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur romhaibh uile chuig Ard Fheis Shinn Féin 2008. Tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh taitneamh as an deireadh seachtaine agus go mbeidh an Ard Fheis seo mar spreagadh úr dúinn chun dul ar aghaidh leis an obair sa bhliain atá romhainn.
I extend a warm welcome to all delegates and visitors to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis 2008. To those who have travelled from throughout the 32 Counties and from overseas we wish an enjoyable and productive weekend. You the delegates from every section of our organisation are the ultimate decision-makers. Here at the Ard Fheis Sinn Féin policy is decided and strategies are determined by the membership. We are proud of our party and proud of our ethos of democratic participation and we begin this Ard Fheis as we will conclude it - a united and strong organisation, firmly set on our goal of Irish unity, real prosperity and equality for all the people of Ireland.
Let there be no doubt about it - this party has been pivotal in bringing about major political change in our country. Since we last assembled for our Ard Fheis, politics have been transformed in a profound way by the re- establishment, at long last, of the political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. In the Assembly elections Sinn Féin built and consolidated its support, winning 28 seats. The resulting formation of a power-sharing administration involving Sinn Féin and the largest party of unionism, the DUP, has been a momentous event and a massive undertaking for this party. I want to extend a special welcome to our ministerial team in the Executive - Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Michelle Gildernew, Minister for Education Caitríona Ruane, Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy and Junior Minister Gerry Kelly. They are at the forefront of a new era in Irish politics. This involves the whole island with the All-Ireland institutions up and running. In the year ahead Sinn Féin nationally must ensure that the potential of this new political dispensation is fully realised and that we help to deliver real and tangible benefits for all the people. That is an important focus of our Ard Fheis.
Since we last assembled at our Ard Fheis we fought a prolonged and arduous General Election campaign in the 26 Counties. I want to acknowledge the people of North Kerry, Louth, Dublin South-Central and Cavan/Monaghan who renewed the mandates of Deputies Martin Ferris, Arthur Morgan, Aengus Ó Snodaigh and myself.
Agus ba mhaith liom fáilte ar leith a chur roimh an chéad Seanadóir de chuid Sinn Féin - Pearse Doherty as Dún na nGall. Ionadaí láidir ar son mhuintir Dún na nGall atá ann, guth láidir nua ar son Sinn Féin san Oireachtas.
The General Election was a difficult one for our party. We returned to Leinster House having lost our seat in Dublin South West and that constituency and our party are the poorer for the absence from the Dáil of our friend and comrade Seán Crowe. But I want the Ard Fheis to be clear about one thing - Seán hasn't gone away, you know.
We did not make the gains in that election that we and others had anticipated and for which our candidates and elections workers strove so hard. I want to commend all who worked so diligently in that election. Your work was not in vain. Overall our party's vote increased; advances were made in many constituencies, especially in Co Donegal where we have clearly laid down our claim to not one but two seats. The names Pádraig and Pearse have always been linked in our past and will again in our future.
The election was followed by a period of intense analysis, debate, consultation and decision-making on the way forward. I believe we have come out of that post-election period more focussed and more determined to build Sinn Féin as the real alternative in every community and every constituency throughout the 26 Counties. We have a united party leadership - not a Northern leadership nor a Southern leadership but a national leadership for a national party with national aims and objectives. And you the delegates elect that leadership and you are the republican leaders in your communities.
Since the resumption of the Dáil there have been several votes of no confidence in the Fianna Fáil/Progressve Democrats/Green Party Coalition Government. From Sinn Féin's point of view even if there was no tribunal, no funny money in St. Luke's and no "political donations for personal use" we would still be voting no confidence in this Taoiseach and this Government. Less than nine months in office and already they have broken key pre-election commitments. They are presiding over health cutbacks and massive shortfalls in education funding. Their totally market-driven approach to housing has come unstuck with many families in severe mortgage difficulties. They have failed to provide proper policing and improved community safety. They have neglected workers' rights while rewarding anti-union employers. And now they ask the people to trust them and take their word that the Lisbon Treaty should be supported because they are our betters and they know best.
Sinn Féin will not be part of the cosy cross-party establishment consensus that takes the people - and many of their own party members - for granted. We will campaign for Irish sovereignty and neutrality, against the Lisbon Treaty and for a better deal for Ireland in Europe and in the world. We salute the work of our MEPs Mary Lou McDonald and Bairbre de Brún in presenting our case so effectively. And at this Ard Fheis we signal our intent to defeat the Lisbon Treaty.
We will go on from that referendum to build a stronger Sinn Féin presence in every constituency by working closely with communities, presenting people with our sound and radical policies and providing effective leadership. We must use this Ard Fheis as a springboard for our local government election campaign in the 26 Counties next year and for the European elections. These are but milestones on the road to our ultimate goal of Irish unity and independence.
Le sin ba mhaith liom an Ard Fheis seo a oscailt go foirmiúil.