[Sinn Fein]

30th March 2003

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis 2003

Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD speaking during the equality debate

Gerry Adams said yesterday - not once, but twice - that Equality is the single most important word in the republican lexicon. And I think we would all agree that the words "Human Rights" would be neck and neck with Equality in the order of importance in our struggle.

We in Sinn Fein are rightly proud of our leading role in boosting the Equality and Human Rights Agenda across this island, and particularly our success in having these priorities recognised in the Good Friday Agreement provisions. Much has been achieved since in both parts of the island five years on as a result of our efforts. But we have no room for complacency.

Only recently, all Dail Deputies received a glossy pamphlet from the Ulster Unionist Party which sought to rationalise away the persisting inequality between nationalists and unionists. They claim that the equality agenda is a sham, nothing more than propaganda on the part of republicans. And we know that the establishment parties and the mainstream media want desperately to believe this. They are willing to be deceived.

None of us in this hall are surprised that the British have taken a minimalist approach to equality and human rights, and need to be pushed and pushed at every stage and on every item agreed. In particular the litany of outstanding issues in the human rights sphere has been eloquently treated already by many of the delegates here, and so I will not repeat it. But the British are not the only party to this agreement to take a minimalist approach to these issues. The Irish Government has also taken a minimalist approach, and we in Sinn Fein need to make sure that we don't fail to keep up the pressure on them as well as the British, and the Unionists to live up to their commitments.

When I questioned the Minister for Justice again on the Government's policy last week, he indicated that he does not believe that the Good Friday Agreement requires full parity between equality and human rights provisions and legislation in the 6 and 26 counties.

Instead, he believes that it is acceptable, and that his Government has fully complied with the Good Friday Agreement even though the equality laws in this state remain toothless, even though there is no comparable statutory duty to make promoting equality a legal obligation. But he is wrong. 

He believes that it is acceptable that Ireland still has not incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law, despite the fact that this state was among the first to ratify the Convention in 1953, and the fact that we now live in the ONLY ratifying state that has yet to do so. But he is wrong.

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