Speech by Gerry Adams, then President of SF, at Bodenstown, 20 June 2004
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Speech by Gerry Adams, then leader of Sinn Féin, Bodenstown, Wolfe Tone Commemoration, 20 June 2004
Making Republicanism Relevant - This is our Time
I'd like to start off by welcoming everybody here today for the annual Bodenstown commemoration. A special welcome to our honorees from last nights Le Cheile event and greetings to you all from Joe Cahill and a welcome for Annie Cahill.
This is one of the highlights of our calendar, a chance for us to gather together and look at our progress over the year, while honouring a republican hero, Theobald Wolfe Tone.
Tone said during his trial in 1798:
"From my earliest youth, I have regarded the connection between Ireland and Great Britain, as the curse of the Irish nation; and felt convinced, that, whilst it lasted, this country could never be free nor happy."
We are proud to be Irish republicans in the tradition of Tone and we assert here at this graveside that neither the people of Ireland nor Britain can be truly free or happy while British jurisdiction remains in any part of Ireland.
Our primary political objectives therefore remain, an end to partition, an end to the union, the construction of a new national democracy - a new republic - on the island of Ireland, and reconciliation between orange and green.
But we also want change in the here and now. We are not prepared to wait until we have achieved these goals for people to have their rights to a decent home, to a job and a decent wage, to decent public services like health and education, and a safer cleaner environment.
Key to achieving this is the hard, tedious, difficult work of building political strength. By building that strength we will build the capacity to move both the British government and the unionists and to influence the political agenda in this state.
By building political strength we can build the republic that was envisioned by the United Ireland movement and in the 1916 Proclamation - a republic built on equality, justice and freedom.
Last November Sinn Féin took another step forward in achieving our goals. This party became the largest pro Agreement party in the north - a significant achievement for a party, which for over three decades was demonised, marginalised and whose members and families have been the target of assassination.
Last weekend Sinn Féin broke the mould of Irish politics by electing Mary Lou McDonald and Bairbre de Brún to the European Parliament and by electing Councillors right across the southern state.
The front page of the Phoblacht sums it up - 342,000 votes, 2 MEPs, 232 Councillors, 24 MLAs, 5TDs and 4MPs.
I want to make a few comments about the citizenship referendum. While we are disappointed the referendum has been passed, it is not a surprise to anyone. This referendum was rushed through, without any debate and at the worst possible time - during a double election campaign. What is clear is that this referendum has enshrined inequality in the Constitution and this will have harmful, long-term consequences.
It is also clear that what was required a month ago and what is still required is a fair, just and human rights based immigration policy for the island. Sinn Féin will continue to do our utmost to bring that about.
We have come a long way from the Ard Fheis 21 years ago when I said; "If Sinn Féin stands on the side lines, separate from and isolated from the people we cannot hope to attract support for what looks like a vague utopian image of some perfect Eire Nua of the future. The solution is for Sinn Féin to get among the people in the basic ways that people accept - this means new approaches and difficult and perhaps risky political positions have to be faced up to by us."
We have developed those new approaches. We have taken difficult and risky decisions.
We have demonstrated time and time again a preparedness to go on the political offensive, to take initiatives and go toe to toe with our political opponents in the battle of ideas, as well as in the hard job of building workable political partnerships.
A year and a half ago the British government suspended the political institutions in the north at the behest of unionism.
Irish republicans have made serious and repeated efforts to work with the two governments and unionists to find a way to resolve this crisis in the process.
Sinn Féin is again engaged in detailed and intense discussions with the two governments. These have been going on for some months, including during the recent election campaign and have now reached a new intensity of dialogue.
Our objective is clear - to restore the political institutions and end the crisis in the process. Consequently, Sinn Féin is pressing for a comprehensive and holistic package, which deals with all of the outstanding matters in a way that is definitive and conclusive.
In our negotiations with the governments, and in our efforts to achieve a package of measures, which will secure progress, we have focused on a number of key issues. These include the need for full participation in the political institutions; the issues of policing and justice, including the transfer of powers to the Assembly; the issue of armed groups and arms, and the issues of human rights, equality and sectarianism.
There are also matters, which are clearly the responsibility of the two governments, as well as issues for the Review.
Sinn Féin is committed to playing a full and productive role in resolving these matters.
This means more challenges ahead for Irish republicans.
This means republicans facing up to these challenges sure in our belief in our republican analysis, and confident in our peace strategy.
The reality is that if the political will exists - and republicans have that political will - then we can all collectively make progress. Consequently, the intense efforts to agree a package must continue until there is an agreement or until we have exhausted all possibilities of agreement.
The decision by the governments to put off intensive negotiations until September means that they have bought into the time-frame set down by the DUP. Once again the governments are allowing unionism to set the pace in the process. This is unacceptable.
There is no reason why the effort to resolve this should be put off for the summer and we will put this directly to the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach when we meet next Friday.
Sinn Féin believes that it is possible to achieve a comprehensive and holistic package, which deals with all of the outstanding matters in a way that is definitive and conclusive. But allowing a party, which has clearly declared itself against the Good Friday Agreement and which refuses to accept and respect the mandates of others at this time should not be allowed to set the pace.
For our part we will use our vote wisely. We will not rest on our laurels. Sinn Féin is a can-do party. 342,000 people across this island accept that and gave us their vote.
These votes are not second-class.
Our voters will not be treated as second-class citizens.
Each and every citizen who voted for Sinn Féin is entitled to respect and equality of treatment exactly the same as every other citizen, and this party will be the guarantor of that. Our party accepts criticism. We are not above scrutiny and we welcome debate even of the most vigorous kind. But no-one has the right to question the democratic creditentials of Sinn Féin or our voters. We will work not only for those who voted for us, we will work also for those who did not vote for us.
We also expect the very highest standards from our representatives. We must take our example from the first MP of our generation - Bobby Sands MP and our first TD Kieran Doherty.
We cannot expect to emulate their sacrifices but their integrity, generosity, comradeship and dedication, along with that of Councillor Eddie Fullerton, Cllr John Davey, Cllr Bernard O‚Hagan, Shenna Campbell, Vice President Maire Drumm and the many other members of this party and family members and friends who were killed, are the role models for us today.
Remember that our mandate and the rights of our electorate were won on the sacrifices of others and their families.
And remember also that while elections are about numbers, and seats, our interest, Sinn Féin's electoral interest is in building the political strength necessary to bring about change.
That is why people voted for us.
The motto of the United Irish movement, founded by Wolfe Tone, was one word - Equality. Inequality has thrived in this state as successive governments pursued right-wing policies with vigour.
The reality is, at a time of great wealth the establishment wasn’t listening to people. It heard people. But it chose to ignore them.
The opposition parties have been no better. Labour and Fine Gael are already signalling that once again they are considering an alternative coalition government.
Labour has made this mistake before. Three times in the last 60 years Fine Gael was periodically rescued from terminal decline by being put into government by Labour.
People don't want more of the same. If Labour is interested in alternative politics it should work with others to build a real left alternative, instead of concerning itself with getting Ministerial seats. This alternative must also have a progressive and democratic position and strategy on the national question, an issue on which Labour has also been sadly lacking.
Little wonder it has been said that the Labour Party went into the GPO with James Connolly in 1916 and never came out again.
A radical agenda to end inequality and advance the peace process and Irish unity is urgently required. Let me also point up the need for us to support efforts to revive the Irish language. I believe that there are people in every political party who support all or some of these objectives. Certainly every party draws its support from people who have this view. And of course there is that new constituency who support no political party because they see no party capable of delivering on such an agenda. In this election we succeeded in mobilising sections of that vote.
There are good people in every political party on this island and many more outside of the political parties. I believe that everyone who is committed to ending inequality needs to come together in a broad, even at this point, informal alliance for change. This must include not merely political parties but community groups, voluntary organisations, trade unions, rural organisations, campaigning groups and human rights bodies.
Last week's election was not just about seats for us.
Our success in the future will be judged by the amount of change we bring about. Already there are rumours and speculation that the government is going to change some of its policies. If that is the case then we have already begun to make an impact. This is our time. Sinn Féin doesn’t have all the answers but we have commitment. We have idealism. And we have strategies.
We also have a lot of work to do. We must use our present mandate as a launching pad to grow an island wide, a nation wide mass Sinn Féin movement.
We have to open our party up to women comrades and to people who will bring their own life experiences and values. I particularly want to commend Ógra Sinn Féin for their dedicated work and enormous contribution. Our goal has to be to have a Sinn Féin cumann in every electoral ward across Ireland.
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of Sinn Féin. We have a year of education, of re-popularising the republican struggle, a year of analysing and learning the lessons of a century in struggle.
We will be launching Coiste Chomóradh an Chéid 'The Centenary Committee' to organise and plan these celebrations.
And then in the same period we will have to reflect on how best to remember and celebrate in 2006 the 25th anniversary of hunger strikes.
We also intend to relaunch An Phoblacht and I want to mark that up as one of the priorities for activists in the time ahead.
So let me thank and commend each and every one of you.
Let me commend all of our workers, our election directors and their directorates, our Finance Department, our Director of Publicity and her team, the Cúige and strategy groups, Friends of Sinn Féin and all of those who contributed in any way to our recent success.
Let me thank especially all of those who vote for us.
On your behalf I also thank every one of our candidates and their families. And to represent them all I want you to welcome Pearse Doherty, Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald.
There will be difficult times ahead. We must rise to the challenges before us.
Irish republicans have demonstrated time and time again our capacity to overcome adversity and advance our struggle for freedom and justice against enormous odds.
It is not enough to sloganise. We are not verbalised republicans or rhetorical revolutionaries. We are deadly serious about turning the vision of 1798 and 1916 into a reality.
I believe this generation of Irish republicans will do just that.
It will not be easy. But our responsibility as activists is to make republicanism relevant in our time. This is our time.
So, let us move the struggle forward. Let us keep building our strength. And let us keep our eye on the prize.
The prize of freedom.
Ar aghaidh linn le chéile.
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