8 February 1997
Address by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein Economic Conference
Putting People First
The Role of the Community in a new Ireland
Eradicating Injustice The contribution of Irish republicanism to the political culture and ideology of our society over the last two hundred years is unparalleled. It has been republicans who shaped the freedom struggles of generations, who asserted the rights of all Irish people to freedom, to equality of treatment, to national self determination.
It was also republicans who in the 20th Century laid down the aspirations of the Irish nation in the 1916 proclamation and the 1919 Democratic Programme, which at it's core had the objective of creating an Irish socialist republic.
This was a vision that promised ``the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the Nation's labour'' and determined the scope of the nation as extending ``not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions; the Nation's soil and it's resources, all the wealth and all the wealth producing processes within the Nation''.
Some might see these assertions as irrelevant to contemporary Ireland. They are not. They are the building blocks, the tools necessary to create a society of free people. The failure of modern Ireland to realise these aspirations makes the need to restate the ideals and objectives of Irish republicans more desirable than ever.
The failure of successive governments and administrations to not only live up to the ideals of the 1916 Proclamation and the 1919 Democratic Programme but to even take the first steps to tackle inequity and all other forms of exclusion gives the economic and social philosophies of Irish republicans a relevancy that many would like to ignore.
Sinn Fein's Role Sinn Fein as a party has a key role to play in the Ireland of today developing and expounding its economic and social policies. The reality of today's Ireland is that we remain some distance from the transformation, from the process of national empowerment envisaged in the 1919 programme. Ordinary people and whole communities within urban and rural Ireland endure entrenched unemployment, poverty, emigration, multifaceted disadvantage, social exclusion and endemic inequalities.
Sinn Fein's activists live and work with such stark realities. We recognise the absolute imperative of bringing about economic and social change within our society. Our party has at the core of our political programme a commitment to eradicate the causes of these prevailing injustices.
There are many ways to approach the Putting People First document debated her today. Caoimhghín O Caoláin outlined earlier the four key themes that underpin Sinn Fein's economic programme for a united Ireland. However if you wanted to single out just one primary objective of this document, it is that there must be substantial change in the socio-economic polices implemented on this island.
The aim of this radical change is simple, It is to eradicate injustice.
Such change must be meaningful and visible. This condition applies as much to economic and social development as it does to political life which has in the 1990s been shown to be continually tainted by financial scandals and an environment of kickbacks, and political opportunism, where the corridors of Leinster House echo to the whims of the state's corporate classes not to the needs of the Irish people.
Sinn Fein's ultimate aim is to realise an entirely new social and economic order in Ireland which cherishes all our people equally and prizes equality and social justice.
Meaningful socio-economic change of the scale required cannot be simply legislated into existence. Legislative change is indisputably crucial, but effecting truly fundamental change in the economic and social experience of our people must be embedded within a process which empowers and is led by local communities.
To do otherwise merely leaves intact the structures which will inevitably recreate economic and social inequalities and the continued exclusion of communities from decision making which affect their lives.
Sinn Fein believes this process must be shaped by the needs and expectations of ordinary people. We contend that the orthodox approach to economic planning and development has contributed to the already mentioned range of difficulties within our communities. This can only be reversed by redefining the process by which decisions are made and change is effected. Ultimately, this must translate into local communities being allowed to become centrally involved in planning and making decisions about economic development programmes which directly affect them.
A people centred approach
You could argue that this document is about people, ordinary people throughout Ireland who are the forgotten factor in the Irish economy.
You could be forgiven in Ireland for believing that economic development is something that happens in spite of the people who actually live and work here. People and the communities that they constitute are presented as obstacles to development.
We know that the opposite is the reality. The truth is that ordinary people in communities across Ireland have been abandoned by the formal polices of economic development.
They have been overlooked by the banking sector which deems them unworthy of credit. They have been overlooked by governments who are unwilling to build the roads, the communications networks, to maintain the schools and other services that are the lifeblood of local economic development.
They have been forgotten by the massively funded development agencies who have the narrowest conservative definition of what is a viable project to create employment.
Existing economic structures throughout Ireland have clearly failed the people. They do not account for the needs of the communities that actually make up the island economy. The decades of long-term unemployment, of emigration, of an inadequate education system, of cutbacks in social and public sectors has created a systematic alienation of people from institutional economic structures.
Most importantly it disempowers and devalues the importance of local and community led enterprise. The record of both governments has been to create a one way system where ordinary people have to budget for the effects of government cutbacks, for redundancy and other economic fallout.
They have bypassed communities who have seen their local areas endure years of structural decline, ignored by central government who instead divert unlimited funds to activities of the IDA or the IDB and other agencies over whom the communities have no control.
The net effect of this has been that communities throughout Ireland in both rural and urban areas have formulated new economic structures and new forms of economic activity that have bypassed the institutions that have failed them. Local development associations have sprung up throughout Ireland and operate often without IDA/IDB assistance, receiving no government subsidies and no tax write offs.
Instead they form local currency networks and credit unions. They start cross border associations where neither government was prepared to fill gaping needs. They build enterprise centres, run creches, recycling co-operatives and fund raise for community halls.
These communities have moved economic activity out of its narrow formal base of focusing almost entirely on export orientated businesses. They have shown that proper childcare is as important to the community as a proper phone network and that achieving both should be the goals of economic policy.
This emerging social economy is a crucial departure in modern economic development. It shows that future government strategies must not only have the needs of communities as the core factor in policy formulation but must empower them and support them in their activity.
It reiterates the core demand as stated in the document that ``Economic activity and policy must start with the community not bypass it'' and that a decentralised political system with a vibrant public sector is the best method to begin this with.
Ultimately the aim of this document is to initiate a process where new strategies, ideas and arguments are put forward which show clearly that it is in 1997 possible to make the case for meaningful economic and social change in Ireland and that it is the local communities of Ireland who hold the key to finally Put People First.
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