[Sinn Fein]

Address by

Sinn Fein Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin


Sinn Fein National Womens Conference
13th November 1998

I am honoured to have been invited to open the Sinn Fein National Womens Conference here in Dublin and I would like to welcome all of the delegates and the speakers who are gathered here this morning.

We have come here today to listen and learn and to ensure by our efforts that women will play a full and equal part in the building of a new Ireland.

While on some occasions Sinn Fein have been criticised for not doing enough, we have tried to address in meaningful way the lack of gender equality both in our structures and our election candidates. We do have a long way to go but sometimes we do get it right. One third of our candidates elected to the new assembly are women and this will be reflected when we appoint our ministers to the executive. Many of our heads of departments are women. And Sinn Fein Youth are setting a very high standard for the future in terms of gender balance in their organisation.

But as we continue to struggle for justice, democracy, equality and freedom we must ensure that all voices in our society are heard. We are conscious that this whole process is about, all of our futures, all our lives and the type of society which we all want to create.

Sinn Fein has a vision of a new Ireland, one which is united, pluralist and democratic but also one which will prohibit discrimination on grounds of gender, religion, sexuality, ethnic origin, race, marital status, language used, age or disability. We are committed to ensuring that we reverse the impact of past discrimination and prejudice.

But we are not waiting for a united Ireland to begin this process of change. We are working for it in our daily lives, in our communities, in our party and in the political structures to which we are elected.

Sinn Fein is working for the introduction of measures to achieve equality of representation both in political life and in appointments to all public bodies. Women must be involved in making the laws that affect their lives. We also support the setting of timescales to achieve equality of outcome in employment structures, education and training. How can we build a new Ireland and ignore the fact that women are politically and economically under-represented throughout our society, except in the low paid, unskilled sectors of our economy.

It is crucial that as we move into a changed political climate and as the transformation of Irish society begins, that women articulate their agenda, that they reach out to other groups and build alliances to push for real change.

But just as there is no single, simple key to the search for a lasting peace, there is no simple key to the problems of exclusion and discrimination on the basis of gender. Overcoming all of this must be the product of many people - the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new situation. That is the challenge that lies ahead. I just want to say that Sinn Fein will do our part and live up to our commitments.

Before I conclude I would like to make particular mention of an outstanding republican women who died in recent weeks - Annie Gildernew. Some people here will have known Annie personally and others will know her because of her involvement in the civil rights movement. Speaking some time ago about the demand for civil rights Annie said

``We were only fighting for our rights. What we didn't know at the time was what we were starting. But looking back on it, we can't see how we could have done anything else. It should have been done years beforehand and if it was tomorrow we'd to it again.''

It is this indomitable spirit which we have seen from women like Annie Gildernew over the last thirty years that has taken us this far in the search for peace. And it is the same spirit which will bring us to our ultimate goal of Irish Unity.

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