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Sinn Féin MLA Mitchel McLaughlin this morning updated party delegates on the current state of play on the negotiations front. Referring to last Decembers negotiations Mr. McLaughlin said "our approach was premised on a strategic calculation that our overall political objectives would best be served by testing the DUP's conversion to partnership, power-sharing and inclusivity, and by ensuring that this test, as presented by the two governments, would take place on Good Friday Agreement ground."

Mr. McLaughlin said:

This is now the third successive Ard Fheis in which this section of our clár has opened with a report on the state of play in the negotiations front. This means that for the better part of the past three years Sinn Féin has been involved in negotiations to bring about the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It also means that seven years after the endorsement of that Agreement by the vast majority of the population north and south we still await its implementation.

On three separate occasions during a period of 22 months we have concluded negotiations with the two governments around a political package which, had it been adopted, would have ended the political stalemate and opened the door to a future based on partnership, inclusivity, equality and justice.

On the latest occasion, in December 2004, we reached a potentially defining moment in the peace process, a potentially watershed moment in the history of this island.

Now, just 10 weeks later, and in the midst of a maelstrom of groundless accusations against our party leadership, attempts to discredit our entire party membership, the unjustified and undemocratic penalising of those we represent, what we were on the verge of achieving in December seems light years away.

Some of you may question therefore the relevance at this point of the detail of last years negotiation. You may think there is little need for anything other than a summary of a now familiar story - been there, agreed that, unionists say no, so governments renege ú and then blame it all on republicans.

For whatever the detail of last December's political package the reality is we are certainly some way off from a restoration of the political institutions, we are some way off from unionists embracing power-sharing, we are some way off from a society built on equality, where the rights and entitlements of everyone are given equal status. In fact, seven years after its creation, we are so far off the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement we would all be forgiven for asking is there any point in clinging to such an objective, is there any life left in that Agreement.

We were posed a similar question last year. Our answer then is our answer now. We will continue to negotiate, and campaign and argue to have the Good Friday Agreement implemented not only because that is our obligation, not only because it is the right thing, but also because it fits into a strategy of providing and maintaining a political alternative to conflict, a means of sustaining and anchoring the peace process and a transition to the free independent Ireland we have worked long to achieve. We are in this process to the end, we are in this process until we have achieved our objectives, all of our objectives.

Last year's round of negotiations began early in the year and continued throughout the summer months and autumn and until conclusion in December.

Sinn Féin's focus in these discussions has been to achieve a comprehensive agreement which would see all outstanding matters dealt with and the Good Friday Agreement implemented in full.

Our approach was therefore two fold - to ensure that any proposals from the governments, and any agreement emerging out of these discussions, were rooted firmly in the Good Friday Agreement and to try to get the DUP on board for working with Sinn Féin in partnership in the power sharing, all-Ireland institutions.

The objective we set ourselves with regard to the DUP has confounded many. We had been accused of being unrealistic, of being naïve, of being fooled by noises from within the DUP before and after the Assembly election in November 2003 when they publicly espoused a willingness to do a deal.

Quite the contrary however. We have experienced too much of unionism's tactical engagement with the Good Friday Agreement to take at face value any assertion by unionist political leaders of a new found willingness to embrace change, to buy into a new dispensation based on equality.

No, far from being naïve, our approach was premised on a strategic calculation that our overall political objectives would best be served by testing the DUP's conversion to partnership, power-sharing and inclusivity, and by ensuring that this test, as presented by the two governments, would take place on Good Friday Agreement ground. And of course we are duty bound to recognise and respect the DUP mandate whatever we think of the prospect of them joining with us in our efforts to advance the political process.

The negotiations culminated in November last with the two governments proposing to the parties a comprehensive agreement which included draft statements dealing with issues which are the responsibility of the governments, the DUP, Sinn Fein, the IICD and the IRA. The bulk of these dealt with outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement as well as the DUP position on IRA arms.

Sinn Fein said yes to the political package and conveyed this clearly and in writing to the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister.

We did so because we were satisfied that we had defended the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement, including its power-sharing, all-Ireland and equality provisions, that we had resolved issues of concern and succeeded in strengthening key provisions.

We had secured from the British government agreement to:

  • the reinstatement of the political institutions
  • the rescinding of the British Government power to suspend the political institutions
  • the creation of an automatic entitlement by Ministers to attend All-Ireland Ministerial Council meetings ( removing the power of veto over attendance previously exercised by unionists)
  • the creation of a requirement on Ministers to attend Executive meetings and to attend, where appropriate, All Ireland Ministerial Council meetings (which the DUP refused to do in the past)
  • the creation of a requirement on Ministers to observe the joint nature of the office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (which the DUP had sought to erode)
  • the establishment of the All-Ireland Consultative Civic Forum
  • the establishment of the All-Ireland Parliamentary Forum
  • the transfer of powers on Justice and Policing away from London and the NIO to local democratic accountability
  • the repeal of repressive legislation
  • the provision of new powers for the Human Rights Commission
  • the removal of the restriction which prevents Irish citizens from taking up senior civil service positions in the north
  • a peace dividend
  • the implementation of measures to repair the electoral register in the north
  • A process of rolling and frontloaded demilitarisation

Both governments also agreed to a resolution of residual issues around prisoners and OTRs.

We also secured from the Irish Government agreement on measures to facilitate Northern representation in the Irish parliament. For our part, on the issue of policing, we committed to recommend to an Ard Comhairle meeting that we convene a special Ard Fheis to decide on our position on this issue in the context of:

  • Agreement between the parties on the departmental model and the powers to be transferred; and
  • The enactment by the British Government of the legislation to give full expression to this transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London and
  • A DUP commitment to a short timeframe for the transfers of powers on policing and justice.

The resolution of this central matter will ultimately present an enormous challenge for republicans, not least because the primary function of both the policing and judicial systems in the north have been to repress republicans and nationalists. But this very same issue that makes it such an enormous challenge for us all is also a most compelling motivation to bring this issue to satisfactory resolution.

You will no doubt hear more of the detail of our approach to resolving the issue of policing from Gerry Kelly in the section of this Ard Fheis which deals specifically with this issue.

Throughout these negotiations we believed also that a comprehensive agreement would motivate the IRA to address satisfactorily the issues which are its responsibilities. We have many times stated our commitment to the objective of taking the guns out of Irish politics. And our commitment to this has gone far beyond words, far beyond the rhetoric of others. While it remains our position that resolving the issue of arms is a matter for the IICD and the armed groups we have not shirked from using our influence on many occasions in the past in an effective and productive way to help bring this about. Last December Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness again went to the IRA to seek to persuade that organisation to address the issue of arms in a conclusive way and in a way which took account of the genuine concerns of unionists.

The IRA subsequently set out publicly what they were prepared to do in the context of an agreement. What they offered to do was unprecedented and beyond the wildest expectation of the most optimistic observers of this process. The IRA were prepared to move into a new and peaceful mode and to put their entire arsenal beyond use within a space of weeks and do so additionally under the watchful gaze of two independent witnesses.

And so, we arrived in early December at, what I described earlier as, a potentially defining moment in the peace process, a potentially watershed moment in the history of this island. So what happened?

Well the first thing that happened was the DUP refused to sign up for the political package. They failed the test that had been set for them in the terms of equality and power sharing. This was no surprise. They had failed it many times before in the council chambers of Ballymena, Lisburn, Castlereagh and elsewhere. They had failed it in the discussions at Leeds Castle last October. But the DUP also rejected the IRA offer to put all its weapons beyond use and demanded instead at their party meeting in Ballymena the humiliation of the IRA, and for republicans to wear sackcloth and ashes.

They signalled clearly that they were not yet prepared to leave behind the sectarianism, bigotry and intolerance that marked the political life of the northern state since partition.

The second thing that happened is that, in the run up to the conclusion of these negotiations the governments, in the knowledge that the DUP would fail to come across the line, tried to shift the blame onto republicans by supporting the demand for photographs of the IRA putting their arsenal beyond use.

And of course, the governments themselves then refused also to honour their part of the political package.

In effect, they failed the very same test set for the DUP. And of course, like the DUP, this was no surprise either. On every occasion in the past when unionist leaders have walked away from or reneged on agreements to break the political stalemate the governments in turn have reneged on their end of the deal. On each occasion they have failed or refused to confront a unionist veto.

While all of this has tried our patience we must not allow it to distract us from our objectives. The outcome of past negotiations including that which ended in December has been increased validation for our political analysis.

It may be that as the governments walk away from each negotiation in the knowledge that there will be another, they do so in the hope that republicans will come back to the next round of discussions weaker and prepared to accept less. The two governments have now joined with our political opponents in a concerted effort to weaken the Sinn Féin negotiating hand.

We must now shift our focus away from negotiations to the coming elections. In the coming months we have an opportunity to once again seek an increased endorsement of our strategy, an opportunity to ensure that when we return to discussions which will shape a way forward we will do so with an increased mandate.

The process of change cannot be frozen because rejectionist unionism refuses to come to terms with the new political realities. Political unionism cannot be allowed to veto the fundamental rights of citizens or to veto other changes necessary for the development of a peaceful society.

That is our message to the governments. With increased political strength we will be better able to increase the pressure for radical social and political change across this island.

Sinn Féin's radical, alternative voice is a challenge to the sectarianism and inequality of the 6 County state. But also it is increasingly a challenge to the corruption and elitism of the Southern political establishment. That is why they seek to halt the surge in support of our party.

Sinn Féin is in this to the end. We will secure our rights and entitlements on the same equal basis as available to others. We will persevere and we will achieve all our political objectives. So, let's get out and build a radical alternative.

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Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew speaking to motion 212 said:

We are committed to a democratic process which comes rights and responsibilities. We are aware that our enemies will stop at nothing to try and prevent our growth and in the face of that, we must be steadfast in our beliefs and determination.

We do not deny the right of Unionists to argue their case, but we won‚t let anyone deny our right to argue the case for a United Ireland.

We have a duty to respect the rights of minorities, even if they have maltreated us in the past and would do the same again, given the chance. The New Ireland will be judged by how it treats its minorities. That is the challenge we have accepted.

Parts of the media have tried to suggest that there has been a decline in support for Sinn Féin but the headline today will read "Sinn Féin support holds fast".

Look at the people who would try and vilify us - they are right wingers every one, with nothing to gain from equality and justice. They have degrees, but we have been educated in a spirit of comradeship in a cauldron of oppression. This country, no less than any other deserves that its people, North and South should have the right to decide the destiny of their nation. Are we forever to be subject to a border drawn by British politicians and the British military or are we determined to see this country free and unbridled by borders that disadvantage us? Clearly we are determined to set it free and we unlike others are working each and everyday to make it free, to unite our country and its people. That is what sets us apart from every other party on this island.

There have been those who have tried to deny us our identity, those who when they talk of the People of Ulster, not only dismiss Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal but dismiss the Nationalists of the six counties. Every single Sinn Féin strategy is designed to reassert the right of every Irishman and woman from this country to call themselves Irish.

Our people have been ambassadors to other countries, but we need to make Ireland stronger, economically, socially and politically, by unifying this country. Ultimately, there must be no question of British jurisdiction on this island as long as a majority of the people agree to that. Other countries must respect the wishes of the majority of the people on this island, just as we respect the sovereignty of other nations.

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Sinn Féin representative for South Belfast Deirdre Hargey speaking to motions 152,161 and 166 on Housing, Social Inclusion and poverty challenged Tony Blair to cancel the huge amount of debt that the Housing Executive in the North of Ireland pays annually to the British Exchequer. This would allow the development of decent public sector and social housing within the North of Ireland and would close the gap in housing provision to the benefit of the many disadvantaged and disenfranchised communities in the North‰

We are the party that articulates the needs and demands of the most marginalized, disenfranchised and disempowered sections of Irish society. It is of paramount importance that this party reflects the needs and wishes of these and all other sections of our society to build a truly inclusive "Ireland of Equals". I want to speak in support of motions 152,161 and 166 in relation to Housing, Social Inclusion and poverty.

I support motion 152 calling for a freeze in rents in the social housing sector and close the gap in housing provision. Everyone has the right to a decent quality of life. It is a right enshrined in the 1916proclamation. Everyone is entitled to decent affordable housing.

Tony Blair who thinks he is a statesman agreeing with the eradication of debt in developing countries. I would therefore challenge on him to cancel the huge amount of debt that the Housing Executive in the North of Ireland pays annually to the British Exchequer. This would allow the development of decent public sector and social housing within the North of Ireland and would close the gap in housing provision to the benefit of the many disadvantaged and disenfranchised communities in the North.

I support motion 166 and would also call on the government to take a more proactive role in resourcing the voluntary and community sector to allow the sector to develop and empower communities across the country.

For long enough government can be accused of nothing more than paying lip service. It is now time for them to give a commitment to real and meaningful partnerships. The building of genuine partnerships for mutual interests based upon mutual respect and cooperation are and should continue to be key building blocks within our party. Sinn Fein activists should continue to advocate for the right to social, economic, gender and cultural equality. We must also continue our role of building partnerships throughout the country in a strategic and organised fashion.

I support motion 161 and the development of a strategy highlighting the effects of poverty across the 32 counties. This is invaluable work that must be supported and resourced. We must continue to strive for the elimination of poverty within Irish society along with the right to a decent quality of life and equality of opportunity for everyone on this island. The need to eliminate poverty in Ireland needs not be explained at this Ard Fheis. While these motions are not the sole solutions if implemented they will enhance our strategic objectives. I would therefore urge all here today to support motions 152, 161 and 166.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP's Presidential Address to the 2005 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis.

A chairde

Seo bliain an chomóradh Céad Bliain ar an tsaol do Sinn Féin.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh gach duine atá anseo inniu, na hoifigigh, an ceannaireacht, na baill uilig agus chomh maith leis sin ár gcairde ón tír seo agus thar lear.

Tá súil agam go bhfuil sibh ag baint sult as an chaint agus dióspoireacht thar an deireadh seachtaine.

I want to welcome all of you here to this very unique gathering, the Ard Fheis, in the centenary year, of the only all-Ireland political party on this island.

An Céad - Centenary Year

100 years ago Sinn Féin was founded in this city.

This year Irish republicans will celebrate that event in every part of this island and beyond and begin preparations to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strikes. It will be a year of education and debate. It will be a year in which we will further advance the work of re-popularising Irish republicanism.

When the idea of Sinn Féin was conceived Ireland was awakening from the nightmare of the 19th century. But even in the midst of these horrors some dared to dream of a different Ireland -- a free Ireland. And from the beginning Sinn Féin extended a hand of friendship to unionists, while always asserting that the end of the Union was in the interests of all the people of this island.

It was a time of renewal and rebirth. It was a great period of debate, of exchanges of ideas as leaders and thinkers and activists, dreamers all, met and influenced each other. The result was the 1916 Rising and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, the founding document of modern Irish Republicanism and a charter of liberty with international as well as national importance.

It is our task -- our responsibility -- to see this vision realised.

I want to greet our international visitors, our delegates, members and activists and our Friends of Sinn Féin from the United States, Australia and Canada who do such a great job for us. I want to extend a particular céad míle failte to our team of MLAs, our MPs, our TDs, and especially to all the councillors elected here in the south since our last Ard Fheis.

I want to particularly commend Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the other TDs and our entire Leinster House team for the sterling service they give to this party. I want to thank you all, particularly those who stood as candidates for our party, whether you were elected or not. Pearse Doherty represents you all. His campaign is proof of what can be done.

And I want to thank everyone who votes for us and all our members and activists for all the work you are doing. There are others I want to welcome to the Ard Fheis. Annie Cahill, here in her own right but reminding us also of our friend and leader Joe Cahill.

A special welcome also to our two newly elected MEPs.You will see that there are changes in our national officer board. I want to thank Robbie Smith for his work as Ard Runaí and welcome Mitchel McLaughlin into that position. And I want to welcome Mary Lou McDonald who will be taking on the challenge of the Cathaoirleach, or National Chair of Sinn Féin.

Comhaghairdeas mór d'achan duine a thug vóta agus cuidíu dúinn sna toghcháin le bliain anuas. Comhaghairdeas d'ár n-iarrthóirí uilig.

I want this evening to deal fairly and squarely with some issues, which are of huge importance to us.

The Murder of Robert McCartney

I want to deal first of all with the dreadful murder of Robert McCartney. His murder was dreadful, not only because of the way he died and not only because it robbed his family of a father, a partner, a brother, a son. His murder was dreadful because it is alleged some republicans were involved in it.

That makes this a huge issue for us.

As President of Sinn Féin or as an individual I could not campaign for the victims of British or unionist paramilitary thuggery, if I was not as clear and as committed to justice for the McCartney family.

I have met with the McCartney family a number of times. And I remain in contact with them. I believe their demand for justice and truth is a just demand. I have pledged them my support and the support of this party.

Those responsible for the brutal killing of Robert McCartney should admit to what they did in a court of law. That is the only decent thing for them to do. Others with any information should come forward. I am not letting this issue go until those who have sullied the republican cause are made to account for their actions.

Republicans Reject Criminality

Twenty five years ago Margaret Thatcher couldn't criminalise us. The women prisoners in Armagh and the blanketmen and the hunger strikers in Long Kesh wouldn't allow her. That was then; this is now.

Michael McDowell has stepped into Margaret Thatcher's shoes. But he will not criminalise us either, because we will not allow him. And we won't allow anyone within republican ranks to criminalise this party or this struggle. There is no place in republicanism for anyone involved in criminality.

Our detractors will say we have a particular view of what criminality is. We have not. We know what a crime is both in the moral and legal sense, and our view is the same as the majority of people. We know that breaking the law is a crime.

But we refuse to criminalise those who break the law in pursuit of legitimate political objectives. Are we saying republicans can do no wrong? Of course not. We need to be as strong minded in facing up to wrong doing by republicans, as we are in opposing wrong doing by anyone else. But we refuse to retrospectively criminalise a legitimate century long struggle for freedom.

Campaigning for Irish unity

Sinn Féin is accused of recognising the Army Council of the IRA as the legitimate government of this island. That is not the case. The supreme governing and legislative body of Sinn Féin is the Ard Fheis. This is where this party makes its big decisions. This is where we elect our leadership, agree our policies and set in place our strategies.

I do not believe that the Army Council is the government of Ireland. Such a government will only exist when all the people of this island elect it. Does Sinn Féin accept the institutions of this state as the legitimate institutions of this state? Of course we do. But we are critical of these institutions. We are entitled to be.

The freedom won by those, who gave their lives in 1916 and in other periods, has been squandered by those who attained political power on their backs.

Apart from our criticism of the institutions themselves the reality is that they are partitionist and we want to see not only better institutions but open, transparent institutions of government representative of all the people of this island - and we make no apologies for that.

Do we accept partition? No, we do not accept partition. Do we accept British rule in our country? No, we do not. Do we want a United Ireland? Yes.

Last week we launched our campaign for the Irish government to bring forward a Green Paper on Irish Unity. There is a need for Irish people to engage on the shape, form and nature that a re-united Ireland will take. We want to see a grass roots discussion on all these issues. We want the government to formalise that debate and to fulfil its constitutional obligation.

Ba mhaith linn daoine ó gach cearn den tír seo Doire go Corcaigh, Baile Atha Cliath go Gaillimh, Ciarraí go Crossmaglen labhairt faoi seo.

Our opponents claim that our party is a threat to this state. We are a threat to those who preside over growing hospital waiting lists, a two tier health service, a housing crisis, a transport crisis and much more, all within an economy which is one of the wealthiest in Europe. We are a threat to those who believe that inequality is a good thing.

Partitionism is deeply ingrained within elements of the political establishment. It could not be otherwise after over 80 years. We are a threat to those who want to see partition sustained and maintained, because it protects the status quo. We are a threat to those who oppose the peace process. We are a threat to vested interests. We make no apologies for any of this. The threat we pose is entirely democratic and peaceful.

The threat we pose is the radical, progressive, political party we are building right across the island of Ireland. The threat we pose comes from the genuine allegiance and voluntary support of increasing numbers of people who want a very different society from that envisaged by those in government or opposition in the south or from within the old power blocs in the north.

The Peace Process in Crisis

We are people in struggle. We are a party, which prides itself on our ability to face up to challenges and find solutions. We need to be forthright therefore in recognising the depth of the crisis in the peace process and the shared responsibility for this.

Almost a year ago, speaking in Ballymun I warned that the Irish government was actively considering the exclusion of Sinn Féin from the political process. I warned that it was actively considering going back to the old agenda - to the failed policies and the crude politics of negative campaigning.

I made a direct appeal to Fianna Fáil members and supporters, and to nationalists and republicans the length and breadth of this island to join with us in reasserting the primacy of the peace process.

Why did I make those remarks at that time? I did so because at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis Minister after Minister lined up to attack Sinn Féin. And it was the same at all the other party conferences.

This had been their disposition since Sinn Féin's gains in the general election of May 2002, and the establishments defeat in the Nice Treaty referendum in 2001. So, they didn't want to talk about hospital closures, the lack of affordable housing, sub-standard schools, Irish sovereignty, the crumbling peace process, or the fact that their republicanism ends at the border.

Níor mhaith leo labhairt fá na scanallacha, fá na clúdaigh donna agus na deacrachtaí dá bpáirtí féin.

They didn't want to talk about endless lists of broken promises. What they were very focused on was the upcoming local government and European Union elections. And it wasn't just Minister McDowell, though he was leading the charge.

Remember the Taoiseach's relief when Nicky Kehoe just missed a seat by only 74 votes - in the Taoiseach's own constituency. That was the election when the PDs said that Fianna Fáil was too corrupt and too dishonest to be in government, before going on to join them in government.

In November 2003 Sinn Féin moved into becoming the largest pro-Agreement party in the north. That followed a lengthy negotiation which commenced after our negotiating team had obtained a firm commitment to a date for the postponed Assembly elections from the British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Irish government deeply resented our success in achieving that. Getting the British government to recognise that right was an achievement but it was not the aim of our negotiations. It was a necessary prerequisite for them.

The aim of the negotiations was to get the Good Friday Agreement moving forward, anchored in the political institutions, including the Assembly, and the all-Ireland political infrastructure.

Both governments doubted that David Trimble could be brought to embrace those concepts in the negotiations of that time. But in talks in Hillsborough Castle between the Sinn Féin leadership and the leadership of the UUP Mr. Trimble agreed to do just that. He agreed to play a full part in the political institutions, in the context of the IRA putting arms beyond use once again. And Tony Blair knows this. And Bertie Ahern knows this.

The IRA put arms beyond use - for a third time. And I outlined a peaceful direction for everyone to follow. But as is now infamously known Mr. Trimble walked away from that commitment following General de Chastelain's press conference. Mr. Trimble wasn't on his own. The Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister walked away as well.

The Old Consensus

Of course by now Dublin was accusing us of being in a 'power process' not a peace process. The election of Mary Lou McDonald and Bairbre de Brún and the surge of support for Sinn Féin in the local government contests across this state was the last straw for the establishment. The old consensus re-emerged.

Dhruid siad na ranganna agus thosaigh siad ag díriú isteach ar poblachtánaigh arís, ag ionsaí orthu sa phreas agus sa Dáil.

The leaderships of the Labour Party and Fine Gael have never been comfortable with the peace process. Now they colluded, once again, in a vicious anti-Sinn Féin agenda, and Fianna Fáil Ministers increasingly borrowed the invective of Michael McDowell's rhetoric. At the same time the DUP had emerged as the largest party in the north.

Working for a New Agreement

At Bodenstown last year I pointed out that the only way for Sinn Féin to meet these challenges was through putting together an inclusive agreement. I spelt out the need for republicans to take initiatives to bring about completion of the issues of policing and justice, the issues of armed groups and arms, and the issues of human rights, equality and sectarianism.

I also spelt out the need for full participation in the political institutions by the unionists. Our objective was clear. To restore the political institutions and end the crisis in the process. At that time the governments had bought into a DUP timeframe and put off negotiations until September.

It was left to republicans over the summer months, along with some brave people from unionist neighbourhoods, to keep the peace over the Orange marching season. And we accomplished this because of the courage of our representatives, including Gerry Kelly, even when the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy, the PSNI and the British parachute regiment pushed an unwelcome Orange march through Ardoyne.

I don't think a lot of republicans took me seriously when I pointed up the need for us to push for a comprehensive holistic agreement - and with good reason.

That good reason was Ian Paisley.

Republicans and everyone else, including many within the DUP, could not envisage a scenario where Ian Paisley would want to share power with the rest of us. Our objective was to create the conditions in which Ian Paisley would join with the rest of us in the new dispensation set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

It wasn't that he would want to. Of course, he doesn't want to. Our intention was to ensure that he had no option - if he wanted political power, he had to share it with us. It was also my view that unionism was using the IRA as an excuse to prevent progress in the peace process. I said that in an unrehearsed remark. And I went on to say that republicans needed to remove that excuse from them.

Difficult Negotiations

As November moved into December Ian Paisley, for the first time in his lengthy political career, was being challenged by the willingness of the Sinn Féin leadership to use our influence once again to resolve the problems which he was putting up as obstacles to progress, and as a condition for his participation in the structures of the Good Friday Agreement.

These negotiations were the most difficult that I have been involved in. Not least because of the approach of the British and Irish governments. They bought into the Paisleyite agenda at every turn.

Sinn Féin's approach was two fold. We were trying to get the DUP on board. We were also trying to ensure that any proposals from the governments, and any agreement emerging from these discussions was rooted firmly in the Good Friday Agreement.

At the beginning of these negotiations the governments agreed that if the DUP was not up for a deal then the two governments would come forward with proposals to move the process forward.

Tá muid ag fanacht leis na moltaí sin go fóill.

By this time republicans were starting to get increasingly nervous. Even the cynical and dubious were starting to contemplate the possibility that Paisley might; just might do a deal. That wasn't why they were nervous. They were nervous about the price which was being demanded. They were grappling with the issue of policing alongside other issues.

It is my view that we would have risen to these challenges in the context of an agreement even though they created profound difficulties for us. And what was the contribution from republicans?

The IRA leadership had agreed, in the context of a comprehensive agreement:

· to support a comprehensive agreement by moving into a new mode which reflects its determination to see the transition to a totally peaceful society

· to give instructions to all its volunteers not to engage in any activity which might endanger that agreement

· to conclude the process to completely and verifiably putting all their arms beyond use, speedily, and if possible, by the end of December

· to allow two clergymen to be present as observers during this process to further enhance public confidence.

Policing

I also agreed in a given context to ask the Ard Chomhairle to call a special Ard Fheis to consider our attitude to the PSNI. Policing is a key issue. In our view it can only be conducted as a public service by those who are democratically accountable. And while progress has been made over recent years the PSNI has not yet been brought to that point.

Sinn Féin is actively working to create an accountable policing service. We support a range of restorative justice and community initiatives to deal with the problems created by the absence of an acceptable policing service in the north.

Let me digress briefly to make an important point. The policing vacuum cannot be filled by physical punishments, no matter how frustrated communities may be by those who engage in anti-social behaviour. There is no place for so called punishment beatings or shootings. Our party has a lengthy opposition to these. They are counter productive. They should stop.

This party was also prepared to share power with the DUP. That remains our position. There is no reason not to. We respect their mandate. We got them to accept the Good Friday Agreement. For their part the two governments pledged to honour commitments made repeatedly by them in the past on a range of outstanding and important issues of rights, demilitarisation, equality, prisoners and so on. Then it all came unstuck.

Thit achan rud as a chéile, agus tá sé ina smidiríní go fóill.

Ian Paisley delivered his 'acts of humiliation' speech. Mr. Paisley's desire to "humiliate republicans"; to have republicans "wear sack cloth and ashes"; and the DUP's constant use of offensive language, was not and is not the language of peace making. For many across nationalist and republican Ireland this was too much. Especially when the governments supported the DUP position that the IRA be photographed putting their arms beyond use.

Ian Paisley didn't even have to negotiate for this demand. The two governments supported it from the beginning. It was a demand, not surprising, that Sinn Féin could not deliver. A partnership of equals can never be delivered or built through a process of humiliation. The governments went ahead and launched their draft outline of a comprehensive agreement, even though there was no agreement.

New negotiations

You will recall that the two governments gave a commitment at the beginning of this negotiation to find a way forward if there was a failure to get a deal. So Sinn Féin and the British government entered into new talks. The Irish government should have been there. But the Irish government refused to attend. The British government set out their views. They agreed to talk to the Irish government to try and agree a joint government paper and bring it back to us.

We gave the British government written proposals of what we thought was required, and we sent a copy to the Irish government. The British drafted a written response to this and when Mr. Blair met the Taoiseach in Brussels they discussed these matters. But at our next meeting the British told us that the Irish government would not agree a paper with them, did not want them to present any paper to us, and had reservations about this approach.

During this period I was constantly in contact with the Taoiseach's department and the government was eventually persuaded to send senior officials to a trilateral meeting. It was a good meeting even though the officials were only there as observers.

The Northern Bank Robbery

After that meeting we broke for Christmas. Then came news of the Northern Bank robbery. The IRA is accused of that robbery. And of other incidents. It denies this. I accept those denials. Others don't. The truth is that no one knows at this time who did the robbery, except the people involved.

Martin McGuinness and I were accused by the Taoiseach of having prior knowledge. That is untrue. But one thing is for certain activities like this have no place in the peace process. The rest is history or what passes for history in these McCarthyite times.

Sending a Clear Message

Just two months ago the process was close to a deal which many thought was not possible. Now the momentum is going the other way. As a first step in trying to move the process out of this crisis I want to send a very, very clear message to everyone. That message is that the peace process is the only way forward.

I do not underestimate the depth of the crisis or the difficulties. But I am absolutely certain that there is a way beyond this crisis.

Níl aon bhealach eile, is cuma cé chomh deacair is atá sé, caithfidh muid an phróiseas a chur le chéile aris.

The peace process is our struggle

Republicans must make sure that we recognise failures in the process quickly; that we assess them; that we criticise ourselves were necessary; that we learn what has to be learned and emerge stronger and more able to fulfil our historic mission. It is by learning from failures that we will find the way forward. We will learn to improve and strenthen our struggle. And let me make it clear the peace process is our struggle.

It is as a result of our tenacity that the balance of forces has changed on this island to the extent that the conservative parties are now seeking to stunt and to stop the growth of the main vehicle of republican struggle - that is Sinn Féin.

I am also very conscious that a lot of the effort to damage Sinn Féin is through targeting me and others in our national leadership. Our opponents are trying to damage my credibility on the premise that your credibility and our ability to pursue our objectives, will be damaged also.

In the normal cut and thrust of party politics let me tell you that I would not put up with these highly personalised attacks. I would not put up with the campaign of vilification by those who are interested only in petty or narrow-minded party political concerns. It isn't worth it. But this isn't about me, it is about the peace process. I have no personal political ambitions. That is not a criticism of those who do

But the peace process is bigger than party politics. So is the right of the people of this island to live together in freedom and in peace and with justice. That is why I am an Irish republican. I believe the people of this island - orange and green united - can order our own affairs better than any British government. That is our right. That is our entitlement. That is why I have given my life to this struggle. That is why I take my responsibilities so seriously.

The national responsibility of the Irish government

There is a heavy responsibility on the Irish government. It needs to demonstrate that it is as committed to change as its rhetoric implies. The Taoiseach needs to consider whether the invective of his own Ministers and some of his own remarks are creating the atmosphere necessary for constructive engagement. He needs to consider whether his government's current strategy is the right way to go forward. Such approaches were tried in the past - they failed.

We have always worked in good faith with the Taoiseach - for over a decade now. I have acknowledged his contribution and I do so again. The peace process was never above politics but it should always be above party politics. Every party has their own view of how things could go forward - inside and outside the negotiations. That's fair enough.

Of course there are disagreements. But there was a sense of nationalists working together. That while we may disagree on tactics we were going in the same direction. All that has changed. Because in the script written by the Irish and British establishments Sinn Féin was never meant to be anything more than a bit player.

The fact that we are now the largest pro-Agreement party in the north and the third largest party on the island has changed the dynamic of politics here. Of course the government wants the process to succeed, but now its trying to do this solely on its terms.

The IRA

The British and Irish governments are seeking to reduce all of the issues to one - that is the issue of the IRA - even though it knows that the IRA is not the only issue. Historically and in essence the Irish Republican Army is a response to British rule in Ireland. It is a response to deep injustice.

In contemporary terms it is evidence of the failure of politics in the north and a consequence of the abandonment by successive Irish governments of nationalists in that part of our country. And let me be clear about this.

Our leadership is working to create the conditions where the IRA ceases to exist. Do I believe this can be achieved? Yes I do. But I do not believe that the IRA can be wished away, or ridiculed or embarrassed or demonised or repressed out of existence.

Hundreds of IRA Volunteers have fallen in the struggle. There is justifiable pride among republican families about the role of their loved ones. When people decided to take up arms it was because they believed there was no alternative. But there is an alternative. That is a positive. It is in tatters at this time. But it can be rebuilt. That is another positive. The IRA cessation continues. That also is a positive. The IRA has demonstrated time and again its willingness to support genuine efforts to secure Irish freedom by peaceful means. Another positive. I do not underestimate the difficulties.

I take nothing for granted. But let no-one ignore, diminish or belittle the progress that has been made.

Republicans are up for the Challenge

Thug sé dóchas agus ardú meanma do glún iomlán de muintir na h'Éireann -- thuaidh agus theas.

The peace process has been one of the greatest achievements of this generation. And I'm not just talking about the republican contribution - though that should not be undervalued or dismissed. As Irish republicans we believe in independence and self-determination for the people of this island. So we see beyond the process to that achievable goal.

But we take pride also in our achievements thus far. And we are determined to play a positive role both in the process and in the political life of this nation. Sinn Féin wants to tackle the problems now. It has never been in our interest to prolong the peace process. It does not serve those we represent or the country as a whole.

A process as protracted as this one runs the risk of being undermined by those who are against change. Elements of the British system, elements of unionism and unionist paramilitaries, elements on the fringes of republicanism, do not want this process to succeed.

Sinn Féin is battling against all these - day in and day out in parts of the north. And we're not about to give up. We know that as long as we make progress toward the achievement of our goals those who fundamentally disagree with those goals will resort to foul means or fair to deny us the possibility of moving forward.

So this is not a time for republicans to be inward looking. It is a time for forward thinking. Our opponents now have a project. Despite their protestations it is not about tackling criminality. It is about eroding our integrity and credibility among those people who are thinking of joining this party or voting for us. It's as cynical as that.

Sinn Féin has used our influence with the IRA in a positive way. I believe there is merit in us continuing to do this. But we cannot make peace on our own.

We cannot implement the Good Friday Agreement on our own. We cannot establish a working viable power sharing government on our own. We cannot resolve the outstanding issues of policing, and demilitarisation, and equality and human rights on our own. The British and Irish governments and the unionists have their parts to play. Whatever else happens the peace process is our priority.

Inevitably that will mean more hard choices, more hard decisions for Irish republicans as we push ahead with our political project and as we seek to achieve a United Ireland.

Those who want fundamental change have to stretch the furthest and take the greatest risks. Let us continue, despite the difficulties -- to reach out to unionism to build a just and lasting peace on our island.

Ian Paisley says he is willing to share power with us. Let us test him. Again. We know it will be a battle a day. We know as the leading nationalist party in the north and the largest pro-Agreement party, that there are huge responsibilities on us. We are up to that task.

Building an Ireland of equals

Fundamental to Sinn Féin since its foundation has been the belief that the Irish people have the capacity to shape our own society, to build our own economy and to govern our own country to suit our needs and our character as a nation.

The past decade has seen an unprecedented growth in the Irish economy. But the management of that economy by the Government in this State has not challenged the deep-seated inequality in Irish society. This inequality exists at many levels.

For example, people with disabilities have no legislative rights, and the Celtic Tiger stops at the border. The north survives on susbsidies from the British Exchequer and with some of the highest levels of poverty in Western Europe. Throughout the rest of Ireland the gap between rich and poor has widened.

It is a scandal that 15% of children under 15 in this State suffer from poverty - in other words they live in households that struggle every week to provide the basics such as food, clothing and heating.

The public services which working people pay for through taxation have been mismanaged, badly planned and neglected by successive Governments.

Our health services are limping from crisis to crisis, especially in the disgraceful state of accident and emergency units. Because of underfunding and lack of resources our education system is struggling to cope.

Children with special needs are not provided with the facilities they require. The Fianna Fáil/PD government has no housing policy. It leaves it all to private developers to reap big profits as housing prices spiral beyond the reach of people on average incomes. Those with a mortgage face decades of debt.

Many find themselves in badly planned new housing estates without schools, public transport or childcare.

The government has not used the prosperity wisely for the benefit of the maximum number of people. In fact the court recently ruled that deductions taken from old peoples pensions in state homes is illegal. This practice was defended by the Tanaiste but in truth all the other parties allowed it as did successive governments over the years. It is still not clear how much was robbed from these senior citizens but the government's own estimates put it between 500million and 2billion EURO.

So the government has not invested in the people or in the future.

Chuir siad na milliún punt amú le cúig bliana déag anuas.

It's time for Change. But we all know this. We know the failures of successive governments - the point is to find the solutions.

And that is what Sinn Féin is about. We are working with people to bring about real change for the better in the here and now - not at some distant time in the future. And we measure our success by the amount of positive change we have brought about.

For example, after Sinn Féin's success the Government has rediscovered its social conscience. Or at least it now recognises the key social and economic issues that Sinn Féin has been campaigning on.

They have yet to properly address these issues but they have been moved. So too on the National Question. The growth of Sinn Féin has forced most of the parties to rediscover their nationalist or republican roots. That reflects public support for these concepts.

Sin an fath go bhfuil muid ag guí ar muintir iomlán an oileáin seo. Is cuma cén páirtí ina bhfuil sibh cuidigí linn ag brú ar aghaidh d'Éire Aontaithe.

Public support for the peace process will bring them back to that process as well. But progress demands more than rhetoric from these other parties.

Sinn Féin needs to continue to grow. Our goal is to have a Sinn Féin cumann in every electoral ward across Ireland. We have to open our party up to women and to people who will bring their own life experiences and values.

There is also a need to build a national mood for positive change, which can harness the creative power of what people do best in society - the imagination and energy of children and young people; the commitment of parents and carers; the dedication of those who work tirelessly in the voluntary, and community sector; or in the health services; the skills and talents of workers in many fields.

All those who seek political progress must mobilise that good will and turn that desire for a better society into an unstoppable movement for genuine equality. Sinn Féin has no copyright on this. There is plenty of work and lots of space for everyone. So let us move the struggle forward in the widest sense possible. Let us move it forward also by building our party.

In the time ahead we face many party political challenges -- four election campaigns -- the Meath by-election, toghchain Udaras na Gaeltachta and Local Government and Westminster elections in the north. We will also face a referendum on the EU Constitution.

There is a lot of organisational and recruiting work to be done and I want to appeal to people to join Sinn Féin. I particularly want to commend Ógra Sinn Féin for their dedicated work and also the staff of An Phoblacht.

A lot of my remarks today are aimed at other political parties. The British government scarcely gets a mention. That is a sign of these times. I am conscious also of conflicts and famines and disasters in other parts of the world. I am conscious of efforts to resolve problems in the Middle East. I salute these efforts and I salute Palestinian Ambassador who is here with us today.

Meanwhile the imperatives of Irish domestic politics tear the Irish peace process asunder and Sinn Féin is savaged as the British government is let off the hook.

Is that what the republican and nationalist people of this island want? I think not. I think they want us to face up to our responsibilities and others to do likewise. And I think they want Sinn Féin to continue to be a persuasive voice in this process.

Níor chúlaigh muid ó dúshlán riamh ní bheidh muid ag cúlú ón dúshtán seo.

So let us all get our act together. Let us find a fair and equitable accommodation with unionism. It is my conviction that the DUP and Sinn Féin will be in government together.

Let us put it up to the British government to do the right thing by Ireland. The most important thing we all have to do at this time is to rebuild the peace process

We are up to that task. Turning back is not an option. We're moving forward -- forward to a better future.

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Sinn Féin has a political agenda. It is an agenda of change and at the heart of that agenda is our all-Ireland program and strategies.

The all-Ireland Agenda requires a new type of political activism. We need to avoid the partitionism that characterizes every other party on this island.

The Peace Process opened up political space for Republican and all Ireland politics. The Good Friday Agreement was not a Republican document: but it does provide the opportunity to build towards Irish unity through our all-Ireland agenda.

Let us take an example, the GFA talked about affirming rights through Bills of Rights, North and South and through the potential for an All-Ireland Charter of Rights. The joint commission of the two Human Rights committees established by the two Governments came out in favour of those rights being legally enforceable. That would require something approaching an all-Ireland court, a sharing of judicial authority on an all-Ireland scale. Obviously, pushing this agenda forward would be of huge significance in advancing to political unity.

Our opponents know this and that is why they are stalling. Their delay disadvantages those most in need, the disadvantaged, the disabled, non-English speakers, ethnic minorities, women, children, the elderly and workers generally. Sinn Féin wants to see meaningful social and economic rights enforced on an all-Ireland scale. That is why the party has engaged in a consultation with the social partners, from grassroots to national level, with the aim of building a broad front demanding the implementation of this promise.

Republicans need to link their work for Irish unity with the demand for meaningful social, economic, cultural and personal rights. We need to go out there and engage with people to build a demand for all of this from all those groups who would benefit from a move towards real equality.

Similarly, the party has produced a Green Paper calling for the Irish Government to start building towards Irish Unity. The imperative of Irish unity is clear from a business perspective and from a social perspective. Given the failure of others to engage in this work, it is all the more necessary for Sinn Fein to engage with communities, trade unions, business interests and NGOs in building this demand at all levels.

And of course we must continue to engage with unionists in a way that allow them to feel comfortable and to participate in this debate on their own terms. Significantly the DUP, in the negotiation running up to last December, signed up for the all-Ireland agenda set out in the Good Friday Agreement and began a constructive engagement with the Irish government and with nationalist opinion for the first time. I welcome these tentative but significant first steps.

The opportunities for developing all-Ireland approaches to planning for economic and social development are all about us and they are relevant from Derry to Kerry. Only a united Ireland with popular democracy can guarantee all of these issues are effectively addressed but by campaigning for all-Ireland approaches we are also campaigning for unity.

Delivering on all-Ireland social and economic integration, the removal to obstacles to further integration and the adoption of all-Ireland policy planning frameworks undercuts the political basis of partition.

The basis for partition was sectarian domination and political inequality. Driving forward the equality agenda in an all-Ireland framework will undermine the historical, the social and the political basis of partition. Through advancing social and economic integration we move ever closer to political unity.

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As I have said on a number of occasions in recent years this area of work for Sinn Fein, outreach with unionists and protestants, is probably the most important work we can be doing.

It is a difficult area of work. It is a difficult engagement because we are dealing with emotions on both sides generated by centuries of a brutal conflict.

We are also wrestling with the consequences of a society where political power was in the hands of one section of people who are having difficulties coming to terms with sharing that power with the rest of us.

This dialogue is taking place against a background of competing political allegiances and demands arising out of the conflict. These difficulties should spur us on not deflect us. National reconciliation between nationalists and unionists is very much underdeveloped yet it is a crucial element to creating the conditions out of which a new Ireland will emerge.

The atmosphere within which this work can best be developed and bear fruit is of course an agreement between us all. That is what the Good Friday Agreement was about. It recognised the triangular nature of relationships, within the six counties, within this island and between us all and Britain.

For republicans the most important dimension is the links between those who live here; those who have to share this space we call Ireland. There remains a lot of distrust on all sides. Republicans believe that unionists are insatiable, always demanding more from republicans and not appreciating the enormity of gestures such as that offered up last December by the IRA.

At times we wonder can a deal be done with unionists. And while we are very disappointed the reality is that we were close to a breakthrough last December. I believe if we had all the elements of the GFA functioning well then the task of reconciliation would be a lot easier.

The political leaderships of unionists and nationalists would be leading by example, sharing power at an all-Ireland level and within the northern Executive. This working relationship would send a powerful signal out to all the communities. It would help create a climate to build strong links at the interfaces in Belfast. It would help encourage those in the Orange Order who refuse to speak to residents to do so. That I believe is the best context for developing this area of outreach.

Of course we have to deal with the fact that there is no agreement and this area of work has to continue. And I am satisfied that over the next year we will continue to meet and discuss with all shades of unionism how we share the future for the good of all the people of this country.

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin opening the peace process debate at the party's Ard Fheis said:

The recurring theme of our Ard Fheiseanna over the past number of years has been Building an Ireland of Equals. This is not just a slogan it is our firm objective and in order to achieve it we must first build a durable and successful Peace Process. At the moment the only aspect of the peace process that remains is the IRA cessation. No dialogue. No process. No engagement, but the re-emergence of a security agenda in response to the electoral advance of Sinn Féin.

By the 6th of May Sinn Féin will have contested 4 elections. The only party who can do so because we are the only all Ireland party.

What even our most strident critics must realise is that when these elections are over they will have to come back to face a re-energised and more determined Sinn Féin. We will put our trust in the electorate and I believe that they will see through the opportunism, the shortsightedness and cynicism of the establishment parties. The electorate have long known that the status quo is not an option, that stalemate is not an option. Both are wholly unacceptable.

Sinn Féin is ready to face up to our responsibility to help resolve the present difficulties. Our priority and primary responsibility is to rebuild this process and deliver the real peace that the people are entitled to. That is where our energies will be directed in the time ahead.

While not underestimating the current difficulties our commitment to the peace process and to the advancement of our social and economic agenda of equality and justice will be to the fore in our deliberations and that of our delegates and activists this weekend.

While there are wide ranging issues up for discussion, given the current situation, there needs to be a heavy emphasis on rebuilding the peace process which has effectively been put in deep freeze by the two governments while they concentrate on stopping the Sinn Féin advance. This has been the approach of the two governments ever since the DUP walked away from a deal in early December.

The crisis in the Peace Process is real. To resolve it requires stretching ourselves even more. It also means challenging partitionist Ireland, conservative Ireland, post-nationalist Ireland who are on an offensive against Sinn Fein because we challenge the inadequacy of their politics. Their logic is a return to the failed policies of the past. Some now advocate exclusion, repression and criminalisation. The two governments have joined them in the offensive against republican Ireland. But at some point the two governments will have to set about the task of rebuilding the peace process and that can only be done through a process of dialogue and engagement. There is no other way. Sinn Fein is ready to begin this work today. Dialogue and engagement has brought enormous progress over the past ten years. The political situation has been transformed. That progress needs to be consolidated and build upon.

So, despite the current difficulties this Ard Fheis will concentrate on the positive task of rebuilding the Peace Process. We will go away from here confident of the success of our peace strategy to date and in the knowledge that there is much work still to be done to bring the peace process to a successful conclusion and to build towards

a different Ireland;

a new Ireland;

a united, free and independent Ireland.

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Mary Lou McDonald MEP speaking in support of motions 63, 71 and 79 during the live section of the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2005 has said that political grandstanding and cheap political point scoring is no substitute for solid work and political progress.

The people of Ireland Irish endorsed the Good Friday Agreement. Both governments have a responsibility to work for its' full implementation. The Irish government cannot simply play second fiddle to a British or Unionist lead agenda. They must challenge any attempts to frustrate the implementation of the agreement and the political change envisaged in it. All of the political game playing of resent weeks does not alter this reality.

Playing for electoral advantage or cheap political point scoring must be set aside in the interests of the process. Political grandstanding is no substitute for solid work and political progress. Dublin must re-commit itself to an inclusive dialogue and negotiation.

Because when the dust has settled all of the outstanding issues around the democratic institutions, the equality agenda and policing must be resolved.

Within the agreement there are clear commitments to acknowledge the suffering and loss of victims and survivors of the conflict in Ireland. This week, British Secretary of State Paul Murphy has said that it is too early to begin a truth process outside of a political settlement.

But there is clearly a need to begin a genuine debate among all relevant parties on the timing and purpose of a truth process.

The British government have no right to tell the people of Ireland when or how they should develop a peace process. They are neither impartial observers nor independent ring holders in an internal Irish conflict. They were active protagonists in the conflict in Ireland. Especially their active role in collusion.

People from across the political spectrum want, and they deserve, truth and closure.

We are committed to the complete disarmament of all armed groups who have been involved in the conflict in Ireland. This is at the heart of the peace process. To provide a political pathway out of conflict and into an era of justice and equality in Ireland. And when Sinn Fein say armed groups, we mean all armed groups; British, Unionist/Loyalist and Republican.

The December deal held out the possibility of putting of all IRA weapons beyond use in a matter of weeks. This was a brave and historic offer. One that must be matched by others.

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Sinn Féin MLA for Newry Armagh Conor Murphy speaking for the Ard Comhairle on Motion 214 said "Rather than press the British government to either take on rejectionist unionists or to implement outstanding aspects of the Agreement, the Dublin government has chosen to lead the charge in the campaign to halt the growth of Sinn Fein.

Despite our obvious and justifiable anger at all of this, Sinn Fein is prepared to enter into meaningful dialogue at any time, to face up to all of the difficult issues and to make this process work."

Mr. Murphy said:

This week the two governments began the test on the transmission of TG4 across the North. Since it has taken seven years for this fairly modest commitment under the Good Friday Agreement to be delivered by the governments -- should we be surprised then that many of their commitments on key issues such as demilitarisation, a new beginning to policing, justice, equality and human rights remain outstanding.

Perhaps they have they not been able to bring the hard men in the NIO on board for a process of genuine change.

But this much is obvious, there is clearly much more than one outstanding issue yet to be delivered to secure the full implementation of the Agreement.

Despite the failure of the two governments to deliver on the promises they made in the Joint Declaration of May 2003, even when republicans stepped up to the mark in October that year, Sinn Fein engaged in good faith in last year's negotiations with two objectives in mind.

Firstly to defend the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement and secure its full implementation and secondly to get the DUP to sign up to a process of political change.

We secured the first. Indeed Sinn Fein made significant advances across a range of issues, including the operation of the Agreement. The DUP entered the negotiations seeking new vetoes over the appointment of nationalist ministers, any decisions those ministers might take and over the operation of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council. They achieved none of these.

Sinn Fein also secured agreement on;

∑ The removal of the British government's power to suspend the Assembly.

∑ The removal of the unionist veto over nationalist ministers attending All-Ireland Ministerial Council meetings.

In addition, as a result of our determined efforts;

∑ All ministers will be required to attend Executive meetings -- something the DUP refused to do in the past.

∑ All ministers will be required to attend All-Ireland meetings, which the DUP also refused to do in the past.

∑ The attempt to erode the joint status of the First and Deputy First Ministers has been resisted.

∑ The integrity of the All-Ireland institutions has been defended as have the equality provisions in the Agreement.

Sinn Fein also achieved progress on a range of issues that others had given up on, including;

∑ Policing, including the transfer of powers from Westminster.

∑ Demilitarisation

∑ Participation by Northern MPs and MEPs in the Oireachtas.

∑ The repeal of repressive legislation.

∑ A peace dividend.

∑ The repair of the electoral register.

∑ New powers for the Human Rights Commission.

∑ Plastic bullets.

∑ The removal of the ban on non-British nationals in senior civil service posts.

∑ The establishment of the All-Ireland interparliamentary forum and the All-Ireland Civic Forum.

A substantial piece of good work by any account. And, on top of that, we secured a commitment to an unprecedented and historic initiative by the IRA.

That all of this floundered on Ian Paisley's unrealisable demand for the humiliation of the IRA is hugely frustrating. That the two governments backed that demand, knowing it was unachievable, is disgraceful. That the Taoiseach felt obliged to apologise to Ian Paisley for momentarily deviating from his rejectionist viewpoint is, frankly, embarrassing.

Rather than press the British government to either take on rejectionist unionists or to implement outstanding aspects of the Agreement, the Dublin government has chosen to lead the charge in the campaign to halt the growth of Sinn Fein.

Despite our obvious and justifiable anger at all of this, Sinn Fein is prepared to enter into meaningful dialogue at any time, to face up to all of the difficult issues and to make this process work.

Regrettably, our detractors have been fighting the elections since December. This is nothing new. Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and the PD's have always campaigned for our opponents in Northern elections.

But we are confident our peace strategy will be endorsed with a strengthened mandate in the coming elections, and increased strength will enhance our ability to press for more political change across this island.

We will not be criminalised, discredited nor, indeed, distracted from the task ahead. Of that you can all be sure.

Go raibh maith agaibh.

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Five years ago the Government published a National Childcare Strategy. But because of their total lack of commitment, childcare places are still in short supply and far too expensive. For many, it is like a second mortgage. For others, it is totally out of reach. As long as access to childcare is determined by whether parents can afford to pay for it, there will never be equality in Ireland.

As a father of three and husband of a hard-working woman, I can tell you that childcare is an issue for all parents. But it disproportionately affects women, who are the majority of primary or sole carers of children in Ireland. In fact the National Women's Council has identified the lack of affordable quality childcare as THE SINGLE MOST SIGNIFICANT BARRIER to women's equal participation in all aspects of society. The impact on working class women and lone parents is even greater, as lack of childcare locks them into poverty.

Without childcare, the parent either cannot work, cannot work full-time or cannot obtain the further education or training that would qualify them for better paid work. So women workers get stuck in lower paid low level or part-time positions, often earning less than minimum wage. Thus lack of childcare is the biggest contributor to the ongoing pay gap between men and women. So if you don't have childcare, your income remains low. And if your income remains low, you can't afford childcare, and you're trapped. This is why lone parent families have the highest rate of consistent poverty in Ireland.

So childcare is a litmus for a Government's commitment to social and economic justice. Motion 210 commits Sinn Féin to continue to show leadership on this issue and make childcare a priority. We must demand affordable childcare for all, including universal state provision of pre-school for all children from the ages of 3 to 5, and universal provision of early childhood education and care, modelled on best practice in other countries. Because childcare, available to all as of right, is a necessary precondition for equality in this state.

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Seán Crowe T.D. speaking to motion 169 in the name of the Ard Comhairle. The health service in this state is in disarray and is plagued by inequalities. I would like to address my points specifically to the ongoing crisis in Accident and Emergency in hospitals across the State. Both the staff, who are work in intolerable conditions and patients attending A & E are suffering unnecessarily as a result of government inaction.

This crisis is preventable.

The government's failure is both an indication of its incompetence and its lack of will to solve the problems. It is a symptom of the failure of the Government to implement its own Health Strategy

In my own constituency I have listened to patients and their families talking of some of experiences in Accident and Emergency in Tallaght Hospital. They have told me of the horror of lying for days on hospital trolleys and the shortage of basic amenities like pillows and water jugs.

The Minister for Health should visit the A & E in Tallaght hospital to see for herself the unacceptable situation which patients, their families and staff are forced to tolerate.

These are conditions reminiscent of a developing country not a state which has had an economic boom for the last ten years. People are rightly infuriated that in this day and age that the state cannot provide the basic resources to protect the sick and elderly within our society.

This situation is by no means unique to Tallaght. Recently the Irish Nurses Organisation highlighted the fact that in one day alone there were 422 patients were on trolleys in hospitals across the state.

Many of the remedies are in the Government's own Health Strategy which it has failed to implement. These include:

  • More acute beds in our hospitals as promised
  • The recruitment of the additional nurses required
  • The roll-out of promised Primary Care centres to help take the pressure off our hospitals
  • The conclusion of the negotiations with hospital consultants for a new contract and exclusive working by new consultants in the public system
  • Restoration of A&E services in local hospitals where they have been cut.

Sinn Féin rejects a the current healthcare system where access to quality health care is increasingly dependent on ability to pay and not on need.

As the motion from the Ard Comhairle states we will continue to campaign for an end to the two-tier health service in this state and its replacement with a truly national, equitable and efficient health services where access to services are on the basis of need alone.

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Sinn Féin Councillor David Cullinane speaking in favour of motions 197,198,199 and 200 dealing with cancer care services in this state said "The government's centralised approach which forces many people in this state to travel over a hundred miles or more for Radiotherapy treatment is an absolute disgrace." Councillor Cullinane said:

The issue of cancer care is one of the few issues that unites political parties and people the length and breadth of this island. I am sure there is not an individual in this hall who has not been in some way affected by the scourge of cancer. The facts are that one in three people living on this Island will develop cancer, one in four will die. However while the issue of cancer itself transcends party politics it is vital that we as an opposition party point out the glaring inequalities and lack of cancer care services that prevails in this state. From cervical cancer care, to Radiotherapy to colon cancer screening, the inequalities and lack of services is a national scandal.

One in 25 Irish women will develop cervical cancer and approximately 60 women die of the disease each year. According to Dr Mary Condren, a Dublin based GP a number of women are at risk of developing cervical cancer due to the fact that they cannot afford a smear test. Over 28% of women have medical cards but disgracefully under the terms of the medical card scheme, they are not entitled to cervical cancer screening, so many may never have had a smear test. This is no way for a first world country, one of the so-called wealthiest in the world, to treat its female population. This scandal should end immediately and I call on the Irish Government to immediately introduce free cervical screening for all women aged 25 and over.

Another scandal is the issue of Radiotherapy services in this state. The government's centralised approach which forces many people in this state to travel over a hundred miles or more for Radiotherapy treatment is an absolute disgrace. The government favours super-regional cancer centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway and ignores the plight of people in the Southeast, North West and other regions who are forced to travel. International best practise on provision of cancer services demands that all three modalities of treatment, Chemotherapy, Surgery and Radiotherapy should all be provided on one site, under one roof. According to the National Cancer Care Alliance failure to do so results in 20% reduced outcome for cancer patients. This is in effect apartheid in the provision of cancer care services in this state and cannot be tolerated.

Sinn Fein demands immediate action from part-time Health Minister Mary Harney. We demand free cervical screening for all women over 25. We demand the immediate roll out of the National Breast Check programme and the extension of the programme to extend the age limit to include women up to the age of 70. We demand the introduction of a colon cancer screening programme given that colon cancer kills 1800 Irish people every year. We demand world class, regionalised cancer care services, including Radiotherapy which ensures that cancer care is provided on the basis of need and without discrimination in terms of ability to pay or geographical location. We demand that equality be at the core of delivering on major reform of cancer care services in this state and on this island. I ask delegates to vote in favour of motions 197 to 200.

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Sinn Féin representative from Armagh Siobhan Vallely - speaking to motions 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189 & 190 on Children & Special Needs said "The children most affected by the shortcomings of both systems are the most vulnerable in our society who need help to access the school curriculum, to develop their skills and reach their full potential as citizens."

The record of the relevant Departments in both parts of this island in providing for children with special needs has been extremely poor. As with many other areas which this section of the Ard Fhéis will debate, there has been a record of consistent historical under-provision and under-funding. That historical deficit has resulted in the growing frustration, anger and dismay that is felt among the parents and primary carers of children with special needs, and widespread concern among teachers, principals and other advocates at what appears to be totally uncoordinated plans regarding existing and future provision for those with special needs. The children most affected by the shortcomings of both systems are the most vulnerable in our society who need help to access the school curriculum, to develop their skills and reach their full potential as citizens.

Time and time again when parents or primary carers contact our Party representatives and activists to lobby on behalf of their children's welfare, the lack of psychological services, speech therapists and occupational therapists and the inability to gain access to those existing services are frequently mentioned. I would also take this opportunity to commend our Sinn Féin Deputies in Leinster House on their introduction to the House of the recent motion on Special Educational Needs.

A common feature for children with special needs is the failure of health and education authorities to work together at a local level to meet the needs of those children. Young people value their school life but need support from school staff and health professionals to manage their condition effectively. Unfortunately, there is considerable confusion about whose responsibility it is to provide support at school for children with special needs. Action is required to ensure effective joined up solutions, in partnerships with the parents/primary carers and the child, which will maximise the educational opportunities for all pupils with special health needs.

This motion before the Ard Fhéis is about real people. It is about families and children who often struggle against the odds and about people with disabilities who demand their right to education. It is about parents and primary carers whose lives revolve totally around their children and the struggle to allow them to reach their full potential. All they ask for are the proper supports and rights that has promised them repeatedly. [Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that there must be assistance extended free of charge, whenever possible, "to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child's achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development." ]

To achieve that goal, there must be accelerated investment and effort on the part of all relevant Departments to ensure that people with special educational needs and their parents/primary carers are provided with proper and appropriate services which are timely, efficient and child-centred.

A necessary prequisite to this must be the immediate provision by the Irish and British Governments of all the necessary additional financial, personnel and other resources required to accelerate delivery of the Middletown Centre for Autism, County Armagh, which was initiated by Martin McGuinness in his term as Minister of Education in the Six County Executive.

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Sinn Féin representative for Ballycastle Cara McShane speaking on motions 206 & 207 on Obesity & Diabetes said "At present, it is estimated that around 10 per cent of the overall health budgets in Ireland currently go on treating the complications of diabetes. We need to bring forward positive interventions to impact positively upon the lifestyles of children and adolescents, and to prevent an increase in avoidable illnesses which if not properly tackled now, will become an ever-increasing burden on an over-stretched health service.

Ms McShane said:

Last year, in a report entitled "Diabetes and Obesity: Time to Act" the International Diabetes Federation warned that society is currently facing a twin epidemic of both conditions. Children who are overweight or obese face a myriad of health problems, ranging from the development of conditions such as diabetes to negative psychological effects. Overweight and obesity adversely affects psychological development, particularly self-esteem and peer interaction of young people in their formative years.

In childhood, obesity can lead to high blood pressure, high blood insulin levels and abnormal blood lipid levels. Together, these risk factors make up what is known as insulin resistance syndrome, a pre-diabetes state that has been diagnosed in children as young as five. This can lead to type 2 diabetes, which is already presenting in overweight young Irish people. Type 2, or non-insulin dependent diabetes, is also becoming increasingly evident in childhood and adolescence. Young people can also experience complications, including developing cardiovascular risk factors as a result.

This type of diabetes is commonly referred to as 'adult onset diabetes', due to the fact that it is most commonly found in people over the age of 40, who are overweight and do not exercise enough. One of the most disturbing trends in the area of diabetes at present is the growing number of children in Ireland now being diagnosed with Type 2, where traditionally this was a disease of the over 50s, a situation which would have been unheard of several years ago. The main reason for the increase in obesity and Type 2 Diabetes is lifestyle.

The "Time to Act" report recommends specific strategies for treatment and prevention commencing in early childhood, that need to be implemented nationally by governments worldwide, in order to reduce the incidence of obesity, subsequent type 2 diabetes and eventual heart disease. The report points out that:

- Obesity is the main modifiable risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

- Overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.

- Lifestyle interventions, including a healthier diet and moderate physical activity, are proven to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 60%.

Diabetes is a chronic, and to a large extent, like obesity, a preventable condition. At present, it is estimated that around 10 per cent of the overall health budgets in Ireland currently go on treating the complications of diabetes.

Motions 206 and 207 clearly set out strategic ways forward through which positive interventions can be made to reverse this overall trend, to impact positively upon the lifestyles of children and adolescents, and to prevent an increase in avoidable illnesses which if not properly tackled now, will become an ever-increasing burden on an over-stretched health service.

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Sinn Féin Cllr John O'Dowd MLA speaking to motion 204 - CAWT & all Ireland Health service said "There are too many problems across our health services and too many benefits which can accrue from creating economies of scale, increasing capacity, supporting the development of regional centres, increasing access to services and deepening the available pool of expertise. It would be criminal for anyone to stand in the way of an all-Ireland Health service."

John O'Dowd said:

The provision of health care should not be confined by partition. Sinn Féin is committed to a health service that is governed by effectiveness and accessibility, not an arbitrary border.

Sinn Féin know that many people, including many within the health services and those who require access to services - are coming to an understanding and appreciation of our analysis that Ireland is too small a country to support two separate health service systems; that there is clearly a need to harmonise provision and delivery of health services across the whole of Ireland.

While we acknowledge and congratulate the work of CAWT, the cross border body between health boards, it is our view that effective strategic planning by both health departments will only reach its optimum through a single focused outlook about how health care can be developed on this island as a whole.

Sinn Féin recognises the benefits that would flow from the establishment of a high level joint working group of the Department of Health in the 6 counties and the Department of Health and Children in the 26. The functions of that group should be to establish mainstreamed Health Networks that straddle the 32 counties of Ireland and in particular the border where the contradictions of a partitioned Health service are most blatant.

The joint working group should also establish a single registration and licensing process for all medical professionals on this island so staff can work where they are needed, and patients can be treated without a further delay because of complications around administrative red tape causing staff shortages.

Recently my colleague Caoimhgin O Caoláin TD asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention had been drawn to the fact that the Chief Executive of the Chest Heart and Stroke Association, had called for an all-Ireland solution to the shortage of children's cardiac surgeons; and if intended to contact her northern counterpart, Direct rule Minister Angela Smith with a view to establishing a joint feasibility study into the viability of such a service.

The Tánaiste was dismissive of the opportunity to improve access for children on this island to heart surgery, instead she passed the buck.

I am sorry Tánaiste, the buck stops with you and if you are serious about improving Health Care in the 26 you are going to have to think 32, as painful as that may be for someone with your advanced partitionist condition.

Other matters such as the promised rollout of breast screening, now delayed until 2007, will literally cost Irish women their lives would be expedited by all island cooperation; cervical smears, cancer treatment, renal dialysis and access to GPs, dentists and the community nurse, all should be examined on an all Ireland basis and not face delay because of a partitionist mindset.

There are too many problems across our health services and too many benefits which can accrue from creating economies of scale, increasing capacity, supporting the development of regional centres, increasing access to services and deepening the available pool of expertise. It would be criminal for anyone to stand in the way of an all-Ireland Health service.

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Arthur Morgan T.D. moving motion 146 on behalf of the Ard Comhairle commenting on the failure of the government to address the worst housing crisis this state has ever seen said "Under their watch, since 1997, average house prices have escalated from an €102,200 to €249,000 for new houses and €102,700 to €293,000 for second hand houses. The numbers on housing waiting lists have increased by 77%. The Minister for State with responsibility for housing Noel Ahern should be sacked for incompetence. " Deputy Morgan said:

The Fianna Fáil PD Government have stood over what is arguably the worst housing crisis this state has ever seen. It is characterised by colossal increases in house prices, lengthening social housing waiting lists, irresponsible planning and construction of sprawling housing estates in the counties surrounding Dublin, persistent high levels of homelessness and the failure of local authorities to implement traveller accommodation programmes.

Under their watch, since 1997, average house prices have escalated from an €102,200 to €249,000 for new houses and €102,700 to €293,000 for second hand houses. The numbers on housing waiting lists have increased by 77%.

The Minister for State with responsibility for housing Noel Ahern should be sacked for incompetence.

I would like to put on record Sinn Féin's welcome for the recently published NESC report Housing in Ireland: Performance and Policy. Sinn Féin is fully in agreement with the Council's view that housing is a key determinant of economic and social well-being and progress in Ireland. I reiterate Sinn Féin's call for the right to housing to be given constitutional recognition.

We fully support and will campaign for the implementation of recommendations from the NESC for an increase of permanent social housing units, owned and managed by local authorities of approximately 73,000 units between 2005 and 2012.

Such an increase in social housing stock is desperately needed. Since 1996 there was an increase of 20,986 or 77%, in numbers of households on waiting lists while only 5.7% of houses completed in the first 9 months of 2004 were social housing. 40% of those in the private rented sector are in receipt of rent supplement -- these people should surely be housed in the social rented sector.

Sinn Féin is adamant that there shall be no dilution in the State's responsibility for housing provision. We will oppose all attempts by local authorities to abandon their responsibilities for the provision of housing. Sinn Féin strongly supports increased and sustained funding of local authorities to provide social housing. This is vital to provide access to housing for vulnerable and low incomes households who cannot secure housing by other means. We believe that Part V of the Planning and Development Act, as a mechanism to achieve greater social integration in new private developments, if amended and refocused, has the potential to deliver a significant quantity of social housing.

Sinn Féin will continue to fight and campaign for appropriate and affordable housing for all.

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Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin opening the health section of the party's Ard Fheis in Dublin this morning said: "It is a shame and a disgrace that elderly people who have worked all their lives and paid tax and social insurance to build up our public services now find themselves, in this day and age, lying on trolleys and chairs in hospital corridors." Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

There are over 40 motions on the Clár of our Ard Fheis covering Health and Children. They reflect the concerns of the community on these vital issues as well as the work of Sinn Féin activists throughout the country. Our TDs, Assembly members and local councillors are campaigning for equality in our health services and access to the best services for all our people. As the Ard Chomhairle motion states, we will continue to campaign for a truly national health system, the guiding principle of which will be the equitable and efficient delivery of health services and personal social services to each person as he or she requires and on the basis of need alone.

Only the State can ensure that those services are provided. That's what working people are paying for through taxation and that's what they have a right to expect for themselves and for their dependents. But the Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney sees it differently. She told the Dáil last December:

"I believe in a minimalist role for the State in all our lives, including health care."

I challenged Minister Harney on this on the floor of the Dáil and I will continue to do so. We will also continue to challenge the creeping privatisation of health services and we will demand the resources -- including more nurses and other front-line staff -- that are essential.

Let's not forget that Minister Harney took over the Department of Health and Children with great fanfare last September, promising to urgently address the scandalous situation in Accident and Emergency units. The Minister acted as if it was her first day in the Dáil and as if she did not share collective responsibility for this crisis over the previous seven years. The situation is now no different from when she took over, in fact it is arguably worse. It is a shame and a disgrace that elderly people who have worked all their lives and paid tax and social insurance to build up our public services now find themselves, in this day and age, lying on trolleys and chairs in hospital corridors, an experience they share with countless others.

All of this was supposed to have been addressed under the Government's Health Strategy but that document has gone the way of so many other Government promises. Plans for the development of primary care have been shelved. The renegotiation of the consultants' contract to ensure greater equity for public patients in our hospitals is more than two years overdue. And since the current Fianna Fáil/PD Coalition was re-established in 2002 65,000 fewer people have medical cards. Well over 100,000 fewer people have cards now than in 1997 when this FF/PD Coalition was formed.

And what of the promise to end hospital waiting lists? That was supposed to happen last summer. Latest available figures show nearly 30,000 people on hospital waiting lists -- and that's not counting the many thousands more awaiting an appointment with hospital consultants before they even go on the lists. Such is the duplicity of this Government of broken promises that Minister Harney now refuses to give out updated hospital waiting list figures.

Our Ard Fheis takes place amid daily revelations about how thousands of elderly people in residential care were wrongly charged by the State over nearly three decades. It now appears that successive Ministers for Health either were aware or should have been aware of this because the knowledge was there within the system as far back as 1976. The State's response was disgraceful. The Government must start making decisions very quickly and must get information out to the general public. Above all it must repay all those entitled to repayment and without undue delay.

I urge delegates to support motion 168 which calls for the establishment of a Redress Board for the women victims of gross negligence and malpractice at the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Unit of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda under the regime of Michael Neary and others.

I ask delegates to oppose motion 197 that seeks the deregulation of the Retail Pharmacy Sector. This has already happened in January 2002. We have arguably the most deregulated Retial Pharmacy Sector in Europe. If the motion proposers are seeking equality of access to all prescription and non-prescription drugs and medicines then we need to direct our focus on where the problem eminates and that is the pharmaceutical industry. Government can also help alleviate the stress of families today by returning the threshold of the Drugs Payment Scheme to €70.

I urge you to support motion 203 calling for greatly increased co-operation between health services on both sides of the Border. That is especially important for the Border region where hospitals such as Dundalk, Monaghan and Cavan are suffering from either the loss of services and neglect or both as this Government continues its drive towards a small network of all singing, all dancing, all hell regional hospital sites. This centralisation agenda is also leading to real suffering for cancer patients who must travel very long distances for treatment and motion 173 calls for the establishment of radiotherapy units in the regions in addition to those promised for Dublin, Cork and Galway. We support the case for radiation oncology services at Waterford, Limerick and Letterkenny and in the North East HSE region.

We in Sinn Féin are not just about identifying the problems and the injustices perpetrated and unaddressed by successive Governments. We are also about identifying solutions. Last year the Sinn Féin TDs used our Private Members Time in the Dáil to table a comprehensive motion on the need for a proper childcare infrastructure in Ireland. Resolution 210 on the clár reproduces that Sinn Féin Dáil motion which secured the support of 50 TDs across all opposition parties and independents. We received a very enthusiastic response from people across the country. We made childcare our central demand in our pre-Budget submission. Sinn Féin councillors around this State tabled motions on childcare in response. In the Budget the Government neglected childcare yet again and this was identified as the biggest single failing in Brian Cowen's first Budget.

We will continue to campaign on this issue and we will use the motion on your clár to develop a comprehensive policy. Make no mistake, we don't just want a document on a shelf, or a campaigning issue but a policy that we will implement in Government.

In conclusion I commend and congratulate all those working in the front line in our health services and in our childcare services. Most of those workers are women and their skill and dedication is an inspiration. Let us harness that skill and dedication, let us replicate it in political campaigning let us unite to build the public services that all our people need and deserve.

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Sinn Féin Cllr Billy Leonard for Colraine speaking to motion 211 on the Peace Process said: "We know the challenges of conflict resolution and will face them."

"We will discharge our responsibilities but others must do likewise and approach issues with a political realism. When issues like these are faced up to then national reconciliation is constructed and Sinn Féin will continue to be the major player in that process." Councillor Leonard said:

"Despite the froth and foam of the most appalling wall to wall campaign against a single party, Sinn Féin can still see through to the point where:

others will have to re-engage not disengage,

others will have to talk about solutions not exclusion,

In short others will just have to get back into political mode.

We are committed to our peace strategy and to the peace process. Only those who put their party before peace could deny the dedication of hundreds within Sinn Féin and thousands of supporters to building full peace and democracy in Ireland.

And yes there have been knocks ˆ but I‚m not referring to the politics of cops and robbers or the politics of association - I am referring to breakdown of progress last December.

People with vested interests have in recent weeks suffered amnesia about the history making deal that was so tantalisingly close.

But negotiations will come round again and Sinn Féin will once again honour its commitment to deliver a deal.

And a massive part of that strategy is the basic realisation that it is a process of conflict resolution. And conflict resolution processes around the world are complex, they take time and they require the players to at least realise that they are part of the problem.

This of course applies to unionism and to the British.

Let me select the problem of trust. Many talk about trusting republicans as if we were the only ones required to build that trust. But it is time others realised that republicans have real problems on trust. Issues such as the following are just passed off yet they are issues of trust:

- MI5 being the sole intelligence gatherer from 2007

- Obstructions placed in the way of establishing the truth about Dublin / Monaghan

- The Inquiry Bill which prevent the truth coming out for the Finucane family - a case of the law-maker using the law to prevent justice

So:

Republicans will not stand for the arrogance of others thinking they are not part of the problem. We know the challenges of conflict resolution and will face them.

We will discharge our responsibilities but others must do likewise and approach issues with a political realism.

When issues like these are faced up to then national reconciliation is constructed and Sinn Féin will continue to be the major player in that process.

We can and will build an increasing power base throughout Ireland, not for the sake of power alone, but for the sake of reconciling our nation through peace building.

I urge people to support motion 211.

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government this evening commended a draft Sinn Féin policy document on Waste Management to the party's Ard Fheis. Deputy Morgan told delegates that the policy document sets out Sinn Féin's opposition to the ethos underlining the waste management policies north and south.

Deputy Morgan said:

"This policy document commits Sinn Féin to promoting a sustainable waste management policy which is in the best interest of both the environment and the economy. It puts forward progressive, sustainable solutions to the waste management crisis which are based on the promotion of strategies at the top of the waste hierarchy (reduction, reuse, recycle).

"This policy document sets out our opposition to the ethos underlining the waste management policies north and south. It outlines our recommendations for a change of direction for waste management away from policies based on burying and burning of waste. It promotes the view that waste is a resource. It sets out a number of actions based on this premise, which central government and local authorities must take if society is to change its relationship with waste.

"It commits our party to defending the right of all people to a safe, clean and unpolluted environment. It reiterates our full opposition to incineration.

"The policies put forward in this document seek to bring about reduction in the amount of waste being created by facilitating, enabling and motivating householders and the corporate sector in order to bring about behavioural change.

"The Government in the South is not committed to addressing the waste management crisis. The recycling infrastructure remains totally inadequate. The government has stood idly by as recycling enterprises such as the Irish Glass Bottle Factory in Ringsend Dublin and the Smurfit paper recycling mill in Clonskeagh have gone out of business. They have failed to introduce regulations to incentivise the creation of a market for recyclables. Sections 28 and 29 of the Waste Management Act 1996 make provision for the introduction of a wide array of regulations to bring about the reduction of packaging waste. Yet the government will not introduce such regulations.

"There is so much that can be done and that is not being done by those in government to resolve the current waste management problems plaguing this country. There are countless examples of good practice internationally where levels of recycling and re-use, which some in this state tell us cannot be achieved, are achieved. The truth is that neither the government in this state nor the direct rule ministers in the north have any commitment to bringing about the radical change that is necessary in relation to waste management. We believe that Ireland must develop sustainable solutions to the country‚s waste management crisis based on the wealth of information from many developed waste reduction programmes operating internationally. I commend the policy document to the Ard Fheis."

Deputy Morgan also took time during his contribution to put on record Sinn Féin's support for communities in Carronstown, Co. Meath. Ringaskiddy, Co. Cork and Rinsgend in Dublin who are campaigning against the imposition of incinerators. ENDS

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Sinn Féin's Dublin Spokesperson on the Environment, Councillor Daithí Doolan, addressing this evening's Ard Fheis welcomed, "the adoption of the party's waste management policy document, entitled 'Towards Zero Waste'. This is a major step forward in our battle for a sensible, sustainable all-Ireland waste strategy. It is the product of much debate, consultation and action."

Speaking in the RDS, Cllr. Doolan said:

"Sinn Féin has been to the fore in tackling the current waste crisis. Here in Dublin we have continued to challenge big business' interests and replaced it with a community based, democratic and accountable form of waste managment.This policy document sets out very clearly what we need to do to achieve this. Consecutive governments have continued in their attempt to force the burning and burying of waste on whole communities. This policy document exposes their failures and provides real and relevant solutions.

"The basis for our strategy is that of aiming to achieve Zero Waste, this means radically reducing the waste we produce as a society, reuse where appropriate and investing in our recycling industry. To achieve this Sinn Féin will continue to reach out to include and work with residents, community groups and NGOs. It is only by working together that we can forge an alliance that will drive the campaign towards a long-term solution to our waste crisis"

In conclusion Cllr. Doolan urged supporters, "to take this policy document and use it as a campaigning tool and to ensure it does not gather dust but becomes a blue-print for future government policy.'' ENDS

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