[Sinn Fein]

28th March 2003

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis 2003

Opening Address by Sinn Fein General Secretary Lucilita Bhreatnach

A cháirde,

Fearaim fáilte romhaibh chuig Ard Fheis na bliana seo.

I would like to begin by welcoming delegates, visitors and guests to this year s Ard Fheis, which is the first to receive live coverage from RTÉ and it is interesting to note, that it is less than 10 years since the lifting of Section 31, under which Sinn Fein was to be neither seen nor heard on RTÉ, or any other Irish broadcaster. It was part of the concerted effort by the Dublin and London governments to marginalise Irish republicanism.

Agus mé ag breathnú timpeall orm anocht fecim seana cháirde anseo agus aghaidheanna nua, is cuimhníom siar ar an tréimhse le ocht mí dhéag ó shin ó chruinnigh muid le chéile, is léir go bhfuil muid éirithe I bhfad níos láidre.

Toghadh cúigear Teachtaí Dála de chuid Shinn Fein sa tréimhse seo. Ba é sin an eachtra ba mhó polaitíocghta a thit amach.

The election of Aengus, Arthur, Martin, Seán along with Caoimghín was just the most visible part of the rising tide in republican fortunes as the Sinn Fein vote broke 120,000. Our vote was up right across the state and candidates like Nicky Kehoe, Dessie Ellis, Joe Reilly, John Dwyer and others came very close. Next time, which will be coming round soon, I have no doubt, they will make it.

During the OE90s Sinn Fein worked hard to build political strength. At times, there has been confusion, with people believing that political strength and electoral strength were one and the same.

But there are many kinds of political strength. The marches of 150,000 people in Belfast and Dublin against the war on Iraq was a demonstration of the political strength of those people in Ireland who support a policy of military neutrality.

These people are seeing in Sinn Fein a party to the forefront of campaigning for a Constitutional amendment to enshrine neutrality in the 1937 Constitution. In February, our TDs tabled a motion to this effect in Leinster House, forcing the right-wing parties in this State to admit their opposition to a real, independent, neutral foreign policy.

Another mobilisation of our political strength could be seen in the high vote against the Nice Treaty in the undemocratic re-run of that referendum. In the face of a campaign of deliberate lies and misinformation staged by the Government, backed by an unquestioning media, just under 40% of voters rejected the Treaty and it is worth pointing out that, without exception, the highest No of votes were recorded in those constituencies where our support is strongest, where our membership took the issue to the people.

Tá líon na ndaoine a aontaíonn lenár ndearcadh polaitiúil agus lenár dtuairaimí, ag fás. More and more people are coming to join Sinn Fein. In Dublin alone since the election the number of cumainn in this city has increased by over 25%. Similar increases have been reported right around the country.

Caithfidh muid leanúint leis na léirsithe ar na sráideanna. Ár streachailt a threorú I ngach treo, sé sin sa Tionól nó I dTeach Laighean, sna ceardchumainn nó I ngrúpaí pobail. Caithfidh muid níos mó iarrachtaí a dhéanamh guth a thabhairt dár n-analís. Tá daoine ullamh dona h-athruithe. Tá siad ag lorg athruithe cuimsitheacha. Is fúinn é na h-argóintí a chur agus a léiriú dóibh gurb é Sinn Fein an t-aon pháirtí atá raidacach ar an oileán seo.

We will give the electorate that radical alternative in the Six Counties this May. The Westminster and Local Elections of 2001 saw the emergence of Sinn Fein as the largest nationalist party. It is something we will underline decisively in the Assembly elections. Our record in the Executive is a proud one, and proves our ability to work constructively in government.

Martin McGuinness, as Minister for Education, abolished the discriminatory Eleven Plus examination which marked a child for life before they reached their teenage years and set up the all-Ireland centre of excellence for the education of children with autism in Middletown. Bairbre De Brúin, by taking Health, one of the most difficult portfolios in any administration determinedly pushed through a radical public health strategy targeting social inequality as a major cause of poor health. Bairbre not only succeeded in getting this strategy launched, but signed up every single Department in the Executive to it.

The last 18 months have shown how effective Sinn Fein can be in government, in elections and on the streets. The hard work and dedication of the thousands of our party activists and supporters across the nation continues to reap dividends.

But to achieve the gains in May, our work on the ground must be increased. Tens of thousands of voters face disenfranchisement and while our activists have done tremendous work in registering these people, many more are still without a vote. This too, is a form of building political strength, of empowering and politicising the people right across the Six Counties.

This weekend we will hold debates on a wide range of issues that affect the people. We will discuss the peace process, review and put forward proposals on education, health, justice, community and language issues. This together with the election of the party leadership will set the tone for the next twelve months for this party. I would ask all of you to participate, to represent the views of your cumann. This is your party, and we are all here together to discuss and decide Sinn Fein s policies on the road to the Republic.

And it is up to you, to all of us, to put in the work that is necessary to see the massive growth of this party continue. Ní bheidh sé éasca, ní raibh sé a riamh, ach is féidir linn breathnú siar ar hocht mí dhéag atá caite agus an dul chun cinn ata déanta again a mheas.

It will not be easy, indeed, it has never been easy, but we can look back over the 18 months since our last Ard Fheis and see how far we have come, and we know that we are closer to achieving this party s single overriding objective, the formation of an independent 32 county socialist republic.

We have never been closer to this dream than we are today. It is this generation of republicans that will see Bobby Sands referred to as the rising of the Moon, Eirí na Gealaigh, and it is people like you who will bring it about. Táim fíor shásta an Ard Fheis seo a oscailt anocht.

Sinn Fein Press Office, 44 Parnell Square, Dublin 1
Tel: +353-1-8726100 and +353-1-8726839   ·   Fax +353-1-8733074
E-mail: sfpress@eircom.net   ·   Website: http://www.sinnfein.org

Sinn Fein   ·   Sinn Fein Documents