Full text of keynote speech by Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Michelle O'Neill to Ard Fheis 2018
Dia daoibh agus fáilte go dtí Béal Feirste.
Thank you for the warm welcome.
I’m very honoured to be welcomed onto the stage by a formidable Belfast woman, the first female Sinn Féin Mayor of this great city, Deirdre Hargey.
Deirdre will be a champion of this city in her year ahead and we wish her well.
I think it’s poignant - that in the year that marks 100 years since partial suffrage - that a woman is at the helm of this city.
Belfast has that long tradition of female activism from Winnie Carney to Mairead Farrell and now today to Deirdre Hargey.
We’ve a packed weekend ahead of us as we discuss and debate how we will advance our ideas and vision for a New Ireland.
Sinn Féin is working the length and breadth of the country - in London, Europe and North America - to bring about and influence much needed change across Irish society.
Rooted in the communities from which we come, it is through our organising, campaigning and leadership within the institutions, and most importantly, on the ground, that we are delivering real change.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our activists, our public representatives and your families for your passion, hard work and dedication to this party, to those who we represent and the New Ireland you are helping build.
SINN FÉIN MOVEMENT
We are a party on the move.
We’re bringing people and generations together from all backgrounds in common cause.
We are fortunate to have a wealth of experience from representatives and activists who, over many years, have helped build the party to where we are today.
A huge welcome to all of you.
I want, in particular, to welcome the families of our Patriot Dead to this year’s Ard Fheis.
There is a place for everyone in the Sinn Féin movement.
We are a modern, progressive, Republican Party who stands with the people in defending and advancing Irish national interests.
And Sinn Féin stands ready.
We stand ready to;
▪ Be in Government North and South;
▪ To assert and deliver rights for all;
▪ To continue the fight against Brexit;
▪ To oppose austerity at every turn.
▪ To deliver high quality public services.
▪ To take on the vested interests, putting an end to cronyism and making Government accountable to the people and the law,
▪ To deliver real prosperity, encourage entrepreneurship, decent jobs, and fair pay for a fair day’s work!
Sinn Féin stands with women.
The recent repeal result was for all women.
For the forgotten women of the mother and baby homes.
For the women that were being failed in crisis.
For the mothers forced to give their babies up against their will.
It was a vote for compassion.
It was a vote to say loud and clear… women will never be left behind again.
Women’s position has improved in Irish society; glass ceilings have been shattered but there is still plenty to do.
We now need to;
▪ Close the gender pay gap;
▪ Bring new laws to provide access to healthcare North and South;
▪ Live free from violence;
▪ Provide affordable childcare;
▪ End economic inequality;
▪ Bring more women into public life and politics.
A chairde, surely you agree, it’s time for a woman Taoiseach to lead the next Government.
Surely, that woman is, Mary Lou McDonald
I am so proud of the huge numbers of young people who are active in this party.
A whole new generation of young Shinners!
A whole new generation of emerging young leaders – new voices, with big ideas - who symbolise a bright and hopeful future.
You are the future leaders and you will achieve, make your mark, and make a difference in shaping a prosperous Ireland of the future.
Thig leat agus beidh leat. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí.
You join this movement at a truly defining period in Irish history, not least in the context of Brexit.
Brexit represents the greatest economic threat to the island of Ireland in a generation.
And I fully respect the right of the British people to leave the EU and I wish them well.
However, I am absolutely opposed to the British Government dragging us out of the EU against our will.
Sinn Féin wants the whole of Ireland to remain within the EU just like the people voted.
We have influenced and made our case to the EU27 in the Dáil and the European Parliament.
We will continue to make our voices heard and to build a progressive coalition around our national interest.
Myself and the leaders of the SDLP, Alliance and Greens presented two joint statements in recent weeks where we made clear that:
▪ Human Rights and equality provisions must be protected.
▪ We cannot withstand exclusion from the single market or customs union;
▪ We must protect the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts,
▪ The backstop agreed by both the British Government and the EU27 is the bottom line in order to safeguard our political and economic stability now and for the future.
The four party leaders speak for the majority of the people in the north.
The DUP do not speak for all of the people of the North.
They are putting their self-serving pact with the Tory party at Westminster before people’s interests here.
They’re living in a fool’s paradise.
They blindly prop up Theresa May who is preoccupied with negotiating with her own cabinet rather than the EU.
Britain is divided! But in Ireland We are united!
We will not be collateral damage as a result of the reckless Tory/DUP Brexit agenda.
There will be no border in Ireland.
PEACE & RECONCILIATION
In April we marked the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
This gave us all space to reflect on how far we have come, and reminded us that nothing can be taken for granted.
And despite our ongoing political challenges, the island of Ireland has been transformed as a result of the peace process.
The Good Friday Agreement is the centrepiece of a more prosperous, peaceful and democratic society
The agreement defines the new relationships that now exist within, and between Ireland and Britain.
And yesterday evening both Mary Lou and I met with Prince Charles in the rebel county, Cork, where we talked about the necessary work of reconciliation.
Much pain and hurt has been caused over the years to many people.
We must attempt to heal that pain, to recognise each other’s loss and to find ways to trust each other.
We must build bridges that we can cross.
We must rid our society of sectarianism.
We must choose to live together.
We must continue to build on the reconciliation work of Martin McGuinness over many years and we will do so because it is the right thing to do.
So instead of refighting the battles of the past we all – unionists and nationalists - need to have the humility to accept that we have conflicting narratives, conflicting histories and conflicting allegiances.
We must reach a sustainable compromise through dialogue and agreement.
Create a future where everyone feels they belong.
Where our culture and identity is respected.
Where we recognise each other’s right to express being Irish, British, both, or neither.
The abandonment of those principles by both the British Government and the DUP has led to a situation in which for the last 18 months, the people of the North have had no Government.
That is not acceptable.
It is not tolerable.
It is not good enough.
No Assembly and no Executive is the price of the Tory/DUP pact.
We set out to restore the Executive on the basis of equality, rights and respect.
In February, we reached an agreement that created the conditions for the Executive to be re-stablished
However, the DUP walked away.
The issues which require resolution are not going away.And all roads will lead back to the negotiating table.
In the meantime, there can be no justifiable excuse for refusing to afford citizens here their civil, social and cultural rights.
Whether that be Irish language rights;
Access to Coroner’s inquests;
Equal marriage rights or,
Women’s right to healthcare;
Fifty years after the civil rights campaign, rights will not be denied.
There is a clear requirement under the Good Friday Agreement on the part of both governments, to ensure the equivalent standards of protection of rights which exist in all other parts of these islands, must be delivered here too.
Over recent months I have met with all sections of our business community and trade unions including the CBI, the Chamber of Commerce, local industry leaders, and Intertrade Ireland.
They all want local institutions to deliver economic progress.
So do I!
For a successful, competitive economy we need a skilled workforce and a new Economic Strategy.
But we also need political certainty and stability.
None of this can be delivered if the institutions do not command the confidence of local people.
It is not an either/or situation.
We need both.
And so the message from this Ard Fhéis to both governments is loud and clear;
You must convene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference without delay, and determine how you, as the joint stewards of the peace process, will remove the obstacles to power-sharing.
Mary-Lou and I will be in London on Wednesday and this is the message that we will be delivering directly to Theresa May.
The Good Friday Agreement provides a peaceful democratic pathway to Irish Unity.
The issue of Irish Unity has taken on a new dynamic because of Brexit.
Demographics are changing and so too is the political landscape.
This cannot be ignored.
Peter Robinson’s recent remarks at Queen’ University acknowledge this.
The Good Friday Agreement gives people the opportunity and choice to decide our future together.
How we live together.
How we work together.
How we share this island together.
The political momentum of change is moving in that direction.
Sinn Féin wants a New Ireland, a fairer Ireland, and a united Ireland.
But we do not own the debate.
I have absolutely no doubt that there are many, many within the unionist community who look at Brexit with the same fear and trepidation as nationalists and republicans.
A Unity Referendum is coming and we need to be prepared for it.
There is no contradiction in declaring and delivering on our firm commitment to power sharing with unionism and a functioning Assembly, while also initiating a mature and inclusive debate about new political arrangements which better serve all of us who share this island.
Similarly, there is no contradiction in unionism working the existing constitutional arrangements while taking its rightful place in the conversation about what a New Ireland would look like.
This is a defining period in our history.
The opportunities for real change are within our grasp.
It is a time to hear all voices within this debate.
We must continue our journey of dialogue, of listening, of sharing ideas because in the New Ireland, there can only be a victory for us all.
It is our task to persuade people why it’s in their economic, cultural and political interests to share power not only at Stormont – but on an All-Ireland basis together.
To assure people that all identities will be protected.
That there will be guaranteed rights and entitlements for all in the New Ireland.
As republicans, we are about transforming and uniting our country for everyone, not ourselves alone.
Let’s push ourselves, challenge ourselves, be confident in ourselves.
Let’s lead the change, let’s bring people with us.
Let’s shape our future together.
As Margaret Mead said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’
Comrades, we are that group of people…..
Míle buíochas agus go raibh mile maith agaibh go leor.