Sinn Féin Education and Training Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Michael Ferguson has said while any increase in funding for skills and training must be welcomed that there are many serious questions over the ability of the £35 million programme to deliver, particularly for those from marginalised or deprived backgrounds.
Mr Ferguson said:
"Any new money for skills and training, particularly for vocational training, must be welcomed. However, there are concerns about how much of this money is truly additional and about how joined-up is the approach of the departments of education, employment and learning and enterprise, trade and investment with training providers and employers.
"To talk about a partnership with schools at a time when there is a significant disinvestment of some £100 million out of the schools budgets with the potential loss of hundreds of teaching staff is nonsense.
"Unless there is real partnership with employers to ensure the provision of quality placements that guarantee the integrity of entitlement and real follow-through then it is difficult to see how this programme will deliver.
"The experience of the Victoria Square development is that despite the promise of 200 apprenticeships that only 89 were delivered and that many from areas characterised as those of multiple deprivation were excluded as a result of the selection criteria.
"It is essential that apprenticeships are based upon a minimum wage and that they are provided through the supply chain through a legal framework for public procurement policy.
"Currently there is no guarantee of second year placements for apprenticeships. Unless government departments can face this reality the truth is that the many serious questions over the ability of the £35 million programme to deliver, particularly for those from marginalised or deprived backgrounds, will remain." ENDS
Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh & South Tyrone has accused the SDLP of being complicate in generating opposition to proposals to ensure democratic representation for Irish citizens living in the north in the Oireacthas.
Ms Gildernew said:
"The Irish government have a long standing commitment to move forward on the issue of securing democratic representation for Irish citizens living in the six counties in the Oireachtas. Last week Bertie Ahern attempted to shy away from this commitment citing opposition in Leinster House led by Labour leader Pat Rabbitte amongst others.
"Since Pat Rabbitte has become leader of the Labour party in the South and Mark Durkan took over the reins of the SDLP in the North both have made much of their sister party relationship. The Labour party and its leader played key roles in recent SDLP election campaigns. It would be fair to assume then that the SDLP have a degree of influence and control over Labour policy on six county issues.
"Yet Pat Rabbitte has been at his reactionary best in leading opposition in Leinster house to democratic rights and entitlements being extended to all Irish citizens. At the same time the SDLP have publicly at least, claimed to support Northern Representation.
"The behaviour of the Labour party on this issue raises serious questions for the SDLP. Either their public position on Northern Representation is a lie and simply for public consumption in the six counties or they enjoy no influence whatsoever over a party whose position on the north under Pat Rabbitte seems closer to the DUP than any Irish nationalist or republican opinion. Either way the manner in which the Labour party have behaved on this issue raises serious questions for Mark Durkan about the relationship he enjoys with Labour and Pat Rabbitte." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Communications, Seán Crowe TD has described the latest survey, which places Ireland near the bottom in terms of broadband penetration as "absolutely disgraceful" and a "legacy of the flawed decision to privatise Eircom".
Deputy Crowe said, "In a state which is supposed to be the most economically dynamic of the European Union it is absolutely disgraceful that we should be so far down the line when it comes to broadband penetration. The economic successes of the last decade and a half were in many instances down to our level of commitment to develop the IT sector through education. That we have failed so miserably to apply that level of commitment to the roll out of broadband shows that the eye has been taken completely off the ball. We are leaving ourselves at a distinct disadvantage and are preventing people for developing or expanding online business opportunities.
"I firmly believe the decision to privatise Eircom has had a direct bearing on the poor showing of Ireland in this survey. As a public utility Eircom's main role was to provide an efficient telecom service across the state. Today its primary function is to make bucket loads of money for its senior management and shareholders -- and if that means refusing to adequately invest in the roll out of broadband that's what they do.
"There needs to be a much more robust campaign by Comreg to force telecom companies to provide a service, which is rapidly becoming a necessity in the modern business environment." ENDS
Speaking after talks in Stormont this afternoon Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP said that it was becoming clear that the SDLP had moved onto the DUP agenda of exclusion and arrangements much less than the those demanded by the Good Friday Agreement. Mr Doherty's remarks came after the two governments confirmed to Sinn Féin that the SDLP and DUP had agreed to take part in round table discussions excluding Sinn Féin, a proposal which was even rejected by the UUP.
Mr Doherty said:
"In our discussions this afternoon the two governments indicated that they wished to press ahead with a round table meeting involving the DUP and the other parties but excluding Sinn Féin. We told the two governments in no uncertain terms that this approach was completely unacceptable and it was simply not an option to try and exclude the vast majority of nationalist opinion from such dialogue.
"It also became clear that the UUP were not onboard for such an approach being adopted but that the SDLP and DUP had indeed signed on for the exclusion of the largest nationalist party from the round table.
"The SDLP now have serious questions to answer. It was the SDLP who complained bitterly that they were excluded by the two governments from playing a full role in the talks of late 2004 yet have now aligned themselves with Ian Paisley and the DUP in trying to exclude nationalist and republican opinion from these discussions.
"It is also clear that the SDLP have now departed fundamentally from the Good Friday Agreement and the principles which underpin it. In 2004 the SDLP proposed replacing elected politicians with British appointed commissioners. Earlier this year Dominic Bradley indicated that the SDLP were considering options short of the Good Friday Agreement institutions. They have now clearly demonstrated by their actions today that for reasons of political expediency they are prepared to abandon the Agreement and the principles which underpin it." ENDS
For the first time Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams address to the party's Ard Fheis is available for download as as a Podcast.
A Podcast audio MP3 of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams' Presidential Address is now available for download at www.sinnfein.ie/news/podcast
The RSS feed to download the file in iTunes or other mp3 software for the podcast is https://www.sinnfein.ie/news/podcast.xml
To view a video of Gerry Adams Presidential Address go to www.ardfheis.com/videos/777
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Employment and Workers Rights Arthur Morgan T.D. this morning announced that Sinn Féin would be using its private members time this week to demand the establishment of a separate and stand alone department of Labour Affairs. He explained that Sinn Féin was making this demand in light of the failure of the Government to uphold labour standards, the failure prevent the exploitation of workers and the conflict which exists as a result of the same department having responsibility for enterprise policy and employment policy.
Deputy Morgan said, “Employment and workers rights are currently handled by a junior Minister within the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. We have weak labour regulation matched by non-enforcement. The focus is not on upholding labour standards, the enhancement of workers rights or the enforcement of existing labour law. The focus on competition and enterprise, to the detriment of workers terms and conditions of employment. Last year saw unprecedented revelations about the exploitation of migrant workers. It saw the numbers of people killed in workplace deaths increase by 21 on the previous year. The labour inspectorate is desperately under resourced. The work permit system facilitates the exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers. The Competition Authority is attacking the right of certain freelance workers to be collectively represented and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment is refusing to intervene on behalf of these mainly low paid workers.
“Sinn Féin will be using our private members time in the Dáil next week to demand the establishment of a stand alone Department of Labour Affairs - to decouple labour affairs from enterprise in order to address this conflict and to ensure that appropriate priority and focus is given to the protection and promotion of workers rights.” ENDS
The debate will take place at 7pm on Tuesday 21st and again at 7pm on Wednesday 22nd.
Text of motion follows:
"That Dáil Éireann,
affirming the responsibility of the State to uphold the rights of workers and, in particular, to ensure, protect and uphold the realisation of the following workers rights:
· the right to be free from exploitation;
· the right to a fair remuneration sufficient for a decent standard of living for themselves and their families and to equal pay for equal work;
· the right to form, join and be represented by trade unions, to negotiate contracts of employment, and to engage in industrial action;
· the right to work in safe conditions that are not harmful to health and well-being; and
· the right to access life-long learning opportunities and vocational training and re-training;
· that the failure to give adequate priority and focus to labour affairs finds expression in a failure to fully uphold Ireland’s obligations under Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 6, 7 and 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Articles 1 to 10 of the European Social Charter (Revised), and in the failure of the State to ratify the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and members of their Families;
· that the current configuration of labour affairs as a secondary responsibility within the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, whose primary responsibilities are enterprise and competition policy, prevents the State from giving the required priority to the protection of workers rights and to upholding labour standards;
· the inherent conflict of interest which exists within the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment as a result of that Department having responsibility for both enterprise policy, including competition policy and labour affairs. This conflict is exemplified by the attack by the Competition Authority, which falls under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, on the right of certain freelance workers, including musicians, actors and journalists, to be collectively represented;
· the failure of the State to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers as evidenced by the numerous incidences of abuse of these workers, which have come to public attention during the last 12 months;
· the failure of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to ensure that the State has a labour inspectorate of sufficient strength and with sufficient powers to enforce existing employment law; and
· the increasing priority that must be given to the protection of labour standards in light of the current push by certain employers to drive down pay and conditions;
shall, in order to ensure that appropriate priority and focus is given to the protection and promotion of workers’ rights and in order to replace the current model of weak labour regulation and non-enforcement with comprehensive regulation, including the increased use of Employment Regulation Orders and Registered Employment Agreements, and stringent enforcement, establish:
· a separate and stand-alone Department of Labour Affairs whose primary responsibilities shall be the improvement and enforcement of employment rights and entitlements, the protection of labour standards, industrial relations, the promotion of health and safety at work and the implementation of policies to improve work-life balance and to promote life long learning; and an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Labour Affairs."
Sinn Féin's Dublin South East Representative, Councillor Daithí Doolan, has announced that Sinn Féin, "will be hosting a series of meetings across the constituency this week to discuss the sale of Council flats with the tenants themselves."
Speaking today, Cllr. Doolan said:
"The sale of City Council flats is the biggest change in housing policy in 40 years. But to date there has been no discussion with the tenants. Sinn Féin support the right of tenants to buy their homes, but there are a lot of serious issues to be discussed. Right through the process there ahs been no discussion with the tenants themselves. I hope these meeting in the week ahead will go a large way to dealing with this exclusion. Tenants have serious questions that need answering and I hope to include the tenants and ensure the questions are answered.
“I will be looking for guarantees from Council management before any sale takes place. These include that no flats are sold be fore full precinct improvements are carried out, that flats are sold at an affordable private to tenants, money is ring fenced and government funding provided to build new homes for those on housing lists.
“This city faces an every growing housing crisis and to simply sell off the flats will go nowhere to solving this problem. The sale must be part of an overall strategy to provide homes for those who need them."
In conclusion Cllr. Doolan, called on, "City Council officials must prioritise the tenants is the process, it must be tenants centered not simply an issue of selling off property to the highest bidder."
The first of 4 meetings will take place tonight, Ringsend Community Centre, Ringsend, 7:30pm
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has today called for an urgent All Ireland taskforce to combat the growing threat of bird flu in the EU, ensuring that the public has clear and precise information. She said that it seemed to be a case of 'if and not when' bird flu reached Ireland. Bairbre de Brún made her comments after a new outbreak of bird flu was identified in France. Speaking today Ms de Brún said:
"New avian flu cases are springing up regularly from Africa to South East Asia to the European Union and now in both France and Germany. Given the frequency and geographical spread of the outbreak, it would be over optimistic to believe that Ireland could not be affected at some stage by the disease.
"A coordinated response from both Departments of Agriculture, Departments of Health and all- Ireland and cross border working groups is essential. In this context, the need for some level of all-island response has been accepted by governments. However, Sinn Féin believes that from a public health and animal health perspective, it is imperative that there is an all Ireland and cross departmental working group to implement a working strategy to prevent and combat a bird flu outbreak in Ireland and to ensure that the public has clear and precise information.
"At EU level a number of safeguards have been put in place, including a ban on the import of livestock from affected regions. However MEPs seek tougher measures including improved early warning systems so that the EU is immediately informed about the virus, regardless of whether it is the lethal H5N1 strain or not.
"It is essential that all of these departments from Europe right through to state level inform the public as individual and collective departments as to their plans to combat a bird flu outbreak in Ireland." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will lead a party delegation including Conor Murphy, Pat Doherty, Pearse Doherty and Caitriona Ruane for talks with Peter Hain and Dermot Ahern in Parliament Buildings Stormont this afternoon.
The meeting will take place at 3pm and the delegation will be available to speak to the media in the foyer in Stormont afterwards.
Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson, speaking during the policing debate on behalf of the Ard Chomhairle, proposed motion 394 for the Ard Comhairle and asked for support for motion 395.
This is the discussion paper on ‘Core values and principles for an All-Ireland Justice Policy. It was brought before party members at the National Conference, held in Belfast in January, under the theme “Developing an All-Ireland vision of Policing and Justice”
It is perhaps inevitable that the key focus publicly is on policing in the North. However, the debate must also be about developing our all Ireland vision for the future. In that respect, there are many questions to be answered.
Are the people of Ireland North and South well-served by those in government today, those with responsibility for policing and justice?
Is the huge industry created by the policing and justice system meeting the needs of local communities? What are the social and economic benefits of this system for those in deprived and marginalised communities?
How do we ensure that the price for safety and security is not our liberty and rights? In whose interest are these decisions made? And with European directives on some of these areas affecting our laws too, how can we influence such decisions?
Is there justice in the courts? Or is there inherent chauvinism, racism and sectarianism in the administration of justice on this island?
What about those who are imprisoned? Is it right to imprison people seeking asylum? Is it just to keep men and women locked up for 23 hours a day?
Has the more humane regime in jails won by the sacrifice of republican POW’s been replaced by oppressive regimes.
And who polices the Gardai? Why has the police ombudsman in the South not got equal powers to that of the ombudsman in the North?
What lessons have been learned from the McBrearty family and others.
There are questions about the future development of policing and justice on this island which we must consider as a party, and as a society. These questions are not limited to the negotiations for transfer of powers on policing and justice. For that reason, motion 394 proposes core values and principles for the further development of All-Ireland Justice policy.
I am also supporting Ard Comhairle motion 394 and address a number of other motions some of which seem to say our approach to policing works against our strategy to end British rule in our country.
Comrades, our approach to policing, like our approach to every other aspect of struggle must be about ending British rule in our country and asserting our republican agenda. It is central to ending British rule. In fact, I can’t understand how British rule can be ended if we give up and pull away from negotiations on policing and justice.
At the end of the day, we the members of Sinn Fein will decide whether we have reached the stage where we can discuss the policy of Sinn Fein in relation to policing arrangements in the six counties. We are not there yet. We should keep campaigning an negotiating for more change on policing and justice. And for that reason, I would encourage you to reject motions 396 -399 and motion 406.
Chairperson of the Six County Cuige Declan Kearney speaking during the policing debate at the party's Ard Fheis said " Policing in the 6 counties is a centre of unionist political power. Power which has made policing a tool of abuse and an anti-democratic institution.Our strategic and tactical focus needs to be challenging that power base, imposing democratic controls and forcing accountability on the operation of policing."
Mr. Kearney said:
Speaking in favour of 394, 395 and 407 and against 396-401, 406 and 409
Comrades, it’s a universal reality that policing is a key political power issue.
Much of the republican and nationalist experience has been negatively conditioned by its role, especially in the six counties. But while is’ an emotive subject, we cannot allow sentiment to determine our judgements.
The sentiments of the motions which I call on the Ard Fheis to oppose are understandable, but misplaced. If emotion and sentiment had a role in fundamentally changing policing, republicans would have had this sorted out long ago.
But it is not.
Policing in the Six counties is a centre of unionist political power. Power which has made policing a tool of abuse and an anti-democratic institution.
Our strategic and tactical focus needs to be challenging that power base, imposing democratic controls and forcing accountability on the operation of policing.
And whilst the political evolution and reality of policing in the 26 counties is different, the questions of democratic control and accountability equally apply.
Policing in the north today continues to be governed by a political, military doctrine.
Those who dominate the command and control structures of the PSNI, in collusion with British intelligence, are now operating a counter-insurgency strategy to copper-fasten direct rule.
They orchestrated the assassination of republicans and nationalists in the 1980s and 1990s and today they are hell-bent on assassinating the peace process. They are anti-peace process, anti-republican and anti-United Ireland.
Whether intended or not, these motions send a message to the Political Detectives and securocrats that, if passed, Sinn Fein is long-fingering policing, and is less than focussed on confronting and usurping the political policy power base.
Comrades, we need to go toe to toe with the Political Detectives; break their counter-insurgency strategy; take away their power; and impose systems of democratic political control. They and their co-opted policing establishment will watch today’s debate for trends – and especially indications that this subject, this site of struggle, is too big for us to handle. That is what they want.
Sinn Fein poses the greatest threat to the power centre of policing in the 6 counties. This is why the vested interests of Special Branch, MI5, DUP and SDLP all oppose the Sinn Fein strategy for transfer of powers, and strategic project to transform policing on the island.
So, let’s not send mixed signals from this debate. Our party position is good and clear and we may have a special Ard Fheis when the time is right.
And we are preparing to roll out the formal internal discussion on the future character and quality of policing we want in Ireland. In the meantime, let’s send a message to the Political Detectives and securocrats in Palace Barracks, Castle Buildings, Knock and Castlereagh. You now stand exposed.
We are going to tell the world who you are and what you’ve done.
The days of PSNI cosmetics and NIO spin are over.
Political policing does exist: you kill, you frame and you tear down governments.
But we’re going to decommission and disband you.
We are going to confront and challenge every level of the securocrat organisational chart. All of you from : Special Branch; Crime Department; 14th Intelligence; Royal Irish Intelligence; MI5 and MI6.
The role of your Tasking and Co-ordinating Group (TCG); NIO Security and Political Directorates; and the governing responsibility of the Joint Intelligence Committee.
Comrades, let the next meeting of the TCG contemplate the implications for their future in the knowledge from this Ard Fheis, that we are unified; we’ve got their strategy sussed and that we are coming after them.
Decide today that we will put them to the pin of their collars. That through intensified campaigning, propaganda, and negotiations, we will stop this acid in the heart of the peace process.
In the coming weeks, we will roll out a sustained political, propaganda and publicity campaign. Our energies should concentrate upon this, and our overall strategy – not on absolutist motions, which will miss the strategic priorities and targets.Reject those motions.
Support motions 394, 395 and 407
I am speaking in support of Ard Chomhairle motions 254 to 257.
Educate that you may be free. These were the words of inspiration chosen by Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness during his time as Minister for Education and they remain at the heart of this party's determination.
The education systems we have inherited, north and south remain an anathema to that vision. For too long education has been a mechanism for transferring privilege rather than creating equality. For too long education has been about marginalizing and disqualifying the majority to the advantage of a minority.
This must change.
Education is a fundamental human right and at the heart of Sinn Fein's equality agenda. Education should be about enlightenment and empowerment. And my message to the hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of
inquisitive, imaginative, inquiring children the present system is turning into silent, angry teenagers is "Sapere aude!"- "Dare to know".
In the north historic under-funding of the education system is now being compounded by Direct Rule ministers intent on withdrawing 80 to 100 million pounds from the budget within three years.
The impact of this financial vandalism has been immediate and wide ranging.Over 500 teachers and support staff have been cut in two years. Over 80 have been lost in West Belfast in the last three months. At a time when schools are facing increased responsibilities to meet the requirements of special needs, the number of classroom assistants is being slashed. Rural areas have lost their school transport. Music tuition, sports coaching and youth provision have been virtually abandoned.When the cuts hit, Sinn Fein was policy ready and campaign hungry.
When British ministers denied there had been any loss of services we swiftly nailed that lie. We refused to police British budgetary cuts, challenging decisions by Education and Library Boards and challenging any compliance by
our political rivals. We utilised our political strength in local councils, challenged NIO departments through our MLAs and raised policy issues within the media. But most importantly we used our political expertise to mobilise and empower
people to challenge the system themselves.
We reached out and found common ground with ethnic children being denied access to English language teachers. We reached out and found common ground with Protestant, as well as Catholic teachers, parents and pupils fighting
to protect school transport and staffing levels.
Together we confronted British ministers on the streets of Armagh and when Angela Smith ran away we followed her to Stormont.
Falling rolls should not impact negatively on the needs of those within the education system. It should not be used as an excuse to impose cuts. Rather it should be viewed as an opportunity to improve the quality of service and
enhance best practice. Almost a quarter of our children left school last year without any qualifications, many left barely able to read, write or count.
Falling rolls offers us the opportunity of addressing that literacy and numeracy deficit. It offers us the opportunity to improve the teacher-pupil ratio in our classrooms. It should allow us to improve support for special
While British ministers have sought to justify budget cuts on falling rolls within mainstream education, rising rolls in the Irish Medium sector has not been accompanied by increased funding and greater provision. Irish language
schools are still being denied quality estates, equitable resources and services from early years to further and higher provision.
When Bobby Sands wrote "the rhythm of time" he was being forced to live naked in a ten by six foot cell. Like many of us here, he was self-taught. But through his knowledge of the world and its history, he was able to place his immediate experience within the wider context of centuries of human endeavour. He dared to know. And in knowing, he knew he was right.
Bhí Bobby ina Ghael agus is comhartha í an Ghaeilge don áit a bhfuil na hÉireannaigh sa am i láthair. Tá bagairt an bháis ar theanga dhúchais na tíre seo. Teanga ar tugadh teanga na cosmhuintire uirthi agus ar nós chosmhuintir na tíre, nach bhfuair aitheantas ariamh, thuas ná thíos tír. Ach tá an chosmhuintir ag teacht i réim anois.
Oil go raibh tú saor.
In the short time I have I want to focus primarily on the issues of special
needs, class sizes, and disadvantage.
When it comes to educating the children of Ireland the British and Irish Government are failing Irish children daily.
Particularly they are failing children from low-income and deprived households and children with special needs.
Not a day goes by where a parent with a special needs child doesn't contact a Sinn Fein representative looking for help and support.
So why are the two governments failing us all on the core education issues, especially when education more than anyone other factor can transform a person's life, giving them the ability not just to work and live with dignity but also to become proactive and contribute positively to the society around them.
Maybe the British and Irish governments don't want all the people educated. Why? The answer could can be found in the words of Nelson Mandela who described education as 'the most powerful weapon in the world.'
It is indeed a weapon and the only weapon that I as an active Irish republican want to see, readily available, to every man woman and child in this country.
How is it that one of the richest states in the world lets children still go to school hungry, where they are supposed to learn in drafty and overcrowded classrooms
In Donegal, in one school, children with special needs are being taught in a toilet because of overcrowding again in one of the richest states in the world.
I support the concept of children with special needs receiving their education in mainstream education but teachers have to be skilled and trained to deal with children with learning difficulties. Research points to a worrying trend in which children with intellectual disabilities tend to drop out when they hit Secondary schools.
Educationalists and parents want to see a seamless transfer of resources and support for children with special needs from primary to second level.
This state also has the unenviable record of having second largest class size in Western Europe, with over 80% of the under nine age group, that's 170,000 children, in classes of greater than 20.
It is not difficult to tackle these problems, it should start with a significant increase in school funding, particularly for disadvantaged areas. We support the INTO proposal that at least 10% of the overall education budget be devoted to tackling disadvantage.
Expenditure on education lags far behind the rest of Europe, with a recent development report placing Ireland 33rd of the top 50 nations.
Large classes hamper the teacher's ability to teach as well as they would like to. No Primary school teacher should have to stand at the top of a classroom teaching to 30 or more pupils.
Sinn Fein strives for a Primary level pupil/teacher ratio of 15:1. Secondary level spending in Ireland is dangerously close to the bottom of OECD countries.
We also have a double standard of government, awash with tax returns, wasting 52 million euro on e-voting, and yet they cannot cough up the required 48 million euro to implement the McIver Report, which is crucial in that it would provide appropriate resource, staffing, structuring and development of the PLC sector which caters for 30,000 students, the bulk of who come from disadvantaged areas.
Sinn Fein's policy outlined in our Educate that you may be free document highlights our goal to educate all our children in well-resourced and funded schools, schools that can cater for those with special needs, schools that are adequately staffed, schools in which our children are not cold and overcrowded.
The onus on Sinn Fein activists is to challenge government failures at local level by getting involved in the fight for proper schools in your community, and to present an alternative vision of education as something liberating, radical and vital to students not just to turn them into useful employees, but to make them valuable, and valued, citizens.
Go raibh maith agaibh. Ta me sasta le bheith ag labhairt libh ar maidin. It
has been an extraordinary year since I last stood here. The historic
decisions taken by the IRA last July, the ending of its armed campaign and
the putting of arms beyond use have removed any excuse or pretext for the
unionists, the British or the Irish government to hold up progress. On the
issue of policing and justice these events have made it all the more
imperative to make progress. We must continue to drive that agenda. No-one
No-one here needs a lesson on the history of policing in the North Eastern corner of our country. The police force has been a partisan, political, protestant and paramilitary force, which has been used in the main against Catholics, Nationalists and republicans. All that has to change so radically that the old regime will be unrecognisable in the new beginning to policing that republicans are striving for.
Our opposition to the present policing arrangements is not just a matter of timing. It is a matter of integrity, entitlements and our inalienable rights. Republicans will not be badgered or forced into accepting less than the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement. At the core of our position is the establishment of a threshold which enables the creation of democratically accountable representative civic policing and the consignment of political policing to the dustbin of history along with the other failures of the past.
That is why Sinn Fein has made this issue a core part of negotiations. In those negotiations, the key outstanding matter is the transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London and out of the hands of British securocrats, into restored local Assembly and all-Ireland institutions.
Those opposed to us are pulling out all the stops to prevent the changes inevitable in the growth of Sinn Féin North and South.
Political policing continues apace within the PSNI. Since last summer alone, the evidence of political policing has been irrefutable. This includes the political policing of loyalist marches; the revelations about former RUC members stealing information and thwarting murder investigations; the discovery that files on dozens of republicans including Sinn Fein elected representatives are kept in the PSNI's Castlereagh barracks; the fact that these files had been passed onto unionist paramilitaries; politically motivated house raids; trumped up charges and media misinformation orchestrated by sections of the PSNI; the high-profile arrest and false accusations against Sinn Fein MLA Francie Brolly; the PSNI raid on the Casement Park home of the County Antrim GAA; only this week we learn that a loyalist who has murdered at least 12 Catholics was being paid £50k a year by Special Branch. These are some of the manifestations of political policing.
We also know now that the institutions voted for by 2 _ million Irish people and set up under the Good Friday Agreement were collapsed by Special Branch in a political coup d'etat.
Let's be clear about their agenda. Our political opponents, in the institutions of state, do not want a Shinner about the place. They don't want the Good Friday Agreement. They don't want change. They don't want acceptable policing institutions and practices which would see democratically elected politicians policing the police. This is the objective of political policing; the self-perpetuation of the securocrats. Deirtear go minic go dtiocfaidh ar la. Ta la s'acu imithe go deo - ach nil a fhios acu go foill.
Our political opponents who accepted too little, jumped too soon and endorsed the existing policing arrangements must carry some of the blame. In four years on the Policing Board, they have failed to hold the political detectives publicly to account and failed to end collusion and political policing. Instead, SDLP MPs have gone to Westminster and voted to reintroduce 28-day detention orders, taking us right back to the days of the old Special Powers Act so opposed by the Civil Rights Movement.
Last year in my speech to the Ard Fheis I pointed out that the British government had plans to enhance the role of MI5 in relation to aspects of policing in the 6 counties. The PSNI Chief Constable this week said that MI5 would have the covert fight against republicanism under its control while the PSNI would deal with loyalism because - wait for it - "loyalism was not a threat to British national security". May I remind him, emphatically, that they were no threat, precisely because they worked for the British state as agents of Special Branch and MI5 and some 1500 people were killed at their hands.
Having stated all of that in the poisoned atmosphere created by political policing, the question is: Is it actually possible to achieve a new policing dispensation?
The answer to that is yes. Not only is it possible. It is necessary. Campaigns to expose the truth about collusion and end political policing are vital. These are integral to our strategy on policing. We must continue to assert our right to an accountable, civic policing service in the face of those who only want political policing. We must put the Political Detectives out of business.
At the core of achieving a new beginning to policing is the issue of accountability through transferring power over policing and justice away from the political masters of London and MI5 to Ireland under locally elected institutions in the North and on an all Ireland basis through the North South Ministerial Council and all Ireland implementation bodies.
In the upcoming negotiations that is what Sinn Féin will be pushing for. The British have this week published enabling or framework legislation to allow for transfer in the future. Sinn Féin have been pressing for, this first step for a considerable time. Both governments know that the publishing of enabling legislation will not be enough on its own to honour the commitments given. The devil as they say is in the detail. This is about giving expression in law to the transfer of powers - taking powers - away from London and out of the hands of the British securocrats. It is about accountability and fundamental political change. Sinn Féin have already set out our stall for the maximum powers to be moved out of London and into an all Ireland context.
It is important for delegates to be reminded that Sinn Féin's position on policing has been consistent and is also very public and open. Any major change in Sinn Féin policy will only be as a result of a special Ard Fheis on this subject, it will be up to delegates at such an Ard Fheis to debate and vote on this important issue.
There is a great hunger for information to feed this important debate. If and when we return to a special Ard Fheis it should be with the maximum amount of information for delegate, members and indeed the community. The policing sub-committee have a presentation of facts around this issue. It was given at a well attended conference in Belfast in January on an all Ireland vision of Justice and Policing. We are committed to roll this out into the areas immediately after this Ard Fheis for information and as an aid to debate.
It is incumbent upon me also to repeat what I have said at, at least 3 successive Ard Fheisanna: We have made significant progress on the issues involved. It is my strong belief that we can achieve our goals on policing and justice in the context of an overall comprehensive agreement.
Like all comrades I am fighting for an all Ireland justice system just as we
are continuing the struggle for a United Ireland. Equally, in the interim,
we need to achieve a new beginning to policing and justice in the North, in
the present, which will impact on the everyday lives of people and also
impact on the all Ireland policing and justice systems.
It is perhaps inevitable that the key focus publicly is on policing in the North. However, the debate must also be about developing our all Ireland vision for the future. I am commending a 3 page document entitled 'Core principles and values on All-Ireland Justice Policy' to the Ard Fheis as an aid to that debate. Other delegates will speak to this. In that debate, there are many questions to be answered.
There are questions about the future development of policing and justice on
this island which we must consider as a party, and as a society. These
questions are not limited to the negotiations for transfer of powers on
policing and justice.
This is a critical year in the peace process and political process. The more
effective we are, the more rash our opponents become. That is no reason to
abandon our agenda, as some motions in this section propose. In the face of
the challenges ahead, we must hold our nerve. Keep on course comrades.
Let me finish by saying this, whatever happens in negotiations, key issues
such as policing and justice cannot be put on the shelf to be dusted down
when we achieve a united Ireland. People want us to deal with the everyday
issues as well as the big picture. We must develop further our all Ireland
vision for justice and policing. Let us look at this nationally as well as
locally in the big picture and the small picture. Get involved in this
debate comrades. It affects every single person living in Ireland.
Support Ard Comhairle motions 394 and 395. Go raibh maith agaibh
I am urging this Ard Fheis to support the Ard Comhairle motions 425, 426 and
427 all of which are underpinned by the principles detailed in the document
'Core Principles and Values for an All-Ireland Justice Policy' which is also
before the Ard Fheis for approval today.
A key difference between Sinn Fein and the other parties is our emphasis on prevention as the best and only sustainable approach to tackling issues of community safety. We recognise that what is required is: intensive and systematic social investment in marginalized areas; early intervention and support services for those at risk of offending; accountable community policing; effective rehabilitation programmes and post-release supervision and; community restorative justice alternatives for most non-violent offenders. What we are proposing here are real solutions that also make economic sense - reducing both the incidence of crime and the high cost of incarceration.
McDowell and the Dublin government by contrast are hell bent on expanding and privatising the prison estate and inflating prison spending thereby reducing the finances available for investment in communities. McDowell's plan to turn the prison system into a massive money-making opportunity for his profiteering buddies is advancing unhindered by his coalition partner Fianna Fail. Last Friday evening tendor documents were published for a private superprison at Thorton Hall, North Dublin. The proposal would bind the state into a financially wasteful Public Private Partnership for 35 years. It doesn't take a sixth sense to see how this will pan out - you only have to look to the sham of the original tendering process for the site. Last year, I told the government that the purchase of Thornton hall stinks to high heaven and indeed may even be corrupt. I stand by my conclusions.
Republicans will not exploit the victims of crime and beleaguered communities for electoral gain as others are attempting. We will not sell gimmicks as solutions to the public as the current FF/PD government are attempting through McDowell's Criminal Justice Bill, as Fianna Gael and Labour are attempting on the doorsteps and through the media; and as New Labour attempted when they introduced ASBOs to the 6 counties. Our communities deserve real solutions and we will deliver them. The motions themselves are self explanatory and I urge delegates to vote in favour of them.
I am also urging this Ard Fheis to support the Ard Comhairle amendment to motion 423. The amendment mandates the party to consider views on the sentencing of sex offenders. I believe the amendment is preferable because the motion as submitted is too general as to be practical. It does not take cognisance of the full range of sexual offences for which people can be convicted. For example it does not differentiate between convictions for violent rape and a statutory rape that might have involved consentual sex between a 17 year old boy and 15 year old girl, for example.
For the past few years at this point of our Ard Fheis there has been a
presentation of the detail of the what is happening in the negotiations and
an assessment of the progress we have made.
But negotiations are just one part of what we need to do. Our negotiating position will be strengthened by building political strength, by campaigning, by getting more people to support the peace process and our political objectives.
One of the most important lessons that we learned from the ANC was that the most important thing that happens in negotiations is what is happening outside the door.
The last twelve months have been momentous. The leadership shown by republicans contrasts sharply with that of unionists.
In the run-up to the last year's Ard Fheis and in the weeks that followed it the political impasse deepened. The peace process threatened to go into freefall.
At that critical point, in April last, Gerry Adams, once again leading from the front , made his appeal to the IRA.
And again not for the first time the IRA leadership filled the political vacuum with a substantive and courageous initiative.
In July last year the IRA responded in dramatic and definitive terms. They called an end to their campaign. They committed to putting all their arms beyond use. This was a unilateral decision and a deeply courageous one. And one they have delivered in equally definitive terms.
The IRA acted to rescue the peace process and to re-energise the political process.
In the 7 months since then and given the evident lack of energy in political talks you could be forgiven for asking or wondering occasionally why we in Sinn Féin persist with our negotiations with the two governments.
The response to all of has been covered in some of the contributions on Friday night and again yesterday. We don't judge the value of negotiations solely on the detail of change on specific issues that negotiations might deliver. Negotiations are about more than that.
When we embarked upon our peace strategy we did so in the full knowledge that were bringing the battle to our opponents. Correctly we anticipated a battle a day.
We knew when we signed up for the Good Friday Agreement that there would be a long and frustrating battle to realise its promise, to fulfil its potential. We knew that we would immediately be faced with attempts to frustrate, delay and dilute the scale of the transformation it demanded. And we knew that we would return time and again to negotiations to defend the efficacy of our peace strategy as the template for change. And in that important respect our approach has been a success.
But this success has not been as a result of compelling argument put by our negotiators. No! It has come about because we have managed to maximise popular support for this demand,. It has come about as result of our collective efforts as a party
Today we are entering another important phase of discussions with the governments and other political parties, a critical phase of our peace strategy. The future of the Good Friday Agreement is on the line. But we are not unnerved by that. Rather we are emboldened by it, because even if it falls we are confident that, as Declan Kearney pointed out on Friday night, its substance has been secured as the minimal threshold for anything that might replace or supersede it.
And that is why in each and every negotiation over the past number of years we have time and time again brought the governments and the other political parties back onto Good Friday Agreement ground in any discussions designed to map out a future direction for the political process.
So, we are confident that whatever about delays, stalling and whatever other tactics are deployed to hold back the tide of change we will eventually move forward on the basis mapped out on the Agreement, on the basis of equality, mutual respect and on an all-Ireland basis.
And we are confident also that we will be able to build on that. But we will only do so if we can popularise and build support for our demands.
In our discussions with the governments over the past year we have of course repeatedly brought them back to their commitments arising from the Agreement and from negotiations subsequent to that.
National and Democratic rights, peace and prosperity have been the unshakeable focus of our endeavours.
In line with that we have pressed consistently on a number of issues - most of which are situated in what the Governments were prepared to do in the context of the December 04 negotiations. And we continue to press on these same issues as we go into this new round of discussions
the restoration of the political institutions
northern representation in the Oireachtas
advancing the equality agenda
additional powers for the Human Rights Commission
the establishment of a Bill of Rights in the north and an all-Ireland Charter of Rights
an economic peace dividend from both governments
measures to restore the electoral register in the north
legislation to transfer powers on policing and justice
the repeal of repressive legislation
the removal of British Government sanctions against Sinn Féin
the release of republican prisoners and a resolution of the issue of OTRs
There has been limited progress on some of these issues,
The British Government has begun its programme of demilitarisation. They have also initiated separate consultation processes to enable the repair of the electoral register and the provision of additional powers to the Human Rights Commission. And they have removed their illegal sanctions against Sinn Féin.
And there has been evidence of increasing recognition and practical expression of the benefits of all-Ireland economic activity.
There has also been regression - just last week the Taoiseach announced that he is not proceeding with the proposal to facilitate northern representation in the Oireachtas on the basis set out in the All-Party Oireachtas Committee. He cites trenchant opposition from his coalition partners, the PDs, from Fine Gael and from the SDLP's sister party, the Labour Party led by Pat Rabbitte, as the cause of this..
And a few months ago we had the attempted political sleight of hand by Peter Hain by his inclusion of British Crown forces in the OTRs Bill.
Let me dwell on this for a moment - so that there is no confusion about what Sinn Féin sought, negotiated for or agreed to on OTRs.
The issue of OTRs has been on the table many years now.
At Weston Park in 2001 the two governments publicly committed to resolve the issue on the basis that it was an anomaly arising from the Good Friday Agreement.
Alongside the Joint Declaration in 2003 they published proposals on how they would address it - this included legislation brought forward by the British Government.
These proposals did not relate to or include British State forces - there are no British state forces on the run.
In the negotiations previous to, at, or since Weston Park Sinn Féin did not support, propose, discuss or accept that members of the British state forces should be included in this scheme.
On the contrary we were mindful to ensure that any scheme proposed to address the issue of OTRs would not provide an amnesty for British State forces who carried out or were responsible for state killings or collusion.
The British Government unilaterally took the decision to attach provisions in the Bill which would allow Crown forces to benefit from the OTR Scheme.
We opposed this - we pressed them to remove these provisions from the Bill or to withdraw the Bill altogether.
They withdrew the draft legislation in January and the Irish Government followed suit with the particular scheme they were proposing to address the same issue.
We continue to press both governments to resolve the issue on the basis agreed at Weston Park.
And unlike some other political parties who have ignored their plight for many years we have emphasised repeatedly to the British Government our support for the families of the victims of state violence and collusion in their pursuit of justice.
And just as we will continue to hold both governments to their commitments with respect to OTRs we will continue to hold the Irish Government to its commitment on northern representation in the Oireachtas and the release of political prisoners.
I want now to comment briefly on the Independent Monitoring Commission.
What we predicted when the IMC was established in 2003 has come true. We said then that it would be a tool of the securocrats, an instrument to be used by the opponents of change. And we said of course that it was outside the terms of the Agreement and would be used to undermine the Agreement's democratic mandate.
Over the last year we have challenged the IMC in every possible way. Our activists took to the streets to oppose them. We put in place a legal team to challenge their very existence.
We did meet with the IMC - not as part of any recognition of their role - but for the purpose of examining their procedures and, consequently, exposing their political bias, their lack of independence and their failure to employ any of the normal standards of proof required of other tribunals or similar bodies.
Last November we challenged them to clarify allegations they made about IRA involvement in incidents in July and August of last year. We also challenged both governments to clarify these allegations.
To date they have failed to do so. It is my view that the incidents in question did not even happen.
The IMC's latest report of a few weeks ago was more of the same - unsubstantiated allegation, fantasy and fiction presented as fact.
In one particular bizarre line they report six unreported assaults - just think about that for a minute - they say they considered six unreported assaults!
We have told both governments that the IMC is a problem they created and it is one which they must resolve - that unless the issue of the IMC is addressed this latest round of political discussions which began at Hillsborough two weeks ago will run aground.
The IMC can be summed in one word. Balderdice. It is time they were decommissioned.
When Sinn Féin met with the Irish and British governments at the beginning of these discussions at Hillsborough two weeks ago we proposed to them that they set a timescale for moving the political process forward.
In a further meeting at Stormont 3 days ago we set out for them how to create momentum and focus the minds of those political parties who seek to hold up progress.
the lifting of suspension now the setting of a date for the running of d'Hondt, which is the process for appointing Ministers to the Executive the repeal of the legislation which gives the British Secretary of State the power to suspend the political institutions amendments to legislation which would enhance the working of the Agreement and prevent the abuses of procedures employed by both the UUP and the DUP in the last Executive, and Convening the Bill of Rights Forum
Other parties have put forward proposals which fall short of full restoration.
The DUP argue for a phased return of the institutions - an Assembly without an Executive. This is a reworking of their proposal of two years ago for a Corporate Assembly which is essentially about a stepping stone approach to the return of unionist majority rule.
The SDLP have put forward proposals for the British appointment of unelected Commissioners instead of Ministers to run the various departments - in effect an abdication of responsibility.
We are opposed to these approaches. We are pressing for a full restoration of the political institutions, for the full implementation of the Agreement in all its aspects.
We have told both governments that a continuation indefinitely of what exists at present is untenable and that if it becomes clear in the next few months that full restoration cannot be achieved in the short term the Assembly should be scrapped and the salaries of MLAs withdrawn,
We have emphasised that our priority for movement forward is on the basis of the Agreement and this is our plan A. But we have also reminded them of what needs to be done if unionist leaders continue their rejectionism. Rights and entitlements cannot be subject to a veto and there are commitments the governments can deliver on without the institutions, without agreement from unionist political leaders. And that without and until we have power sharing the governments need to press ahead with joint government decision making, alongside all other elements of the Good Friday Agreement.
We have already entered a new phase of discussions. Sinn Féin's objective is to defend and consolidate the advances already made. To open up new arenas of negotiations and struggle and to continue to build the bridge to our ultimate objective - a united democratic and socialist republic.
I want to welcome you all once again to this very unique gathering, the Ard
Fheis of Sinn Féin. I want to greet our international visitors, our
delegates, members and activists. Fáilte mór romhaibh uilig chuig an ócáid
sainiúil seo inniu. Ard Fheis Shinn Féin. Beannachtaí ar leith dár gcairde
idirnáisiúnta, dár n-ionadaithe, baill agus gníomhaithe.
I want to extend greetings also to republican prisoners and their families. Special greetings to our Friends of Sinn Féin from the USA, Australia and Canada. You are all very, very welcome.
I am also very conscious as we gather here in Dublin of the suffering of the families bereaved by the Stardust disaster - this week 25 years ago. Our hearts are with you all.
2006 is an important year for the people of Ireland. It marks both the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and the 25th anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strikes. Both events in their own way showed how ordinary people can change the course of history.
Beidh muid ag cuimhniú ar agus ag céiliúradh an dá ócáid i rith na bliana.
At this time 25 years ago, the men and women in the H-Blocks and Armagh had already announced that another hunger strike would begin on March 1st. Many people of my generation will remember that time well, although I always find it difficult to talk about it.
It is difficult to do justice to the memory of those who died on hunger strike.
I am still amazed that I knew such men. And for those who were close to the prisoners and their families there remains a raw emotional wound. It's also hard to recapture a sense of that time for those who weren't there.
Twenty five years ago Nelson Mandela was in gaol on Robben Island and apartheid looked set to last forever in South Africa. Twenty five years ago dictators of various hues were in the ascendancy. Maggie Thatcher ruled Britain; Pinochet's Chile was a byword for torture, and war raged on the streets of the Six Counties. The world was divided between the two superpowers, the United States of America and the Soviet Union. This also looked as if it would last forever.
But for many Irish people that period brings back immediate memories of those long 8 months in 1981 when Bobby Sands, Francie Hughes, Patsy O'Hara, Raymond McCreesh, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee, and Michael Devine, all died on hunger strike. Almost 50 died outside the prison. Seven, including three children, were killed by plastic bullets and hundreds were wounded.
Thug said a raibh acú ar son a gcairde faoi ghlas agus ar son saoirse na hÉireann.
The conditions which led to the hunger strikes were created when the London government, supported by Dublin, tried to criminalise republicans. The logic was simple. If there were hundreds of political prisoners how could the struggle be depicted as mere wanton criminality. The British decided that the prisons were to be a breakers yard for the republican struggle. The British government didn't want a settlement. It wanted victory.
But the republican prisoners, the women in Armagh and the Blanketmen, would not be criminalised. In extraordinary circumstances they took on the entire might of the British state.
I want to welcome the families of the hunger strikers who are with us here today. I want to remember Frank Stagg and Michael Gaughan. I also wish to extend our continuing support to all their families and the families of all our patriot dead.
Of course the grief and anger at the death of the ten hunger strikers extended far beyond their families and friends. Here in this city the political establishment sat in silence.
But Dublin came to a standstill. People stopped work, young people walked out of schools, many businesses closed, tens of thousands took to the streets in scenes that were replicated across Ireland and the world.
In censored times, the prisoners cut through all the spin and disinformation. Everyone took sides. Either you supported Thatcher or you supported the prisoners.
After the strike ended and 10 men were dead the British government moved to bring about the prisoners five demands. The prisoners won but at a terrible price. British government policy failed, once again.
There are many stories to tell about this time, many lessons to be learned. Over the coming months I recommend that people take part in the events which are taking place to commemorate the Hunger Strikes.
Tá féilire ar fáil ón Choiste Cuimhneacháin Náisiúnta.
What was it that inspired Bobby Sands and his comrades to engage in struggle, what was the vision that sustained them in those prison cells. 90 years ago a small number of men and women went out onto the streets of this city and challenged the greatest superpower of the day. They were poorly armed and for the most part poorly trained. But they had big hearts, boundless courage and determination, and an overwhelming desire to free Ireland.
For many of the republicans, especially Connolly and Pearse they also saw their endeavour in wider global terms and especially in the context of British Imperialism.
The British Empire was the biggest the world has ever seen. The Empire on which it was claimed, the sun never set. So large were its conquests that it stretched around the world. Over a quarter of the earth's landmass was incorporated into this Empire and London imposed its rule over 500 million people and scores of colonies. It is no accident that these include some of today's worst troubled regions, from Iraq across the Middle East to Africa, still dealing with the legacy of colonialism.
In Ireland in 1916 things changed utterly, for the British, but also for the Irish. A Republic was declared. But not just any Republic. This Republic was uniquely democratic and determinedly inclusive.
The core values of this republic were mapped out in the Proclamation.
The Proclamation hangs in many homes. It prefaces many books. I would appeal to you all to read it - really read it.
The Proclamation is a freedom charter for this whole island and all the people who live here.
It guarantees religious and civil liberty and is avowedly anti-sectarian.
It promotes equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens.
And at a time when women did not have the vote it supported universal suffrage.
The Proclamation is a declaration of social and economic intent for a rights based society in which the people are sovereign.
These are not just clever words or empty rhetoric.
These are great words, great ideas, which it is our task to see implemented.
Those who most immediately understood its significance were revolutionary Irish women. One of these, Margaret Skinnider, was wounded during the fighting in Dublin in Easter week. Afterward she said: "… in the Constitution of the Irish republic, women were on an equality with men. For the first time in history indeed, a Constitution had been written that incorporated the principle of equal suffrage."
This view was echoed by Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, who said: "It was the first time in history that men fighting for freedom voluntarily included women." There are lessons for others and for all of us here.
I welcome the Taoiseach's announcement that the state will mark the anniversary of 1916. How this is done will be important. And it's good that there will be consultation on this issue.
Is a military parade of two and a half thousand soldiers the best way to do this?
I don't think so.
An inclusive, civic and cultural celebration, which educates us all, particularly about Irish republicanism, which measures our society against the Proclamation, is the best way to honour the visionaries of that time.
The reason for the re-establishment of the state event has been the accusation that Sinn Féin hijacked the legacy of 1916.
This party is part of that legacy. We never hijacked 1916. It is not the sole property of any political group or any political party.
The truth is that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, and all the rest of them abandoned 1916.
Mo chlann féin do dhíol a máthair, mar a dúirt an Piarsach.
They also rewrote the Proclamation. In their writ the ownership of Ireland belongs not to the people of this island but to the giants of globalisation.
In their writ the right of the people of this island to the unfettered, indivisible and sovereign control of our destinies has been handed over to the bureaucrats of the European Union.
In their writ there is no notion of cherishing all the children of the nation equally. They cherish only those who can pay for it.
In their writ our right to national freedom and the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts has been set aside in the interests of the few.
So it is a good thing that the state is to mark the 1916 Easter Rising.
The Proclamation of the Republic is the most important and abiding legacy of that time.
It has outlasted the counter-revolution, the savagery of the civil war and the partition of this island.
Ireland today is a country in transition. But the core values of the Proclamation are as relevant in 2006 as they were in 1916. And a lot of unfinished business has to be completed if we are to build an Ireland of equals.
Five great strategic challenges
This evening I want to set out the five great strategic challenges facing Sinn Féin.
First and foremost we must concentrate our efforts on the current negotiations. Our task is to advance the peace process and ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented in full. Included within this will be the deeply problematic issue of policing in the north.
Another great challenge is the need to develop an entirely new relationship with unionism. Our engagement with unionism must deepen and broaden in the time ahead. This is a major challenge for this party and I would urge everyone, every activist to take up this challenge personally.
The third great challenge facing this party is to build support for Irish unity in Britain.
There is a potential to create in Britain a solidarity movement similar to that in the USA.
Another great challenge will be to build an Ireland of equals. We want to advance the all-Ireland agenda, to make partition history and to campaign for an Ireland of equals. Our task, like that of all other progressive forces in Ireland, is to actively change Ireland, day by day, based on the republican principles of equality, liberty and solidarity.
Our fifth strategic task is to build Sinn Féin. There are more republicans in Ireland today than at any time in our history. There are many more republicans on this island than there are members of Sinn Féin. I want to call on you to join Sinn Féin, to help us to push forward with our agenda for change. I especially want to open up our party and our leadership to women. We need more women involved in our decision making processes.
Five big strategic challenges - and the biggest challenge is we have to do all of this at the one time.
Is obair crua a bheas ann, obair trom ach tá muidne reidh dó.
They are all equally important and necessary for the success of our struggle. But they are no less than this party is capable of achieving if we plan and organise and build our capacity properly.
Historic IRA decisions
It is over ten years since the historic decision by the IRA to call a cessation of military activity. This last year, in some respects saw an even more momentous decision with the IRA's decision to formally end its armed campaign and put its weapons beyond use.
I want to commend the courageous and confident vision of the Volunteers of the IRA.
As I said in my appeal to the IRA last April:
'In the past I have defended the right of the IRA to engage in armed struggle. I did so because there was no alternative for those who would not bend the knee, or turn a blind eye to oppression, or for those who wanted a national republic.
Now there is an alternative.
I have clearly set out my view of what that alternative is. 'The way forward is by building political support for republican and democratic objectives across Ireland and by winning support for these goals internationally.'
I also said that those who oppose change are not going to roll over; 'It will always be a battle a day between those who want maximum change and those who want to maintain the status quo.
But if republicans are to prevail, if the peace process is to be successfully concluded and Irish sovereignty and reunification secured, then we have to set the agenda - no one else is going to do that.'
The decision by the IRA to move into a new peaceful mode places an enormous responsibility on all of us to seize the moment and to make Irish freedom a reality. I believe that this generation of republicans can make good the promises of the 1916 Proclamation.
But the decisions by the IRA were undoubtedly deeply difficult for many. There are republicans still trying to come to terms with it many months later.
Sheas na hÓglaigh sa bhearna baoil leo féin thar na blianta fada. Mhol muid iad ansin. Nuair a thaispean said misneach anuraidh mhol muid arís iad. Agus molaimís iad inniu.
Indeed undoubtedly there are some who believe that the IRA has made a mistake. They are entitled to their opinion but to no more than that. No one should harbour the notion that the republican struggle can be advanced any further by an armed campaign. This leadership is firmly opposed to such a departure.
The IRA initiatives also present challenges to others. No-one should under-estimate the contribution Oglaigh na hÉireann has made to the peace process. The IRA has removed themselves from the picture and those genuinely interested in peace need to stop looking for excuses.
The Peace Process
The peace process is arguably the most important issue facing the people of this island today. Progress will create stability, will create opportunity, will create wealth, will improve our standard of living. Success will generate a confidence, an excitement, an enthusiasm which will contribute to further progress. All of these things are interlinked and interconnected.
Failure will set all this back by decades.
So, the months ahead are critical.
I have made it clear from the republican perspective - the war is over. But, unfortunately, powerful elements within the British system have both a war mentality and the resources to sustain this. For them the peace process is war by other means.
We have told the British Prime Minister that this is not acceptable. The British government has a responsibility to dismantle its war machine, to decommission its spy rings and spymasters and to take to its troops out of Ireland.
In my April appeal to the IRA I made the point that commitments, including commitments from the two governments, were reneged on in the past. There have been further examples of that since then.
History will not be kind to any government, whether it is the PD/Fianna Fáil coalition here in Dublin or the one led by Mr. Blair in London, if it puts party political considerations above the peace process.
There is no possible excuse for the British and Irish governments to not fully and faithfully implement the Good Friday Agreement.
This means the Irish government actively promoting the rights and entitlements of all citizens, including those in the north. The Taoiseach's decision this week to renege on his commitment to proceed with northern representation in the Oireachtas is not acceptable.
There is sufficient support for this within the Dáil - if the Fianna Fáil party truly supports the participation of northern MPs - nationalist and unionist. Rhetorical words about 1916 and the Republic need to be backed up by action.
Is poblachtánaigh uile oileánda sinn agus ní ghlacfaidh muid le níos lú ná atá i dteideal dúinn.
I want to direct some remarks to other republicans. (To those who are frequently labeled by the media as 'dissidents'.)
Obviously there are fundamental differences between us but all republicans and nationalists want a united Ireland, an end to British government involvement in Irish affairs, the release of all political prisoners, and an end to the harassment of the families of prisoners in Irish and English prisons, and much more.
I am asking that you look objectively at the current political situation.
I am asking that you carefully consider your options.
And I am calling upon you to debate these matters.
The Future of the Good Friday Agreement
The peace process is in many ways the reworking of the relationships between unionism and the rest of the people of this island. And between all of us and the British government.
British policy in Ireland has historically been the catalyst for conflict and division in our country.
British policy ultimately needs to be about ending British jurisdiction on this island.
An bhfuil said reidh go fóill leis an rud ceart a dhéanamh? Tcífidh muid.
The current phase of the political talks will decide the future of the Good Friday Agreement.
I have to say I have huge reservations about how the two governments are approaching these talks.
At this time they are pandering to the DUP.
Sinn Féin will listen attentively and respectfully to everyone's ideas. But the main objective of these talks has to be to end the suspension of the political institutions within a short time-frame.
The Sinn Féin leadership has told both governments, and I have told both Mr. Ahern and Mr. Blair directly, that there can be no dilution of the Good Friday Agreement to allow for a two-tier or two stages approach or British appointed Commissioners, to run the north.
British direct rule is also not an option.
So, the focus of our negotiators in the weeks ahead is straightforward:
· An end to the undemocratic suspension of the institutions
· The triggering of the mechanism for electing the Executive.
· Delivery on outstanding aspects of the Agreement.
· The conclusion of the debate on policing on the basis set out in December 2004
· And the delivery of a peace dividend for the north and border counties.
In other words we look to both governments to honour their commitments, publicly made and thus far unfulfilled. That is our agenda for the talks.
I said that we face five strategic challenges. One of these relates to our relationship with unionism.
Partition has failed. It has failed the people in the south. It has failed nationalists in the north. It has failed the very community it was designed to safeguard. It has failed unionists.
Even within their own rationale partition has no economic merit. On the contrary all economic advantage lies in Ireland as a single island economy.
Within the north the large unionist dominated industries have disappeared.
Discrimination in the workplace is being challenged. The northern economy has failed. The position of superiority and influence enjoyed by unionists is being replaced by equality. That is good for everyone.
Unionist working class communities are ravaged by unemployment and educational under achievement. This is bad for everyone.
No unionist leader can believe that British direct rule is benign. A terrible price is being paid in all of our communities in the North as a result of British Direct Rule.
This includes job losses, privatisation, education cuts, falling incomes for those working in agriculture, a failure to produce any strategy to deal with suicide prevention, and much more.
The best people to make decisions about the lives of people in the north are people who live there.
An gcreideann duine ar bith in Éirinn nó i dTír na Sasan fiú nach dtig le daoine áitiúil post níos fearr a dhéanamh sa rialtas sa tuaisceart?
There are many good people within unionism.
People who care about their community. People who want to see stability, peace and prosperity.
People, including in the PUP, the DUP and the UUP, who have worked with Sinn Féin in committees and at councils. People who want a say in decision making.
So there are challenges for unionism and questions they need to answer.
I have a question for Ian Paisley - are you ready to begin the process of building a shared future?
One thing is for certain, Sinn Féin is not going away.
And there is another thing that all of us can be certain of - change will continue. And the best option for unionists and the rest of us is to collectively manage the changes that are coming.
Regardless of the disposition of the DUP, republicans need to engage with unionist communities. We need to talk about the future. Everyone has the right to guarantees for their civil and religious liberties. Republicans need to talk to unionists about this. We need to listen to their concerns. We want to talk about Irish unity, about safe guarding everyones rights and identity.
It is within our collective ability to resolve problems. For example, the annual crisis caused by the small number of contentious loyal order parades must be sorted out.
This requires positive political leadership and meaningful dialogue based on equality and mutual respect.
Sinn Féin has consistently supported such an approach.
We now must deepen our engagement, our understanding of unionism if we are to have partners in conflict resolution. The imperative of conflict resolution begs another question of Ian Paisley - Ian, is your war over?
One of the strategic challenges I spoke of earlier is to build a solidarity movement in Britain. Our struggle has a huge debt of gratitude to people there, to people in the USA, Australia, Canada and Europe, and to the government and people of South Africa. As we build on that support we must also be conscious of our responsibilities internationally.
Nuair a lás laochra Éirí Amach na Cásca an tine bheo i mBaile Atha Cliath nócha bliain ó shin spréigh an tine sin ar fud an domhain.
War in Iraq, conflict in the Middle East, countless wars in Africa, unimaginable poverty and deprivation across the globe, hunger, disease, environmental disasters and the fear of more to come, globalisation and the exploitation of workers, racism and sectarianism, injustice and oppression, are all huge issues which need to be tackled.
The reality of our time is that more money is spent on military projects than on aid or fair trade policies. At the same time impoverished nations in the developing world are forced to pay exorbitant foreign debt. If this money was diverted back into health and education, and the other goals set by the Millennium summit were implemented, the lives of 7 million children could be saved each year.
These are just some of the international issues which confront us. Our party will also continue to try to help in peace processes elsewhere, including in the Basque country, the Middle East, and Sri Lanka.
Ireland has a place in the world and a responsibility to change it. That is why I call again on the Irish government to immediately suspend the use of Shannon Airport for US troops traveling to the Gulf.
The recent video footage of British soldiers beating young Iraqis is a stark reminder of the dehumanizing aspects of conflict, and a familiar experience for many Irish people.
There should be real democracy in Iraq. Sinn Féin calls for the British and US governments to withdraw from that country and allow the Iraqi people to determine their own future.
An agenda for change - Fighting Inequality
The strategic challenges I have spoken about include the need to use our political strength to make real our vision of an Ireland of Equals.
We want to develop a programme which makes republicanism relevant in the every day lives of citizens. We are about empowering people. Sinn Féin believes in strong communities which stand up for themselves and which stand by the weak, the vulnerable and the aged.
Society in this state is more unequal than it was 15 years ago at the beginning of this period of economic growth. Some are much better off, but many people are working longer hours and commuting long distances because they cannot afford to live near their place of work.
Caithfidh muid cinntiú go ndéanann an rialtas níos fearr!
There are also - to the Irish government's great shame - tens of thousands living in poverty. At a time of unprecedented growth, 15% of all children live in consistent poverty, while one in four children are deemed by the government's own statistics to be at risk of poverty.
After 15 years of growth it is a disgrace that people are left waiting for days on hospital trollies, that people can't afford a home to live in and that the transport system is gridlocked.
In 1980 there were over 17,500 acute hospital beds in the Health service. Despite the increasing population there are now only 12,000.
This state has an under-resourced and over-burdened public health system, yet it gives tax payers money to a thriving private health sector. Those who can afford to pay avail of the best that is available in the private system. This includes access to private beds in public hospitals. Health privatization is a reality in the 26 Counties.
Sinn Féin is committed to ending the two tier health service.
Sinn Féin is committed to the establishment of a public health system accessible to all on the basis of need and delivered to best-practice standards.
That's what people work and pay taxes for.
No one should have to languish on a hospital trolley in a corridor. Not in 2006, in the era of the Celtic Tiger. No one should be on a waiting list for years.
Comhionnanas do gach duine in Éirinn? Má tá an t-airgead agat.
Every citizen should have access to the same standard of care.
Why? Because people have rights. That, Ms Harney, includes the right to a public health system. If you want private hospitals use your own money. Stop using the taxpayers money to fund your friends in the private sector.
There are almost 44,000 families on the social housing waiting list; there are thousands more with mortgages they can barely afford.
House prices continue to rise faster than wages. Building land around most of our cities, and especially in Dublin, is controlled by a tiny cartel of builders and land speculators who have friends in high places.
They have no interest in letting prices fall - their interest is bigger profits. This is not sustainable and it will be ordinary homeowners who will be at risk.
The current system is not working. Affordable and social housing should be provided directly through local authorities and voluntary organisations.
The money is there to do this.
But, it will require a government strategy, backed by sufficient funding and political will to achieve this. A strategy that puts the needs of the many in front of the profits of the few.
Does anyone think this government has the will or the strategy? No chance. But Sinn Féin has.
There was a very belated but nonetheless welcome recognition by Fianna Fáil and the PDs that their policy on childcare has failed children and families.
Having recognised the problem, however the government's response was pathetic.
• They should have brought in an immediate increase in paid maternity leave to six months, with a rapid extension of leave to one year thereafter.
• They can also afford to introduce paid paternity leave. And, the introduction of a comprehensive and free pre-school system for all under fours.
If these bold steps were taken the other remaining problems such as supply of places would be much easier to solve.
Sinn Féin is in the business of promoting the use and status of the Irish language. As we celebrate the anniversaries of the Easter Rising and the Hunger Strikes let us remember how the language inspired both these generations of republican activists. The hunger strikers all made the effort to learn Irish under even in the most atrocious conditions.
So, let us make time for the language.
Let's continue to
• Promote and develop activities to bring life to the Language Act in the south.
• Campaign on and support the demand for an Irish Language Act for the 6 Counties.
• Defend the status of Irish in the southern education system - teaching methods do need to be improved and modernised. But any move to sideline Irish should be opposed. Irish should remain at the core of our education system as a living, spoken language.
In the near future Sinn Féin's Cultural Department will be unveiling a draft plan which aims to put activism on the language at the heart of Sinn Féin activity.
We seek to move from being a party with sound policies on the language to having a comprehensive strategy which will see the emergence of a bilingual party with a vision to put the language back into the lives of the people of Ireland.
The experience of the Irish abroad in the 19th and for much of the 20th centuries is now a depressing feature of life for others in 21st century Ireland.
The fact is that there has been a gradual EU wide drive to erode the conditions in which workers are employed.
The EU Services Directive would allow private companies to undercut public service providers by employing people on the salaries of their country of origin. Amendments adopted in the European Parliament this week were deceptive - the country of origin principle may have been renamed, but it remains at the heart of the directive.
This would open migrant workers up to even greater levels of exploitation, with no protection, while creating the real prospect of indigenous workers being displaced by migrant workers.
The government and other parties are complicit in this.
This is evident in its lack of commitment to the rights of migrant workers; and by its ongoing refusal to ratify the 1990 UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
It is also evident in the way in which the Government has pursued a minimal enforcement of existing labour law.
Sinn Féin welcomes new communities of all nationalities to our country. We reject racism and discrimination in any form. It is good that many people are coming here to work. Immigrant workers are not the problem. The problem is unscrupulous employers who exploit immigrant workers with low pay and poor conditions.
Unlike the Labour Party leader, Sinn Féin will not embrace populist policies which risk setting one group of workers in the existing workforce, against another group of migrant workers.
Seasann muid le chéile le cosmhuintir na tíre seo agus ní ghlacfaidh muid le ciníochas ar bith.
You don't have to be an expert on labour law to know that if Irish and migrant workers have the same pay and conditions of employment that this removes any financial benefit for unscrupulous employers who might otherwise seek to displace their existing work force. That's common sense.
A Fair Taxation system
The reality is that our people do not have to choose between being economically successful and building a more equal and successful society. We can do both.
The countries that are at the top of the global tables for their successful social models are also among the most competitive in the world
Those countries have high quality social services, health systems, and education systems and they spend a greater share of their wealth on those services than Ireland. Sinn Féin is about building public services.
There is now the wealth in this state to ensure:
• That every sick person who needs a hospital bed gets it when they need it
• That every child can grow up in modern Ireland without poverty and with good childcare and education
• That everyone can have a home
• That there can be decent pay and conditions of work for all sectors.
I want to call on the Social Partners to put the provision of quality public services at the top of the agenda in their current partnership talks with the Government.
The well being of a state cannot be measured only by how much wealth it produces. The real test is in how that wealth is used for the benefit of citizens.
The real test is the equality test.
This state fails that test - miserably.
In 2005 - the two major banks in this country AIB and Bank of Ireland made profits of almost 2.8 billion euros - and are liable for corporation tax at only 12.5%.
These banks are not even the worst cases. Of the top 100 individual earners in the South in 2005, 41 of them paid less than 5% income tax.
Meanwhile ordinary working people start paying tax at 42% on anything over €29,400 last year.
Sinn Féin would effectively tax high earners.
Sinn Féin would increase taxes on capital gains, property speculation and corporate profits.
Of course, our policies will be attacked by those who have mismanaged the boom years of the Celtic Tiger.
Expect more attacks on Sinn Féin including totally unprincipled efforts to vilify us in the time ahead.
Don't be distracted by this nonsense.
What we need to do is promote our own agenda and our own record.
Let the government defend its record. Fianna Fáil attacks Sinn Féin's economic policies while Fianna Fáil Ministers waste billions of euros of taxpayers money on failed vanity projects.
Fianna Fáil and the PD's preside over the systematic destruction of our agriculture industry and what is left of our fishing industry in this island nation.
They privatise our public highways and give their friends permission to erect toll booth, after toll booth, after toll booth.
They sell off public services, penalise working people and reward the wealthy.
They squander taxpayers money.
They hand over our natural resources to multi-nationals like Shell and jail the victims of this sell-out. I would like to take a moment to welcome Vincent and Maire McGrath and Micheál and Caitlín Uí Sheighin from the Rossport 5 campaign in County Mayo to our Ard Fheis and to assure them of our ongoing support. The west's awake. Maigh Eo abú.
The Mahon Tribunals have also focused once again on the payments made to crooked politicians by corrupt developers.
There is a certain irony in the fact that many of these payments were made in Conway's Bar at the corner of Parnell Street and Moore Lane close to the spot where Padraic Pearse brought an end to the Rising.
As Luke Kelly so eloquently put it;
'For what died the sons of Roisin
Was it greed?'
It is little wonder that the establishment abandoned the 1916 commemoration when they did. For many of these people they probably think of the GPO only as a place to buy brown envelopes.
New Arena of Struggle - Make partition history
Sinn Féin can look back over the last few years with some degree of satisfaction.
We have, along with others, been key architects of the peace process. We have increased our political strength on both sides of the border. I would like to welcome to the Ard Fheis our new MP for Newry & Armagh, Conor Murphy and all of the party's councillors who were elected last year. I would also like to make a special mention of Gráinne Mhic Géidigh, who has the proud distinction of being our first representative on Údarás na Gaeltachta.
But we still have a long way to go.
Of course there have been difficulties. Last year I pledged our support for the family of murdered Belfast man Robert McCartney. We continue to support them in their campaign for justice. Let no one be in any doubt about that.
Our party and our people are travelling through a time of great hope, great risk and great opportunity. And the road map is clear.
2006 sees Sinn Féin enter our second century of political activism in an entirely new area of struggle.
Bobby Sands once remarked; 'Everyone, Republican or otherwise has his own particular part to play. No part is too great or too small, no one is too old or too young to do something.'
I believe that there now exists for the first time since partition an opportunity for all political parties which espouse Irish unity, and democrats generally, to build a broad movement to debate and plan the type of Ireland we want to live in. A political strategy to deliver unity and independence is required - a strategy which addresses the concerns of unionists but which also carries forward the necessary work of making partition history.
Ireland and the world is a different place today from when the leaders of the Rising assembled on Easter Monday. It is a different place from when Bobby Sands began his hunger strike on March 1st twenty five years ago.
Our struggle has changed but our values and objectives remain. They are the core values of the Proclamation.
Níl aon amhras orm faoi sin.
Between now and our next Ard Fheis we have a big job of work to prepare for elections, north and south. Every party, including the government coalition partners, are already fighting the election.
So too is this party.
And, don't let the preoccupation of the other parties with Sinn Féin go to your head.
It will be the voters who will choose their representatives.
Hard work, sensible planning, good candidates and common sense policies - well presented - will make a difference.
We are serious about making change. This weekend Sinn Féin has published three major policy documents on enterprise and job creation, all-Ireland healthcare and Irish re-unification. We are serious about implementing these policies, north and south.
We will be in a power-sharing government in the north once again. And if we have the mandate and if we can secure an inter-party government and a programme for government which is consistent with our republican objectives, we will look at being in government in the south.
But we have no interest in any of these positions for the sake of it. Or for ministerial perks or to make up the numbers. Others have shown themselves more than suited to this task.
Our sole purpose of going into government is to bring about the maximum amount of change. We will never meekly serve our time. Our objective is an all-Ireland parliament for all of the people of Ireland.
The men and women of 1916 were visionaries. So were the hunger strikers.
We need to be visionaries too.
This is a time to be confident.
And to have faith in the changes we are making.
It has become almost a national pastime for Irish people to run ourselves down. Occasionally it is good to remind ourselves that Ireland - all 32 counties - is a great country. And we are proud of it.
Let's make it a better place for everyone who lives here.
Deanaimís cinnte go mbeidh saol níos fearr ag ár gcuid páistí ná an saol a bhí againn féin.
Bobby Sands had a word for all of us.
'Never give up' he said.
'No matter how bad or black or painful or heartbreaking, never give up, never despair, never lose hope.'
We, who live in much better times, have every reason to be equally determined and positive.
On Wednesday July 29th 1981 I visited the prison hospital in Long Kesh to meet the hungerstrikers. By that point Bobby, Francie, Raymond, Patsy, Joe and Martin were dead. Kevin, Tom and Micky died later
Among those I spoke to was Kieran Doherty. He died three days later after 71 days on hungerstrike..
I was awed by his dignity, as he lay propped up on one elbow, in his prison hospital bed, blind as a result of the hungerstrike.
Doc had a word for us all also.
'Lean ar aghaidh' he said. Advance.
'They think they can break us. Well they can't. Lean ar aghaidh, he said. Tiocfaidh ár lá'
Sinn Féin TD and Spokesperson on workers rights Arthur Morgan called on the
Ard Fheis to support Motion 302: All-Ireland Enterprise and Job Creation
I move motion 302 calling for the endorsement of Sinn Féin's All-Ireland Enterprise and Job Creation Policy on behalf of the Ard Comhairle.
This is the first component of Sinn Féin's rights-based economic policy; there will be further policy documents on taxation and on trade.
The document sets out Sinn Féin's vision for a new all Ireland economy, based on equality and social justice; a people centered economy where everyone can have a dignified and productive working life, a fair income and a good quality of life - an economy which is characterised by the positive redistribution of resources to eradicate poverty and social exclusion.
In the document Sinn Féin rejects many mainstream market orthodoxies,including 'trickle down' theory, the theory of supply and demand, the correlation of low taxation and low wages with competitiveness, the belief that inward investment is the key to solving economic problems, and the oversimplified equation of growth with well-being and social progress.
We argue a that fairer distribution of wealth and income is a far more effective way of dealing with poverty than the present dependence on economic growth alone, that equality pays for itself in the long-term but it costs up front and that a stable, strong economy and society requires balance between growth and socio-economic rights.
The role of Government and the Public Sector
Sinn Féin believes that Government should have a central role in managing the economy and that quality public services can support economic development by providing equitable access to essential public services necessary for a good quality of life and the conduct of business. We reject the view that expenditure on public services is a burden on the productive sectors of the economy.
Ending the economic inefficiency of partition
Partition is economically inefficient and wasteful. The northern economy is unsustainable by itself and cannot exist in isolation from the rest of the island. Sinn Féin will continue to work to end partition and to press the Irish and British governments to fulfil their all-Ireland economic commitments in the Good Friday Agreement and in the Common Chapter.
Education and Training for Higher Quality Jobs
In line with Sinn Féin's rights based approach the document argues that a well-developed system of rights to further one's education, including training and retraining, is key to future competitiveness. We support a comprehensive strategy for lifelong learning and skills development to enable all workers to achieve their potential.
The section on corporation tax is not a change of policy, rather it is an attempt to set out, in a coherent and comprehensive manner, the arguments upon which this policy position is based.
Sinn Féin's analysis is that cutting corporation tax is not the best way to create a favorable enterprise environment. It looks at the ability of the Nordic states, who hold five of the top ten positions amongst the most competitive economies in the world, and provides evidence in relation to the Nordic model which challenges the conventional wisdom that high taxes and large safety nets undermine competitiveness.
It is also not sustainable to compete with other states by engaging in a race to the bottom on corporation tax if we want to maintain and enhance the desired levels of public services and infrastructure.
This section proposes:
· A 5% increase in corporation tax in the 26 Counties from the current 12.5% to 17.5% as part of a much needed wider progressive reform of the tax system, the objective of which would be the creation of a fair and egalitarian tax system enabling the state to deliver the infrastructure and social spending which ultimately has a beneficial impact for business as well as communities.
· The gradual harmonisation of corporation tax on an all-Ireland basis. In the immediate term, a corporation tax rate in the 6 Counties of 17.5% for smaller companies with profits from £50,001 to £300,000 while maintaining the rate of 30% for larger companies with profits of over £300,000.
The document also argues for:
· A regulatory policy that should be used to protect the public good in the business environment.
· The need for proactive government intervention to bring about balanced regional development.
· The extension of the euro throughout the whole island as a necessary step in paving the way for reunification.
· Amendment of the stability and growth pact so that the ability of an Irish Government to borrow for investment in infrastructural development is not restricted.
· Fundamental reform of the Lisbon Strategy and continued opposition to the EU Services Directive.
We support the development of indigenous enterprise, in particular SMEs and we believe that the social economy should be a key element of economic development. We recognise the key role of the social economy in enhancing communities suffering social and economic exclusion.
We support the need for Enterprise Development Agencies to implement the enterprise policy of Government and to stimulate business growth. We outline our concerns around aspects of their work that need to change. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of all the Economic Development Agencies is needed to work towards better coordination and planning on an all-Ireland basis. We need greater transparency and accountability and we call for a single all-Ireland Development Agency.
Promoting innovation and R&D are priorities for Sinn Féin. We want to see greater investment in R&D, a greater spread of enterprise activity and the creation of an R&D innovation environment in the whole business sector throughout Ireland.
This is a brief overview of what is a very comprehensive document. I urge people to read the detail of it and commend it to the Ard Fhéis for approval.
Speaking in the economic section of the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Dublin this
afternoon the Party's economic spokesperson, Mitchel Mc Laughlin MLA
lambasted the record of Invest NI.
Mr Mc Laughlin said;
"The Invest NI Annual Report shows a clear imbalance in the way resources are targeted. The impact West of the Bann, in border areas and in North and West Belfast is especially stark with these communities suffering the worst effects of high deprivation and unemployment.
"North and West Belfast together received less than a third of the financial assistance given to South and East Belfast for 2003-04 (£12.6 million compared to £41.5 million). The 5 constituencies of South Down, Newry/Armagh, Foyle, West Tyrone and Fermanagh/South Tyrone together received less assistance than South Belfast, one of the most affluent areas of the North.
"The seven constituencies West of the Bann have received only 10% of assistance given and are only allocated10% of future planned investment. It is no accident that these areas receiving the lowest levels of INI financial support and investment are nationalist areas.
"Invest NI by simply replicating past patterns is part of the problem. It's a nonsense for Invest NI to claim that 82% of investment is located in NTSN areas. The facts do not support this claim. Sinn Féin has consistently argued that the definition for TSN areas is so wide that it is meaningless.
"The correlation between those areas losing out on Invest NI support - West of the Bann, the border counties, North and West Belfast - with the mapping of areas with high unemployment and deprivation is stark. Invest NI is clearly failing in its duty to equality proof investment strategy and as a result the patterns of neglect, through unionist and British direct misrule are being reinforced. This pattern must be reversed." ENDS