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Gerry Adams, then President of SF, Speech to Ard Fheis, 28 February 2004

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Text: Gerry Adams ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Text of a speech delivered by Gerry Adams, then leader of Sinn Féin, at its Ard Fheis at the RDS, Dublin, 28 February 2004


A chairde

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh gach duine atá anseo inniu, na hoifigigh, an ceannaireacht, na baill uilig agus chomh maith leis sin ár gcairde ón tír seo agus thar lear.

Tá súil agam go bhfuil sibh ag baint sult as an chaint agus dióspoireacht thar an deireadh seachtaine.

I want to welcome all of you here to this very unique gathering, the Ard Fheis of the only all-Ireland political party on this island.

I want to greet our international visitors, our delegates, members and activists and our Friends of Sinn Féin visitors from the United States, Australia and Canada who do such a great job for us.

I want to extend a particular céad míle failte to our team of MLAs, those men and women newly elected to represent Sinn Féin in the Assembly in the north - if we had an Assembly in the north. Failte romhaibh uilig.

I also want to extend, on behalf of the Ard Fheis, a warm greeting to two people who cannot be here today but who are watching on RTE. Bheatha agus slainte to Joe and Annie Cahill.

The process of change has been set to one side

A lot has happened since our last Ard Fheis.

Sinn Féin has become the largest pro-Agreement party in the north.

In the south increasing numbers of people are looking to us as an alternative to the self-serving politics of the conservative parties.

Little wonder that the more hysterical of our detractors are regurgitating the old propaganda nonsense of the past.

So, this party is once again in the eye of the storm, the main target of invective by all the other parties.

More importantly and of greater concern is that the process of change has been set to one side.

So today I will resist the temptation to react to the agenda put forward by our opponents. Today is a day for talking about our agenda.

Tá Sinn Féin ar an phairtí is sine ar an oileán seo. Tcífimid an bhliain seo chugainn ceiliúradh céad bliain ar an tsaol don phairtí seo. Tá muid iontach bródúil a bheith pairteach sa phairtí mór stairiúil seo.

Ach cosúil le stair na tíre seo tá stair Shinn Féin á scríobh go fóill. Tá an cuid is fearr le teacht go fóíll.

The History Makers

Next year is the centenary year of the foundation of this party.

A hundred years is a long time in politics.

Yet the history of Sinn Féin continues to be in the making and you, the people assembled here, are among the history makers.

If I was asked to measure Sinn Féin's successes in our era, I would not only cite our political growth - the number of votes cast for us - though that is important.

I would also state that the success of a party like ours has to be measured by how much change we have brought about. And I believe that this has been considerable.

Other parties have more votes than us. They have been in power many times but what changes have they created?

A decade of change - Moving out of conflict into a better future

Let's look briefly at the situation a decade ago.

1993 was a violent year. Eighty-eight people lost their lives and many others were injured and maimed. Sixteen people died in the Shankill bombing and the Greysteel attacks alone.

It was also the year of the Hume/Adams initiative.

The Peace Process was emerging from a protracted bout of secret and private diplomacy involving Republicans, John Hume, the British and Irish Governments and influential Irish Americans.

There was a huge resistance from elements in both establishments on these islands to such developments.

Remember, this party was censored, denied the use of municipal buildings in Dublin city, and party colleagues and family members were killed. John Hume was stigmatised for daring to talk to us. His detractors included leading members of the coalition government and of his own party.

As you all know John Hume announced his retirement last month. I want to pay tribute to John. I extend best wishes to him and Pat, and wish them well for the future.

John Major, the British Prime Minister, was vehemently denying any knowledge of the Hume/Adams initiative. He declared that his stomach would 'turn-over' at the thought of dialogue with Republicans.

Predictably the unionist leadership declared that they would not participate in dialogue. In November 1993 Ian Paisley announced that unionism 'faced the greatest threat to the Union since the Home Rule crisis'.

At this time exactly 10 years ago, just two months into the new year of 1994, 8 people had already lost their lives.

I rehearse all of this today only to underscore the massive changes that have occurred and the progress that has been made.

While there are now very real and immediate difficulties in the peace process I can say without any fear of contradiction that we are still in a far better place than we were 10 years ago.

I can say without fear of contradiction that Irish republicans have driven that process while others have tried to bring it to a halt.

All of this change has happened because of courageous and imaginative thinking in the early 1990s by republicans and others.

Within republicanism the debate about conflict resolution crystalised in the Sinn Féin peace strategy which was the catalyst for breaking the stalemate in the conflict in the north.

The key lesson from that period for Irish republicans is that we did not allow ourselves to be locked into or paralysed by the immediacy of the conflict, by the hurt we suffered or by the short-sightedness of our opponents.

We sought to create a political alternative by initiating dialogue, by politically empowering our own constituency, by mobilising and campaigning in new and innovative ways.

We sought to bring an imaginative, creative and magnanimous approach to our political work.

We sought to engage our opponents and to understand their perspective.

We sought to over-come rather than sustain difficulties and differences.

Therein lies the key to the resolution of the current difficulties.

Firstly, everyone genuinely commited to the process has to recognise that the current situation is untenable in the longer term.

Secondly, we have to resolve that the improvements, hard won by dint of huge effort, will not be destroyed by those whose only vision of the future is the past.

Thirdly, there has to be an ongoing process of sustainable change.

In other words the peace process must deliver.

British are allowing anti-Agreement unionists to dictate pace of change

Last April, the British government in their Joint Declaration with the Irish government acknowledged their failure to implement many outstanding elements of the Agreement.

They did so again in October.

In November Ian Paisley's DUP emerged as the strongest unionist party.

That shift to the right within unionism occurred because the UUP leadership allowed the rejectionists to set the agenda.

[And worse than that] The British government acquiesced to, and at times encouraged, this approach so that the process of change became dependant on the whim of a unionist leader constantly looking over his shoulder at his rejectionist rivals.

Thus, for the last six years rather than fully enforcing the Agreement London has proceeded only at a pace, which unionism and its own government agencies, have been prepared to tolerate.

This is the core difficulty in this process.

And now we are at our greatest crisis because we have no process of change.

At this time the process is static.

This process, any process by its nature cannot be static. It either moves forward or it moves back. We are determined that it moves forward. That is why we are arguing that the programme of change must continue.

The reality is that we do not have parity of esteem and equal treatment for different allegiances.

The Human Rights Commission is in a mess.

There is no Bill of Rights. Discrimination remains endemic. The Human Rights Commission failed the children of the Holy Cross Primary School in Ardoyne. The Chief Commissioner should go and go now.

We still do not have the new beginning to policing and justice promised in the Good Friday Agreement.

Where stands the promised demilitarisation of our society when the British Army is still in occupation of republican heartlands?

There is a need for stable political institutions with the people's elected representatives making decisions on important issues, which affect all our lives, across a range of social and economic issues.

The suspension of these institutions must be lifted. It is a breach of the Agreement.

So we have our work cut out for us. Bringing the process as far as it has come has not been easy.

It will not be easy in the time ahead.

It will challenge us.

But the challenges are not only for republicans.

The British state in Ireland is a contrived political entity. It was created and moulded to ensure a permanent unionist majority. It is entirely unionist in its ethos, symbolism and management. So any attempt to bring about equality is bound to be very difficult.

And this isn't just about the section of people in the north who are unionist. I think that they know that London has little loyalty to them.

They distrust London even more than nationalists. And correctly so. London acts and will always act in London's interests.

But the senior policy makers within the British system and particularly those unaccountable branches of the so-called security agencies are entirely anti-Irish, anti-republican and anti-democratic.

Their version of the peace process had a very different script from the one that has been written in recent years.

In their script the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party were to form the so-called centre ground. In essence British policy is about modernising the union so that a section of Protestants and Catholics in the north, and these are British government words, not mine, could be persuaded to support the union.

Sinn Féin was to be perhaps a significant but nonetheless small, incohesive element of an anaemic political system in the north.

But it hasn?t turned out like that. Sinn Féin is now within 15,000 votes of being the largest party.

We have the right to the position of the Deputy First Minister.

The Good Friday Agreement has also correctly been seen as an instrument of change, real change in real ways in peoples? lives.

All of this is a nightmare to the securocrats.

The truth on collusion must be revealed

Despite their protestations to the contrary, so far the Good Friday Agreement has been too big a challenge for the British government, or perhaps more accurately it is a bridge too far for its agencies.

And let there be no doubt about the continuing power and influence of these elements.

The refusal to co-operate with a range of investigations into state and state-sponsored violence is symptomatic of a culture of concealment that infects the entire British system.

They have obstructed the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday, the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; they have refused to initiate full and independent inquiries into a number of controversial killings, and vital inquest evidence in respect of numerous state and state-linked killings is being withheld by the PSNI and the Chief Constable Hugh Orde.

The British government has also refused to publish the Cory Report. 15 years after the death of Pat Finucane his family is still waiting for the truth.

Bhí baint láidir ag rialtas na Breataine i ndúnmharú na céadta daoine in sa tír seo. Bhí siad ag comhoibriú leis na gasraí dílseacha agus tá siad ag obair leo go fóill.

Bhí na grúpaí marfacha seo ag obair lámh le chéile leis na péas agus le arm na Sasann agus le polaiteoirí is stat seirbhísí den leibhéal is airde i rialtas na Sasann.

Mharaigh siad na céadta poblachtánaigh, náisiúnnaigh, caitlicigh.

Dúnmharíodh 20 baill de Shinn Féin, ionadaithe tófa san aireamh, maraíodh ár gcairde agus baill clanna san fheachtas fíochmhar de sceimhle polaitiúil.

Collusion - the control, resourcing and direction of unionist death squads by British state agencies - was sanctioned at the highest level of the British government.

It resulted in the deaths of hundreds of republicans, nationalists and Catholics.

Twenty members of Sinn Féin, including elected Sinn Féin representatives, our family members and friends were killed in a vicious campaign of political terror.

This is a human rights scandal, which anywhere else would have brought down governments.

The murder of citizens through collusion with Unionist death squads has been and remains British state policy in Ireland. The apparatus is still in existence.

Earlier this month 100 families of victims of collusion took their campaign for the truth to London.

Some of them are with us today. I want to acknowledge and support them.

Irish government must represent Irish national interests

Issues of inequality and injustice will continue to demand our attention. That is why an Irish government must have additional and more far-reaching strategic objectives than a British government.

British government strategy aims first and foremost to serve British national interests.

Are Irish national interests the primary focus of Irish government strategy, now or over the past 5, or 30, or 80 years? The answer, unfortunately, is no. The Barron report is eloquent, tragic, pathetic testimony to that.

Conservative and neo-unionist elements in the south serve only their own narrow interests which in some cases are fundamentally anti-republican and pro-partitionist; and at times against the national interest. They are comfortable with the status quo. It has served them well.

So the strength and energy of an alternative, radical republican view is as important in the south as in the north.

But we don't have all the answers and in our endeavours to make progress we readily recognise that republicans are not exempt from criticism. I have consistently acknowledged this in a very public way.

Irish people are not stupid. We can tell the difference between slick opportunism and legitimate comment; between people doing their best to make progress and people doing their best to prevent it.

Republicans take risks and governments and unionists walk away

The outworking of the British?s government strategy was brought very much into stark profile when Mr. Trimble aborted the sequence of initiatives agreed on October 21st last year, after republicans honoured commitments as part of an agreed sequence of statements and actions.

This included the IRA putting its third and largest amount of arms beyond use.

But Mr. Trimble wasn't the only one to dishonour his commitments.

He was joined by the British and Irish governments and neither one of them have moved one inch since then on the undertakings they gave.

Only Sinn Féin and the IRA upheld their parts of the agreed sequence.

This has caused profound difficulties for the Sinn Féin leadership. Many republicans have raised what they and I consider to be reasonable questions about our handling of that episode.

There was, as one comrade put it to me, a question over the decisions made by us and by the Army leadership. 'Surely you knew better than to depend on David Trimble? Did you really expect the two governments to keep their commitments?' 'Why is it always republicans who have to take initiatives?'

And the irony of it all is that there is no doubt, even among its detractors and opponents, about the significance of the IRA's act.

Governments and rejectionist unionists alike have acknowledged this fact.

Despite what happened subsequently I want to make it clear that I stand over the remarks I made that day.

I set out a peaceful direction for republicans because I believe that is the proper position.

I will argue that position with anyone, in any place and at any time.

But the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach must deliver also.

They must stand up to the rejectionists.

They too must take risks for peace.

Leadership is needed

There is an understandable focus on the DUP at this time. It is right that their position should be explored. Sinn Féin is for that. But we're against time wasting.

The process of change and the rights of citizens cannot wait for Ian Paisley to embrace the concept of equality.

The two governments have to face up to that reality.

They also have to face up to the reality that republicans have very little confidence in them and their commitment to the Good Friday Agreement at this time.

So, the governments have to be energetic in how they approach the next phase.

This places a heavy responsibility on them - and especially on Mr. Ahern and Mr. Blair - to provide the essential political leadership that this dangerous crisis urgently demands.

This means that the two governments have to honour their obligations made in the Agreement, made in last years Joint Declaration and in subsequent discussions.

They know that a vacuum will encourage those who want to tear down this process. We only have to look to the Middle East and the terrible events there to realise the danger of a stalled peace process.

For our part republicans recognise that building peace is a collective endeavour.

We who want to see the maximum change are called upon to take the greatest risks.

So there can be no doubt if the two governments apply themselves to acts of completion of the Good Friday Agreement then others must do likewise.

In fact the IRA leadership clearly put its position on the public record in May last year when it said that the full and irreversible implementation of the Agreement and other commitments will provide a context in which it can proceed to definitively set aside arms to further its political objectives.

Such a commitment would have been unimaginable ten years ago.

So too would the last decade of IRA cessations.

The opportunity provided by these developments should not be wasted.

This party is actively working to ensure this.

But threats, ultimatums, or the imposing of preconditions can be no part of this. Holding up a process which is essentially about basic rights and modest entitlements is totally counter-productive.

No matter how daunting, tedious and frustrating this process may be for the governments and the rest of us there is no alternative way forward.

The resolution of difficulties will only be found through dialogue and keeping commitments.

Efforts to put Sinn Féin under pressure are a waste of time.

I state that as a fact, plainly and simply, not through any wish to be macho.

Republicans are committed to this process by choice. We want it to work. We intend to make it work. But we will not be bullied or denied our rights.

Two of the great challenges facing us nationally are to get a British government to embrace a strategy to bring an end to the union and to work with the representatives of the people of this island to bring about a united and independent Ireland.

But why should a British government move on these democratic objectives or even on the Good Friday Agreement when others will accept less?

The Irish government in particular should know that nationalists and republicans look to them to persuade the British government on these matters.

The Irish government is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and that Agreement is both an international treaty and a part of the Irish Constitution.

Citizens want delivery on those issues, which are directly the responsibility of the Irish Government.

This includes the status of the Irish language and proper funding and resourcing for it.

There is also the issue of prisoners within this jurisdiction who should have been released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

And most importantly the right of Northerners to have representation and participation in political institutions in Dublin continues to be withheld.

The Taoiseach needs to explain why this is so? He needs to sustain and build confidence in the peace process and in politics - all the more so when others seek to undermine the process.

He should act energetically and consistently on his commitments. He should resist and confront the securocrat agenda, which now openly demands a return to exclusion and repression - to the failed policies of the past.

Dialogue must be about change and equality

At the same time all of us who share the republican ideal are continuously challenged by the need to agree with unionism about how we should live together on this island.

Caithfidh muid smaoineadh ar siombalachas an bhrat náisiúnta - agus an dóigh chun aontas is síochán -idir buí agus glas - a chur i gcrích.

Caithfidh muid glacadh go mothaíonn aontachtóirí faoi bhagairt ó phobhachtachas agus náisiúnachas.

Tá eagla ar aontachtóirí dá mbeadh an seans ag poblachtánaigh agus náisiúnaigh go gcaithfimis leo mar saoránaigh den darna leibhéal.

Ní dhéanfaimis a leithid agus ní dheanfaidh.

Tá na laethanta mar soránaigh darna aicme críochnaithe.

Nuair a éilímid comhionannas, tá muid ag éileamh comhionannas do gach aon duine.

How do we make the symbolism of our national flag - unity and peace between orange and green - a reality?

We must acknowledge that unionists feel threatened by republicanism and nationalism.

Unionists fear that if given the chance republicans and nationalists would treat them as second-class citizens.

We would not, and we will not. The days of second-class citizens are over.

When we demand equality, we demand equality for everyone.

So, these fears must be dealt with.

We have that duty, as do the leaders of unionism.

For this reason Irish republicans are ready to do business with the various unionist camps.

The DUP and the UUP, the two largest unionist parties, are involved in a cynical, frustrating exercise in macho posturing.

Ian Paisley and David Trimble are fighting for control of unionism, both trying to prove how tough they are. And while they play their power games, the peace process stalls, and withers.

Sooner or later, we and the unionists must begin a real dialogue, an anti-sectarian dialogue, designed to move us all beyond the impasse of the present into a living, hopeful future in which they, as well as we, tell the British government to butt-out; that no longer will London, which is not trusted or respected by any constituency in Ireland, set the terms for us.

The DUP is now the senior unionist party.

The logic of its position is that it should be in government with Sinn Féin.

Republicans are not naïve about the DUP.

We know that they want to minimise the process of change.

But the DUP also knows that if it wants a return to sustainable devolved administration that it will be with Sinn Féin in government and it will be with the all-Ireland model contained in the Good Friday Agreement.

So, our party is prepared to explore the DUP position, not because we have any illusions about Mr. Paisley?s position, but because we have confidence in our own position and because one of our objectives is for a strategic alliance with unionism for the benefit of all our people.

We recognise and respect the mandate of the DUP ? they must recognise and respect our mandate.

So too must the parties here in the south.

Remember, in the Assembly elections we didn't compete only with the unionists and the SDLP. Fianna Fáil, the PDs, Fine Gael and the Labour Party opposed us.

In what was a great national effort by our activists from all over this island we roundly defeated them all.

So the battle lines have been drawn for the next contest. Between now and June and the local government and European Union elections we can expect more nonsense from Minister McDowell.

The Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil should not be part of this short-sighted anti-republican agenda.

These elections are important for us and the other parties but they are not more important than the peace process.

This isn't to say that we should not defend ourselves and the integrity of our party. On the contrary we will do that with gusto. We will also put before the people our record, our policies, our agenda for change.

I never take voters for granted but I have a feeling that Sinn Féin is going to advance again at local level.

I wish all our candidates well and look forward to another national effort to build republican politics, to send a clear message to our opponents and to consolidate support for our peace strategy.

Another Europe is possible

The European Union elections have already begun. Sinn Féin is the only party contesting on an all-Ireland basis.

Sinn Féin wants a Europe of equals.

We will not accept an EU where more than 55 million people face poverty and social exclusion.

An EU whose combined military spending is almost three times higher than the global development aid budget.

We, who live in this part of the world, have a huge responsibility towards our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

There can be no doubt that the greatest global sources of insecurity are disease, poverty, hunger and injustice.

So, I welcome this week's Dublin Declaration. It is a step in the right direction.

Global military spending remains 14 times higher than the global development aid budget. This is a disgrace when you consider that 30,000 children in Africa and in other parts of the world die each day.

Eliminating poverty is not impossible.

It requires far-sighted, progressive global leadership.

It means taking the actions which are necessary and making these an international priority.

There is also a need to end wars.

It is an outrage that the occupation of Iraq continues, it is an outrage that the conflict in the Middle East continues and that the suffering of the Palestinian people continues to be largely ignored.

The apartheid wall is a human rights outrage. It is contrary to international law and it must come down.

So, we want to be part of a European Union that leads by example on human rights, on demilitarisation and conflict resolution.

Sinn Féin is pro-Europe but we want to be part of a European Union that defers to and supports the United Nations, a European Union that leads the way in the cancellation of debt in the developing world, that is nuclear weapons-free, that protects the environment, and that trades fairly with other regions.

We want a mandate to argue that the European Union should promote and work towards the full spectrum of national, collective and individual rights.

We want to defend our fishing industry, our farmers, and our small indigenous businesses.

I also have to say that I totally reject the Irish government's attitude to the status of the Irish language within the EU. It is totally unacceptable that during the Irish Presidency of the Union that the government has refused to move in order to secure official status for the Irish language as a working language.

The Nice Treaty referendums are proof that our view is shared by almost 40% of the electorate.

I want to appeal to voters who traditionally vote for the other parties to look at the record of those parties.

I want to appeal to them to vote for the only all-Ireland team.

In the north we have Bairbre de Brún, South - David Cullinane; North West - Pearse Doherty; East - John Dwyer; and Dublin - Mary Lou McDonald.

Transforming Irish society

The past decade has been the decade of the peace process in Ireland. The politics of Sinn Féin's peace strategy is to empower people.

But the past decade has also been the decade of tribunals when the corrupt relationship between leading politicians in this State and big business was exposed as never before.

Most of the scandals centred on planning.

Corrupt politicians, land speculators and property developers profited from the misery of others.

Communities suffered from atrociously sub-standard housing in bleak estates without facilities. They endured the worst of the drugs scourge and the poverty and the unemployment of the 1980s and early 90s.

This party stood shoulder to shoulder with those people.

We opposed cuts in health and education. We fought for facilities and decent homes. We stood up to the drugs barons. We organised in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

We protested at the senior politicians who grew rich through criminality while they cynically urged the rest of us to tighten our belts.

Since then of course and for the last decade the wealth of this state has been greater than at any time in its history. We welcome that.

Do we have better schools, better hospitals, affordable homes?

Have people with disabilities benefited? No.

May I in an entirely non-party political way applaud all of those people who cherish those citizens with disabilities. The Special Olympics was the best event in this country last year. I thank everyone involved especially the athletes and the voluntary workers.

Today, despite the wealth created, children and teachers are forced to teach and to learn in substandard school buildings.

Today land speculators and property developers benefit from Government policy while young people who have obtained a mortgage are working all hours to keep up payments. Those who are most in need and who can least afford to pay for housing are left at the end of the line.

There are nearly 50,000 family housing units representing some 130,000 people on the local authority housing lists.

There are families living in overcrowded homes, and tenants living in sub-standard accommodation for which they are paying exorbitant rents.

Within walking distance of this Ard Fheis there are homeless people preparing to sleep rough in doorways in one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

The housing crisis is a direct result of the disastrous housing policy of this coalition government.

Our TDs have proposed a constitutional amendment to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution and Sinn Féin is committed to the implementation of that right in law and in bricks and mortar for all who need homes.

During the general election in 2002 Fianna Fáil promised the people that if they were re-elected they would and I quote "permanently end waiting lists in our hospitals within two years".

That two years is up in ten weeks time.

Do you think they'll do it in ten weeks?

Ten months?

Or in the remainder of their term of office?

Not a chance.

Over 27,000 people are languishing on waiting lists.

Staff in Accident and Emergency departments are struggling to cope.

There is a bed shortage and a staff shortage in our public hospitals while the private health business flourishes.

I believe it is an obscenity that a public patient diagnosed with a serious illness requiring surgery must join a massive queue while those who have the money to do so can skip the queue and receive private hospital care almost immediately.

That is the reality of the two-tier health service in this State. It is wrong.

Let us send a clear message from this Ard Fheis that Sinn Féin is in the business of righting these wrongs.

People have the right to a home, to a job, to education, and to health care from the cradle to the grave.

Campaigning on all of these issues is the core of Sinn Féin activism. It is the key to bringing about change now.

By acting locally, while thinking nationally we tie together the great historic elements of our philosophy.

Tá a lan obair le deanamh againn.

Tá pairt ag gach duine, is cuma cé chomh mór nó cé chomh beag.

We as individual republicans do not put ourselves above anyone else.

Equality is the key.

We are committed to building the Ireland that Bobby Sands, Maire Drumm, James Connolly and Padraig Pearse and their comrades gave their lives for, an Ireland of equals, a united and free Ireland.

The downside of the 100 years of Sinn Féin is that we have yet to achieve our objectives.

The upside is that we are capable of doing so. In fact what this generation of republicans is attempting is unprecedented.

We are seeking energetically to build the peace while vigorously debating and campaigning on social and economic questions.

We are endeavouring to bring an end to the union, while constructing a political party that will both improve conditions now and be ready to take power in the future, to shape a new Ireland, in collaboration with its people, into a truly national and egalitarian republic on this whole island.

We have a lot to do.

Ar aghaidh linn.

Lets go out and do it.


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