Friday, December 8, 2017

The DUP, Brexit and the on-off deal


It was to be the breakthrough moment on Brexit that the British government and the European Commission had been working toward for over a year.
After months of apparently endless stalemate the weekend saw more positive reports emerging from the intense negotiations between EU and the British government officials. By Monday morning the impression being given– out of Government Buildings in Dublin and the Commission in Brussels – was that a deal was imminent. The new Tánaiste Simon Coveney was on RTE’s Morning Ireland saying that he expected an announcement on an agreement later in the day. The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called a special Cabinet meeting for 9am to sign off on the communique. At mid-morning Coveney was told by European Commission president Jean Claude Junker that the British had agreed the final draft.
At midday Mary Lou McDonald was among a group of Oireachtas opposition representatives who were briefed by the Taoiseach on the paragraphs relating to the island of Ireland and the border, which were to be in the communique. No one was given sight of the paragraphs. Meanwhile, the media in Dublin were told to expect a press conference with Taoiseach Varadkar at 2.30 pm.
And then it all went pear shaped courtesy of a very loud, very intransigent, very definite NO from the DUP. Theresa May received a call from Arlene Foster and dramatically the deal was off. May and Juncker met the media and said that there were details that still had to be agreed. But no one was fooled. Everyone knew the real story was very different.
That was confirmed when the DUP said, “We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom. The economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not be compromised in any way.”
It was reinforced when the DUP’s Sammy Wilson described the Irish government as “a bunch of political chancers” who were “doing their best to undermine the unionist position.” The following day amidst speculation that Prime Minister May would be going back to Brussels by the end of the week Edwin Poots of the DUP fired a warning shot at Dublin. He said: “Little Leo needn’t think that an unacceptable deal on Monday will be acceptable on Friday. A bad deal is not better than no deal.”
So, where to from here?
Phase one of the negotiations on Brexit was about seeking substantial progress on three broad areas: the settlement bill that Britain would have to pay the EU; the future status of EU citizens, including the people of the North; and the status of Britain’s border in Ireland. Without the EU Council summit next week (December 14th) agreeing that progress on all three issues had occurred the British would not be allowed to move into Phase Two of the negotiations dealing with trade.
In recent weeks the British Prime Minister agreed to pay the EU between 40 and 55 billion euro. It has also been claimed that progress was made in the negotiations on the issue of rights for EU citizens. The big issue that had to be cracked was the border.
Two weeks ago Leo Varadkar warned that his government would block progress to Phase Two unless Britain gave a formal written guarantee that there will be no hard border. On Monday the Taoiseach obviously thought he had got that commitment. But not for the first time the DUP pulled the plug on an agreement. It is also worth noting that the British government has been briefing that there was no agreement. This is clearly at odds with the Irish government’s account.
The reality is that Brexit negotiations are absolutely critical for the future of the island of Ireland and it is vital that they succeed. Sinn Féin believes that what is required is a Designated Special Status for the north within the European Union. We are not precious about what it called. But the North must remain within the Customs Union and the Single Market. This is the only way of ensuring stability and certainty for Irish agriculture, Irish business, Irish people’s lives – our prospects and our prosperity.
These are not the only issues. Citizens’ rights, access the European Court of Justice and to the European Institutions also need to be agreed. As Sinn Féin understands they have not been agreed thus far. Ensuring that these requirements are met is common sense. It is also, crucially, what the people of the North voted for. Despite the claims of the DUP this will not change the constitutional position of the North. I say this as much as someone who is offended every day by the divisions on this island, including partition and the border.
In the following days intense negotiations took place between the EU and British negotiating teams. The Tories also met with the DUP.
On Friday morning an agreement was finally announced. The communiqué does not set the final deal on Brexit. The communiqué sets out broad principles. These have been assessed by the Irish government as sufficient progress to allow the Brexit process to move into the next phase of negotiations on trade.
While the communiqué recognises the unique and special circumstances surrounding the issue of the Irish peace process, the Good Friday Agreement and the border it does not address key areas of concern for many citizens, especially nationalists living in the north and citizens in the border region.
The insistence by the British that Britain and the North must leave the customs union and the single market presents a real and live danger which cannot be understated. This also contradicts the British Prime Ministers claim that there will not be a hard economic border.
The communiqué also throws no light on the future role of the European Court of Justice and in particular the right of EU citizens in that part of the island to be able to access the EU institutions. These are all genuine concerns particularly in light of the British Prime Ministers assertion in a letter she issued addressed to the people of the six counties that the North will no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
The Irish government needs to be very conscious that the refusal to embrace rights is at the heart of the current difficulties in the political institutions and the collapse of the Executive.
While the communiqué represents some progress there are many unanswered questions around key issues and the Irish government must remain focussed and vigilant. Sinn Féin is also very mindful that this Brexit process is a work in progress. Our experience through years of agreements with Britain is that the devil is in the detail.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Léacht Cothaigh 2017


Oráid Uachtarán Shinn Féin Gerry Adams TD chuig Léacht Cothaigh 2017 - 2ú Nollaig 2017
Dia dhaoibh go léir a chairde,
Ar dtús ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil mé thar a bheith sásta bheith libh chun Léacht Cothaigh a thabhairt i mbliana
Is ónóir mhór dom labhairt libh agus sibh ag seoladh ‘Glas le Fás’, an straitéis do thodhchaí na Ceathrú Gaeltachta.
Buíochas mór do Jake Mac Seacais agus Forbairt Feirste as an chuireadh agus buíochas mór oraibhse as teacht.
Tá sé iontach scaifte chomh spreagúil fuinniúil a fheiceáil agus tá sé soiléir go bhfuil an fuinneamh seo le feiceáil i muintir na Gaeilge ar fud na cathrach.
Bhí go leor agaibh sa seomra páirteach sa phróiséas seo, mar sin maith sibh uilig!
Mar is eol daoibh, d’inis mé le déanaí do Ard Fheis Shinn Féin i mBaile Átha Cliath go mbeidh mé ag éirí as mar Uachtarán Shinn Féin agus nach mbeidh mé ag dul ar aghaidh chun an chéad toghchán Dála eile.
B’fhéidir go gceapann sibh go mbeidh mé ag éirí as achan rud.
Ní bheidh mé ná baol air!         
Is gníomhaí mé – ar dtús agus i gcónaí.
Níl amhras ar bith orm agus mé ag dul isteach i mo sheachtóidí go mbeidh mé ag plé le gníomhú ar son na Gaeilge sna blianta amach ó seo.
Bhí mé ag mórshiúil Dearg le Fearg i mí na Bealtaine.
Ceann de na hagóidí is fearr riamh a raibh mé ann.
Na dathanna, an atmaisféar, on óige agus an bheocht, bhí said uilig ar fheabhas.
Bhí glúin óg gníomhaithe ann.
Rugadh iad i ndiaidh Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta agus próiséas na síochána.
Bhí an splanc céanna iontu is a bhí ionam agus mo ghlúin nuair a thosaigh muidinne ag éileamh ár gceart agus ár comhionannas.
Níl Gaeilgeoirí na cathrach seo sásta glacadh le cúrsaí mar atá siad.
Tá siad ag iarraidh a gcuid ceart agus sin sin.
Tá borradh faoin Ghaeilge sa Tuaisceart agus i mBéal Feirste go háirithe.


Colma McKee, Acadamh Oiliúna Gaeilge, Pilib Ó Ruanaidh, Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaíochta, Niamh Ní Ruanaidh, Taca, Jake MacSiacais, Forbairt Feirste, Padaí Mac an Fhearraigh, Pobal agus Gearóid macAdaimh, Teachta Dála Chondae Lú, Sinn Féin.

Tá dualgas ar na polaiteoirí a chinntiú go bhfuil sé de cheart ag daoine saol trí Ghaeilge a bheith acu más mian leo.
Seo an dúshlán atá romham agus roimh na polaiteoirí uilig
Ach is mar gheall oraibhse – na daoine sa phobal a thug beocht don teanga – sibhse a rinne an obair chrua agus tá mé an-bhuíoch díobhse uilig.
Chuir sibh stad le meáth na teanga a bhí ag tarlú mar gheall go díreach ar na céadta bliain de pholasaí Rialtas na Breataine.
Mar chumhacht impriúil thuig siad an tábhacht a bhain le teanga, dúchas agus cultúr pobail a scriosadh.
Ansin bhí sé níos éasca teacht i dtír orthu, smacht a choinneáil orthu agus seilbh a ghlacadh ar an tír.
Ach bhí mná agus fir chróga ann ó achan aicme agus earnáil a chuaigh isteach sa bhearna baoil le teanga, ceol agus cultúr na hÉireann a chosaint.
Anseo i mBéal Feirste a mhair duine acu - Robert McAdam - Preispitéireach, a bhfuil a ainm ar an Cultúrlann seo.
Tháisitil Robert go forleathan agus bhailigh sé lámhscríbhinní Gaeilge, rinne sé cóipeanna daofa agus tá siad le feiceáil inniu i Leabharlann Bhéal Feirste agus in Ollscoil na Banríona.
Tá go leor daoine ónár linn féin - na daoine a bhunaigh Gaeltacht Bhóthar Sheoighe, nó an Ard Scoil, nó Cumann Chluain Ard, nó Glór na Móna .
Chuir mé féin suim sa Ghaeilge ar dtús nuair a bhí mé ar bhunscoil Naomh Fhinian De la Salle ar Bhóthar na bhFál.
Bhí beagán beag Gaeilge ag mo mháithair, ach Gaelgoirí iad mo uncail Liam agus Alfie.
Ach is ag Scoil Mhuire leis na Bráithre Críostaí a rinne mé ceangal ceart leis an Ghaeilge trí Brother Beausang.
Bhí deis ag cuid again cuairt a thabhairt ar Ghaeltacht Thír Chonaill sna seascaidí.
Cosúil le go leor ó mo ghlúin, an chéad deis eile a fuair mé chun eolas a chur ar an Ghaeilge ná sa phríosún.
Chruthaigh na cimí polaitiúla sna botháin ar an Cheis Fhada botháin Ghaeltachta – áit a raibh an Ghaeilge á labhairt agus le cloisint achan lá.
Bhuail mé le Bobby Sands ansin.
Níos déanaí sna blocanna H ba é teanga laethúil don chuid is mó de na príosúnaigh.
Bhí tionchar mór ag scríobhneoireacht Bobby ar chur chun cinn na Gaeilge sna príosúin agus lasmuigh fosta.
Mar aon le Gaeilgeoirí a raibh grá acu don teanga agus a d’oibrigh go crua chun í a úsáid agus a chur chun cinn, chuidigh an ghlúin nua seo de Ghaerilgeoirí leis na hiarrachtaí a bhí ar siúl nuair a scaoileadh saor iad.
Bhí iar-chimí agus a gclann ag iarraidh a gcuid páisti a thógáil trí mheán na Gaeilge, rud nach raibh acu féin.
Is mar gheall ar na daoine agus le gaelgeoirí eile go bhfeiceann muid an fás iontach inniu.
Tá buíochas ag dul fosta do na múinteoirí a chur an Ghaeilge os comhair ár bpáistí trí oideachas agus spraoi.
Ba mhaith liom obair mo chara Martin McGuinness a mholadh.
Rinne sár-obair son an teanga mar Aire Oideachais agus mar Leas Chéad Aire.
Ba mhaith liom Caral Ni Chuilín atá anseo anocht a threaslú fosta. Bhunaigh sí an clár LÍOFA.
Is cuimhin liom ag freastal ar chruinniú – nuair a bhi mé mar fheisire – le Mo Mowlam a bhí mar Runaí Stáit ag an am agus le daoine ó Bhunscoil Phobal Feirste.
Bhí sí ann le hinsint do bhord na scoile gur aontaigh sí maoiniú a thabhairt dóibh.
Ar ndóigh, ghlac sé seo iontas ar a chuid oifigí.
Níor fuair an scoil maoiniú ó bunaíodh é.
Nuair a bhí muid ag fágáil, duirt cheann de na oifigí - ceapfaim le Ciarán Mackle - “we’ll get you in the long grass”.
Thug mé gach duine ar ais isteach sa seomra agus duirt mé le Mo Mowlam cad a tharlá.
Sin an seafóid a bhí ann ón Bunaíocht agus tá sin ann fós.
Ach fós, tá an Gaeilge ag dul ó neart go neart.
Tá Sinn Féin ag iarraidh oibriú libh san iarracht sin.
Is gné ríthábhachtach í obair ár bpáirtí.
Ní hé sin le rá go ndéanaimid go leor di - ní mór dúinn.
Ní hé le rá nach féidir linn níos mo a dheanamh – is féidir linn nios mó a dhéanamh i gcónaí.
Agus ní hé le rá go bhfuil na freagraí uilig again – níl.
Ach táimid tiomanta don dúshlán a thug an pobal dúinn anuraidh a shárú – sin chun Acht na Gaeilge a bhaint amach.
Ní faoi reachtaíocht amháin atá sé, cé go bhfuil sin tábhachtach.
Ní faoi chaighdeán, Coimisinéar agus maoiniú amháin ach oiread.
Ní faoi na cúirteanna nó faoi comharthaí bóthair atá sé.
Baineann sé leis an ceart do dhúchas náisiúnta agus an ceart do theanga dhúchais a labhairt i do thír féin.
Tá lucht na Gaeilge ó thuaidh ag iarraidh na gceart céanna is atá ag ár gcomharsana in Albain agus sa Bhreatain Bheag agus sna Fiche Sé Chontae.
Níl an Ghaeilge éiginteach do dhuine ar bith; bíodh sin le hAcht na Gaeilge no gan é.
Agus beidh sé ag fás le Acht na Gaeilge, nó gan é.
Tá sí ann dóibh siúd ar mhaith leo a labhairt.
Agus chun leasa achan duine atá Acht na Gaeilge.
Ach is le achan duine í.
Agus bainfimid amach é.
Bígí cinnte faoi sin.
Má tá an cuid is lú again den spiorad, fuinneamh agus aisling is a bhí ag bunaitheoirí Bhóthar Sheoighe, éireoidh linn.
Chuir siadsan an dian obair isteach ar dtús.
Díreach mar a dhéanann sibhse atá linn anocht an dian obair achan lá sa phobal.
Tá bhur straitéis Glas le Fás iontach ar fad agus tréaslaím sibh as.
Tugann sé treoir dúinn.
An pobal féin i gceannas ar a forbairt féin.
Agus mé ag ullmhú do seo smaoinigh mé siar ar an am ar thosaigh sé seo.
Na dúshláin a bhí romhainn – beith ag comhoibriú le pártaithe leasmhara, fostaíocht agus turasóireacht a chruthú.
Ag cur na teanga i lár an aonaigh.
Ag dul i ngleic leis na húdaráis anseo nuair nach raibh siad ag iarraidh labhairt linn.
Ba cheart do dhuine éigin an stair seo uilig a chur le chéile.
Tá an jab éasca ag na polaiteoirí.
Tá an jab deacair agaibh.
Ach tá mo theachtaireacht simplí - lean ar aghaidh le bhur chuid obair.
Sin é bunús Ghluaiseacht na Gaeilge.
An meon sin “ná abair é, dean é”.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The email and the election


When I wrote this column all of the indications suggested that a general election in the south was very possible. There was enormous political and media fall-out from the discovery of emails appearing to show that the former Minister of Justice in the Irish government knew more than she had admitted about the efforts by an ex-Garda Commissioner to smear whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
On Tuesday Tánaiste and Minister Frances Fitzgerald resigned. With both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil desperate to avoid a general election she had little other choice in the face of mounting political and public anger around the release of additional emails from the Dept. of Justice.
However, the resignation of Frances Fitzgerald is not the end of the issue. The Charleton Inquiry into protected disclosures will examine all of this after the New Year and serious questions remain about the actions of the current Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and the handling of the whole debacle by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
The email and the election
By the time this column is published we will know whether there is to be a general election in the south before Christmas, if the Grand Old Duke of Cork, Micheál Martin, has marched the Soldiers of Destiny up to the top of the hill, and “marched them down again” again or if Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has fallen on her sword.
Over the last four years there have been a series of Garda scandals which have rocked the southern establishment. Alan Shatter, former Minister for Justice resigned in 2014 and a Garda Commissioner resigned/was sacked depending on whose version of the account you believe.
As a consequence An Garda Siochána has become the focus of Reviews, Commissions of Investigation and a Tribunal of Inquiry. These have looked at almost two million falsified alcohol breath tests, as well as thousands of wrongful motoring convictions. There are also serious criticisms of Garda treatment of whistleblowers. In July members of the Public Accounts Committee in the Dáil said that Commissioner O’Sullivan’s position was untenable in light of its findings into financial irregularities at the Garda Training College at Templemore. So grave has been the disquiet and so persistent the allegations of maladministration and worse within the Garda that the government was also forced into establishing a Commission on the Future of Policing to report on its structure, culture and ethos, recruitment, training and management. This came after years of refusal to introduce root and branch reforms.
The current political crisis has its roots in a convoluted saga about the content and timing of a key email that was sent to the Tánaiste and former Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, and seven other senior civil servants in the Department of Justice, in May 2015. The email was ‘found’ three weeks ago on November 9th. It was from Michael Flahive, an Assistant Secretary in the Dept. of Justice. It was based on a call he received from a senior figure in the Office of the Attorney General. Its purpose was to alert Minister Fitzgerald to the fact that the legal team for the then Garda Commissioner O’Sullivan had challenged the motivation of Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation. The O’Higgins Commission had been set up in February 2015 to investigate claims by Sgt McCabe of Garda malpractice in Cavan and Monaghan area.
It was the intention of the Commissioner’s legal team to introduce a serious criminal complaint about an alleged sexual assault on a child, against McCabe in an attempt to undermine his credibility. The complaint had already been dismissed years earlier.
Maurice McCabe is the highest profile whistleblower in the history of An Garda Siochána. For ten years he has spoken out against alleged serious Garda malpractice, including a penalty point scandal which saw some prominent people having their penalty points for driving offences wiped. As a result of this and other accusations McCabe has faced a stream of attacks on his integrity and a malicious whispering campaign. However the Guerin Report in 2014 into the penalty point issue praised McCabe as a man of integrity. Subsequently Minister Frances Fitzgerald had publicly apologised to him in the Dáil. The Minister also met Maurice McCabe and his wife and said she regretted what the state had done to him.
When news of the existence of this vital email emerged last week former Justice Minister Fitzgerald said she couldn’t remember reading it. Given the high profile nature of McCabe and of his allegations, and the clear intent of Flahive to alert the Minister and the department to the Garda Commissioner’s legal strategy, many opposition TDs and citizens found it hard to believe that the Minister either hadn’t read the email or that the Justice Department hadn’t realised its importance.
On Sunday a spokesman for the Justice department confirmed that the Minister had ‘noted the email’. He said: “This is standard civil service language that means read.” The Minister also met the then Garda Commissioner the day after the email was received and did not mention it to her.
It has also emerged in recent days that Commissioner O’Sullivan told a senior official the Justice department in May 2015 about the legal row at the O’Higgins Commission.
So, the Justice Department was alerted on two occasions about the Garda Commissioners legal strategy but did nothing.
Throughout this row the Minister and her Government defenders have repeatedly said that she could not legally interfere in the work of the O’Higgins Commission. Some legal experts have publicly challenged this. But as the Garda Commissioner’s line manager the Minister for Justice could, and should, have questioned the Commissioner’s decision to embark on such a dangerous and reprehensible strategy against Maurice McCabe. Having spoken frequently of her admiration of Sgt McCabe the Minister should have defended him against this bogus allegation. The Minister chose to do nothing.
Instead over the next two years she and the government, including Taoiseach Varadkar, repeatedly expressed their complete confidence in the Garda Commissioner – right up to the point in September when Commissioner O’Sullivan announced her retirement.
In a further damaging postscript for the government to this crisis it emerged that the current Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan was made aware of the email on November 13th, four days after it was uncovered. Despite this neither he nor the other senior civil servants who were aware of it saw fit to inform the Taoiseach. He claimed on two separate days in the Dáil that he had spoken to the Tánaiste and had been told by her that she had no hand, act or part informing the former commissioner’s legal strategy, nor did she have any prior knowledge of the legal strategy the former commissioner’s team pursued. She found out about it after the fact, but around the time it was in the public domain when everyone else knew about it as well.” This was May 2016 – a year after the email was sent to her.
We now know the Tánaiste and at least seven senior civil servants had been told in May 2015.
Sinn Féin gave the Tánaiste ample time to clarify her position.  Her explanations were unsatisfactory. On Thursday of last week Sinn Féin submitted a motion of no confidence in the Minister.
Despite its confidence and supply arrangement with Fine Gael the Fianna Fáil party followed suit and published its own motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste and former Minister for Justice. Now all the talk is of a Christmas election. Without Fianna Fáil’s backing the government cannot survive.
In the days since then there have been a series of meetings between the leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Leo Varadkar appears determined to back his embattled Deputy leader Frances Fitzgerald. What will Micheál Martin do? Last week Martin described the email as “damning” and claimed that it was not credible for the minister not to remember it. He said what was worse was she did nothing.
Neither of these leaders really wants an election at this time. The opinion polls suggest no outright winner. That is also true for Sinn Féin and other parties in the Dáil. But a blind eye cannot be turned to the dysfunctionality and lack of accountability that is at the heart of this government on this issue, and on housing and homelessness, and the crisis in health. Sinn Féin intends pursuing our motion of no confidence. That will only be averted if the Tánaiste resigns.


Friday, November 24, 2017

Ballymurphy republicans don’t retire



The Ard Fheis was our biggest ever. The enthusiastic and very positive mood among delegates and the level of debate on policy issues was extraordinary and impressive. As someone else said to me the hall was buzzing. And that was especially evident at the end of the Saturday evening when the two and a half thousand people packed into the RDS raised their voices to the rafters and sang "Óró, sé do bheatha abhaile".
The Ard Fheis took lots of important decisions relating to the party’s constitution; to the issue of Sinn Féin going into coalition government in the south; on housing and health and abortion and many other matters.
It was also a night of remembrance. Martin McGuinness’s wife Bernie and his family were present for a celebration of his life and times that was hugely emotional. Elisha McCallion’s reflective words on Martin, the video of young people reciting his poem – Fullerton’s Dam – and the music was evocative and moving. Republicans miss Martin. We also miss all those comrades who died in the last year and in the decades of conflict before that.
However, for many, and certainly for the media much of their focus was on what I was to say about my own intentions as Uachtarán Shinn Féin. Some time ago I had made it clear that I would use my Ard Fheis speech to do this. Martin and I had discussed this a year and a half ago. We understood the need for regeneration and renewal if Sinn Féin is to achieve its historic goal of ending partition and reuniting our divided island. As in any walk of life it is important to plan for the future. This is especially true in politics. Generational change in leadership is a necessary element of our party’sten-year plan for reorganisation and growth.
Achieving reconciliation between Orange and Green and Irish unity are enormous challenges. They won’t happen by chance. No more than building a public health service across the island or having a housing policy that tackles homelessness, or winning support for our alternative to Brexit. They will not somehow magically materialise. You have to think strategically, build support, reach out to others in society, and produce costed, viable policy positions. You have to plan, plan, plan and deliver. And you need a leadership that is focussed on the future, engages with party activists and works with them to advance those plans.
With Bernie McGuinness
Martin had decided that on May 8th this year he would step aside as Deputy First Minister. That would have marked his tenth year in that post since the deal with Ian Paisley in 2007. We also agreed the timeframe for my stepping aside as Uachtarán Shinn Féin.
However, the best laid plans don’t always work. Martin took seriously ill. This, and the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal and the accusations by some in the DUP of corruption in that party, accelerated Martin’s timetable. And the rest is history. Martin resigned on January 9th this year and the institutions collapsed. In the Assembly election on March 2nd Sinn Féin came within a thousand votes of overtaking the DUP and crucially, what had been intended almost 100 years ago to be a permanent unionist majority came to an end.
Martin died on March 21st and in the subsequent Westminster election Sinn Féin saw our support reach historic heights.
Despite this very personal and enormous political loss, I remained convinced that my timetable for standing aside as leader of Sinn Féin should not change. I was also determined that the first people to be told of my decision was the party. And the opportunity for that was last weekend’s Ard Fheis.
Last minute changes
So, after almost 35 years as party leader, on Saturday evening I formally announced my decision to step down from the position of Uachtarán Shinn Féin. It’s now over to the incoming Ard Chomhairle of the party to agree the timetable for the process to elect a new Uachtarán sometime in the new year. I also said that I would not be standing in the next general election for the constituency of Louth and East Meath.
My first election as a candidate was in 1982 for the short lived Assembly. I was one of five Sinn Féin Assembly members from across the North, including Martin McGuinness, Francie Molloy, Danny Morrison and Jim McAllister. The following year I was returned as the MP for west Belfast. Apart from a brief period in the 90s I was consistently elected as MP for the west of the city up to my resignation to stand in the southern general election in 2011.
I want to thank all of those who have worked with me over those years; who welcomed me into their homes and communities and who made me part of countless campaigns.
I want to especially thank the people of west Belfast and the people of Louth for their unwavering support and solidarity, and friendship.
In their rush to write my political obituary some in the media have concluded that I’m now to retire. Well they’re wrong. I will continue to serve the republican struggle and Sinn Féin if and when I can. Bogside republicans don’t retire. Neither do Ballymurphy republicans.
 
Practicing the Speech

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

It’s all about equality

This blog was due to be posted at the weekend but because of the Ard Fheis it was held back until today. My next blog in two days will deal with my decision, which I announced at the Ard Fheis,  to stand down as Uachtarán Shinn Féin.
It was a refusal by the DUP to agree on the implementation of past agreements, including the introduction of an Irish Language Act, a Bill of Rights and the funding of legacy inquests, which blocked efforts last week to restore the political institutions. All of these matters, and others, including marriage equality, are part of the jig-saw of connecting issues which have been fundamental to the different phases of negotiations since last January.
When you strip away the complexities surrounding each separate issue in the current impasse you will find at their heart a deep desire by nationalists to be treated as equal to their unionist neighbours. It’s about equality.
While the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, and the DUPs inadequate response to it, is what precipitated the decision of Martin McGuinness to resign as Deputy First Minister, for many the provision of an Irish Language Act has become the touch stone issue of this crisis. Some unionist politicians have accused republicans of ‘weaponising’ the Irish language while some others claim that an Irish Language Act will lead to a ‘Balkanisation’ of the North. Nonsense.
The reality is that many nationalists and republicans do not speak the Irish language. But they believe that their children or their neighbour’s children should enjoy that right, and not have their love for their language mocked and derided. For the thousands of people who use the Irish language every day as their language of choice; it is the language they work in, read, listen to on their radios, and on their televisions, converse in with friends and family and neighbours.
The Irish language or Irish language speakers in the North is not anti the English language. Irish language speakers are equally at home in their use of English. They are not part of some grand conspiracy against all things English. Irish speakers in the North want the same rights as our neighbours in Scotland and Wales and in the 26 counties who have a legal entitlement to use Scots Gaelic or Welsh or Irish. No more - no less. They respect those who speak and use English and they want that respect reciprocated.
The Irish language, with or without an Irish Language Act, is not compulsory. It is for those who want to use it. It is the property of all. It is not exclusive, and it will continue to prosper without or without an Acht na Gaeilge – just as it has done in recent years as a result of deeply committed Irish language activists.
But if the Good Friday Agreement is to mean anything – if respect and equality and parity of esteem are to be meaningful in peoples’ lives and not just words on paper – then the right to converse in Irish – must be respected in our society.
Are my grand-daughters and grandson to grow up in a place where their language and culture, their music and dance and art and games, is to be ridiculed, demeaned as second rate – as inferior? Where it is acceptable for some unionist politicians to make snide and nasty comments designed to humiliate? To keep us in our place!
In a very real way the response of the some in the leadership of unionism has made the issue of an Irish Language Act a hugely important symbolic issue for nationalists. Is the North a society for all or is it still seen by unionism as their exclusive orange state?
Almost 100 years ago the northern state was created out of partition. In their desire to dominate this part of the island the Unionist leaders institutionalised discrimination in jobs, in housing, in elections, in the law, in the institutions of the state. Anything that was nationalist or Irish was banned or derided.
The peace process and the work of many good people, created a new political dispensation through the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements. Under its terms nationalists and republicans living within the North are equal citizens.  The Northern state is no longer, as the then Prime Minister for the North, Unionist Party leader James Craig told the Stormont Parliament in 1934: “… a Protestant Parliament and Protestant State."
Sadly there are those within the leadership of political unionism who have yet to come to terms with these new realities. They continue to fight old battles, to defend old sectarian attitudes and to reject equality for all citizens.
So, last week ended without a deal. The DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds gave an insight into DUP thinking on Friday when he proposed that in the absence of an Executive British Ministers in London should begin making decisions within weeks.
The DUP believe that their position has been enhanced by the deal they did to keep the Tories in power after the June election. But as any student of Anglo-Irish politics will attest this is a temporary situation. The UUP played this same role in the past with the Major government but that arrangement didn’t last and neither will this. It will all end in tears eventually as all of unionisms dalliances with the British have done in the past.
But for now, while some progress was made in the talks, there was and is no real evidence of a willingness by the DUP leadership to embrace the rights agenda in the way it needs to if the political institutions are to serve every single citizen.

While Sinn Féin remains open to meaningful dialogue, the reality is that without a step change on the part of the DUP and both governments on the issue of rights, it is difficult to see how an agreement can be reached in the next period of time which will see the institutions back in place.
Sinn Féin’s commitment and intention is to serve in those institutions and in the Executive but for this to be sustainable and durable these structures must represent all sections of our society and deliver, despite the challenges, for everyone.
If the DUP really want to be part of this, they know what to do. Agree a process for the implementation of Agreements which they breached and join with the rest of us to build a new dispensation based on respect, tolerance and equality.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Unity in our Time


I went to my first Sinn Féin Ard Fheis about fifty years ago. I say about fifty years ago because I don’t recall if it was in 1967 or 1968 and I haven’t the time to check out the dates. Suffice to say it was a long time ago. I was the youngest in a small delegation of Belfast comrades including the late Seán McCormack. We stayed in The Castle Hotel in Gardiner Street. Local legend has it that Micheál Collins used to stay there. The Castle certainly has a chequered republican history from 1916 through the Tan and Civil War onwards. That Ard Fheis weekend was also the first time I stayed in a hotel.

Sinn Féin Ard Fheiseanna have frequently been the scene for the most important decisions affecting the direction of republican politics on this island. It is the Ard Fheis, not the Party President or Ard Chomhairle (National Executive), which is the supreme authority of Sinn Féin and this year’s Ard Fheis which takes place at the weekend in the RDS in Dublin promises to be another of these.

Ard Fheiseanna are an opportunity to debate party policy, shape the political direction of the party for the year ahead and a social opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones. While I always enjoy them some have been more memorable and historic that others.

The 1970 Ard Fheis was one of these. It was a turbulent time within Irish republicanism, as well as in the northern state. The violent response of the unionist government to the civil rights movement and the demand for change led to significant disagreements among republicans over how we should respond. When I travelled to Dublin to participate in the Ard Fheis in the Intercontinental Hotel (later Jury’s) in January I was refused entry on the spurious grounds that I was not properly accredited. Locked out I went off and joined a protest against the apartheid South African Springboks who were to play at Lansdowne Road rugby football grounds. Behind me in the Intercontinental Hotel republicans divided into a bitter split. Official Sinn Féin mar dhea was born. So too was Provisional Sinn Féin. I have never been comfortable with the term Provisional affixed to either Sinn Féin or the Army.

Over the following years I attended every Ard Fheis, apart from those years when I was imprisoned. During the 70s Sinn Féin was largely a protest organisation campaigning against internment, British repression, torture, British state collusion with unionist death squads, and in support of the men and women on protest in the H-Block and Armagh Women’s prisons or in gaols in Britain.

I was elected Uachtarán Shinn Féin in 1983. In 1986 the Ard Chomhairle put a proposal to the Ard Fheis for an end to abstentionism in the South. This was a huge step to take. It was a fundamental political departure and with it came threats of another split.

Thirty one years ago this month the Mansion House was packed for that historic debate. Rumours of splits and walkabouts abounded. In my presidential speech I told the conference that as political conditions change so too must republican strategy. I warned that the removal of abstentionism would not provide a magic wand solution to our problems. In the south it would only clear the decks. I told the delegates and visitors to our Ard Fheis that they had to cease being spectators of a struggle in the six counties and become pioneers of republicanism in the 26 counties, putting our policies before the people.

I vividly remember during the lunch break meeting with Ruairí, Daithí O'Connell and others who were against changing the constitution. I appealed to them to stay within the party and within the struggle, and not to walkout. Regrettably, when the necessary two-thirds majority was achieved Ruairí and his colleagues, about 40 in all, walked out of the hall.

One response to that decision, and to the fear that Sinn Féin could provide an alternative to the establishment parties, was an entrenchment of public hostility by the southern political and media establishment toward Sinn Féin. As a result we were refused the use of the Mansion House to hold the Ard Fheis. Other public buildings were denied to us as Fianna Fail, the Labour Party and Fine Gael abused their municipal authority to bar us.

Eventually in 1992 the Ballyfermot Residents Association offered us the use of their community centre. Danny Devenny and his friends painted murals on the walls and the organizing committee ensured that the Ard Fheis ran smoothly and was hugely enjoyable, despite the cramped conditions.

We launched a new discussion documents ‘Towards a Lasting Peace in Ireland.’ At its core it advocated, inclusive dialogue and talks as the means of resolving the conflict; a new arrangement between London and Dublin to end partition; international assistance to help break the deadlock; and, a programme for national reconciliation. The document marked a major shift in Sinn Fein thinking. It was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Ard Fheis.

Following the conclusion of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement negotiations we had one week to prepare for our Ard Fheis. It took place on April 18th. The Ulster Unionist Party was holding a meeting of its ruling Council that day also. About mid-afternoon on the Saturday news came through that the Ulster Unionist Council had endorsed by 540 votes to 210 support for David Trimble and the agreement. When I got this news I told the Ard Fheis and said 'well done David'. And then, probably for the first time in the history of our party, the conference spontaneously applauded a unionist leader.

At the end of that Ard Fheis the Ard Chomhairle proposed that we hold a special reconvened one-day session for May 10th to take a formal decision on the Good Friday Agreement. We needed that time for party activists and republicans generally to discuss and debate the many issues raised by the Agreement.

On Sunday May 10th we returned to the RDS. As before, the hall was packed. Unbeknownst to the delegates and visitors we had persuaded the Irish government to release the recently transferred Balcombe Street prisoners for their first parole in twenty-three years. When the Balcombe Street men entered the hall there was sustained and wild applause for over ten minutes. Tears flowed freely down many faces. They came onto the stage and the RDS shook with the sound of clapping and the rhythmic stamping of feet.

In the end, after five hours of debate the delegates changed the party’s Constitution to allow successful candidates to sit in a northern Assembly. Of all the moments that have been described as historic this truly deserved that description. That Ard Fheis really did make history.

In the years since then there have been other Ard Fheiseanna that have been historic, including the Ard Fheis in January 2007 which saw Sinn Féin agree to the new policing dispensation that we had negotiated in the preceding years.
So, this weekend we are back in the RDS for the Ard Fheis. There are many important matters on the clár for discussion, including the impasse in the North, the eighth amendment, homelessness, the crisis in health and international affairs. We will also be discussing our ten-year strategy for growth and regeneration – Unity in our Time.
If you can’t come take the time to watch the live slot on RTE on Saturday morning. You will see a party with the vision and leadership to achieve government North and South and committed to Irish unity and reconciliation. 


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