Full text of Martin McGuinness' speech to the Ard Fheis

7 March, 2015 - by Martin McGuinness

Fáilte romhaibh uilig go Doire, cathair a bhí scartha as a chéile.

It's good to be back home in Derry!

In many ways Derry is symbolic of how far we have come as a result of the peace process.

This was once a strife torn city. Divided by a river and divided by our differing allegiances.

In 1969 the smouldering resentment against decades of discrimination and repression burst into open revolt and resistance in this city.

Today, Derry is a very different place.

The British Army fortresses, which once dominated the skyline are gone.

Last week, with our Agriculture Minister, Michelle O’Neill, I watched as bulldozers demolished a former British Army base in Ballykelly to make way for her departmental headquarters. That type of renewal and regeneration is happening across the north.

The parades disputes, which once caused so much division and destruction, have been resolved through dialogue and mutual respect.

The Peace Bridge has provided an iconic link across the river and across community divides.

Derry is at forefront of the developing process of reconciliation, which must become the next stage in our peace process.

The presence of the Londonderry Bands Forum representing the loyalist and unionist community engaging with Sinn Féin at this Ard Fheis is evidence of our changing society on this island. I want to commend them for their courage and confidence.

I'd like also to welcome my friend the Reverend David Latimer and the Rev Steve Stockman and Fr Martin Magill.

Last night the Rev Dr Harold Good was here and I want to express my personal thanks to him for the central role he played along side Fr Alex Reid, in moving our society forward and away from conflict. We owe them both a great dept of gratitude.

This – and this society – is looking to the world with confidence and a commitment to reconciliation and a better future for our young people. 

Our Ministers in the North John O’Dowd, Michelle O’Neill, Jennifer McCann and Caral Ni Chuilín are playing a central role in this by bringing equality to the heart of government.

We have led the way in decentralising an entire government department to the north west, we have directed additional funding to the most disadvantaged schools, we are revitalising the Irish language community through investment in Irish medium education, unemployment in the north has been falling month on month for the last two years and levels of foreign direct investment are at an all-time high.

In the Stormont House Agreement, we secured a package of protection for those who would have faced benefit cuts as a result of so-called welfare reform.

Our protected welfare system has eliminated the Tory cuts, which are being imposed on the most vulnerable in Britain and which they sought to impose on the most vulnerable people in the North.

To achieve this protection we collectively committed £564m over the next six years – money, which will remain firmly in the hands of the most vulnerable. 

So Sinn Féin does do government - and we do government in defence of the most vulnerable rather than the elites. 

And for those who pontificate about whether they would go into government with Sinn Féin, let me be clear. We are already in government with the DUP, but we are also in government with FG and Labour through the Good Friday institution of the North south Ministerial Council.

So let our opponents in the north and the south reflect on Sinn Féin’s very real achievements when, in their desperation, they attempt to blame us for Tory cuts which are beyond our control.

The fact is, we have protected the vulnerable and the sick, we have protected health and we have defended the education of our children in the face of a massive attack by the British conservative-led government.

North and south we have opposed austerity.

In government and in opposition we oppose austerity.

Let me be very clear. Sinn Féin doesn’t do austerity.

Others do austerity.

Sinn Féin does equality.

Sinn Féin stands against racism.

Sinn Féin stands against sectarianism 

Sinn Féin stands against homophobia, against intolerance and against bigotry. 

We want to work with others to deliver a new, tolerant, prosperous and inclusive society on this island, a society, which accepts and celebrates diversity and the cultural richness that diversity brings.

That is the New Ireland which Sinn Fein is advocating as we face into the centenary of the Easter Rising.

It is the manifestation – in the here and the now – of the Ireland of equals envisioned in the proclamation of Easter 1916.

Over the coming period, the people of Ireland will have the opportunity to endorse that vision in elections North and South.

Much has been said already about the prospects of Sinn Féin emerging as the biggest party following the Dáil election.

That is certainly our goal. But it is also our goal to become the biggest party in the North at the 2016 Assembly elections so that we can deliver real and meaningful changes.

Both those goals are achievable and the symbolism of doing so on the 100th anniversary of the Rising would be massive because SF is the only party on this island which is serious about building the kind of nation which was declared in 1916.

A just nation. A fair nation. A nation that cherishes all of her children equally, regardless of colour or creed.

The youth, the energy, the determination in this Ard Fheis is palpable. It is electric. Let's take that energy back into our communities. Ar aghaidh linn le chéile. 

Let's make the change.