Bodenstown 2017: Advancing towards Irish Unity – in the United Irish tradition

“Every Irish citizen is entitled to a home, an education, comprehensive health care free at the point of delivery, and, equal pay for equal work.” – Declan Kearney.

“To break the connection with England…and to assert the independence of my country, these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland… and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in place of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter, these were my means.” – Wolfe Tone.


This is the address by Declan Kearney at Bodenstown 2017: Advancing towards Irish Unity – in the United Irish tradition

This time 220 years ago Ireland was in the midst of dramatic political and revolutionary change.

It was described as ‘The time of the Hurry’ in the poem ‘The man from God knows where’ dedicated to Thomas Russell.

The United Irishmen were the engine of that change.

Declan Kearney, Sinn Féin National Chairperson.

They took their inspiration from the new democratic and egalitarian ideals of the American and French revolutions.

They were Republican separatists committed to the promotion of anti-sectarianism, fraternity and equality.

They forged alliances across Irish society and mounted an unprecedented military insurgency in every Province.

In my own county the United Irishmen took control of towns like Randalstown and Ballymena. Local United Irish leaders such as Henry Joy McCracken, Roddy McCorley and William Orr remain household names to this day.

Jemmy Hope “The Weaver” from Templepatrick and his farseeing revolutionary vision became an ideological reference point for Fintan Lawlor and later generations of Irish Revolutionaries.

These and others personified the central tenet of emergent Irish Republicanism – the unity of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter.

Wolfe Tone famously summarised the United Irish Republican programme:

To break the connection with England…and to assert the independence of my country, these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland… and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in place of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter, these were my means.”

As modern day Irish Republicans in the tradition of Tone, we are dedicated to the establishment of a national Republic, built upon equality, fraternity, unity and reconciliation between all citizens in Ireland.

Our primary aim is for an agreed, multicultural united Ireland, which celebrates diversity and equality, and shuns bigotry and discrimination.

Sinn Féin stands against all forms of sectarianism, racism, homophobia, sexism, and intolerance in society.

Today’s Ireland is one of huge social change and political realignment.

Partition continues to be the central fault line at the heart of Irish politics and society.

The imposition of the Brexit decision upon the people of the six counties has now magnified that fault line.

We are clear; Brexit is a by-product of partition and continued British jurisdiction in the North of our country.

It has now become a catalyst for a new realignment of politics in Ireland; in relations between this island and Britain: and, it is redefining politics in the British State and Europe itself.

Irish Unity has become central to the political discourse. 

Next Saturday in Belfast at the Waterfront our party will host a major national conference on Irish Unity to build on that discussion.

Many citizens are now looking beyond the Brexit fall out and towards new constitutional and political opportunities.

In the North, greater numbers of ordinary people are now more engaged with politics.

Young people have become increasingly politicised.

All that is reflected in the Assembly and General election results in March and just last week.

The election of 27 Sinn Féin MLA’s and 7 MPs with 239,000 votes is an historic high in electoral support for our party, and for progressive politics.

I want to thank every activist and supporter and all their families who contributed to these spectacular achievements; and also to all of our voters.

There is a building momentum for Irish Unity and in support of anti-unionist and progressive politics.

There is also a new, popular expectation of real, and substantial political change.

The people of the North have spoken.

Sinn Féin respects the mandate secured by the DUP.

But make no mistake Sinn Féin’s electoral mandate is a vindication of our pledge that there will be no return to the status quo: and I repeat; no citizen or section of society will be put to the back of the bus again.

In 1967 our parents and grandparents and others in this gathering set out to demand civil rights in the North. They were beaten and shot off the streets.

Fifty years later an equality revolution is happening in the six counties and it is being led by young people.

Agus tá siad tiomanta agus diongbhailte. Tá siad dearg le fearg agus tá muid go léir dearg le fearg.

For the first time since partition electoral support for political unionism has fallen below 50%.

These are the new realities.

And this is the new context for the current round of political talks.

Let us be clear – the political crisis in the North can be resolved.

The political institutions can be re-established.

However, that means the DUP and British government need to get the message – which they have ignored since Martin McGuinness’ resignation on 9th January.

So I will spell it out.

The equality and rights agenda is not negotiable.

Agreements previously made on equality, rights, parity of esteem and legacy must be implemented.

The Good Friday Agreement cannot be unpicked.

The political institutions must not be misused to advance institutionalised bigotry.

Continued refusal by the DUP and British government to accept these fundamental positions will create only one outcome: a future of permanent political instability.

The DUP have spent the last week in talks with the British Government trying to strike a deal which will keep the Tories in power.

As with Brexit, any deal with Tories will be bad for the economy, public services and for citizens.

This Tory government cares as little for working-class unionists as it does for working-class republicans.

Working-class unionists did not vote for Tories.

The DUP leadership know that. They know the north is of no consequence in Westminster.

Even Edward Carson recognised this nearly 100 years ago. He said:

“What a fool I was… in the political game that was to get the Conservative party into power.”

The central fact is the political process in the North remains overshadowed by financial scandals.

That is why Sinn Féin stood the DUP leader down from her position last January.

The focus on her future role in an Executive is completely misdirected and premature.

That discussion will only arise when there is an acceptable implementation plan to restore public confidence in the political process and ensures that the institutions will work on the basis of proper power sharing, equality, respect and integrity.

This is a serious situation, which demands a serious focus by all parties.

It is not a game, and it is certainly not a dance.

If the DUP really wants to go into the Executive, that party needs to decide whether it is now prepared to embrace a rights-based approach to government in the North.

Instead of pretending that a crisis does not really exist, the DUP should get with the programme.

If the DUP imagines it can wind back the clock, with a Tory side deal or not, and reestablish the institutions without adherence to equality and rights, then the DUP is indeed living in a fool’s paradise.

As for the two governments, instead of talking up the prospect of a successful outcome to these talks, they and the DUP should reread Martin McGuinness’ resignation letter on the 9th January.

It sets out exactly what is required to restore public confidence, and to create the conditions for proper government in the North.

We don’t need optical illusions; we expect change!

The new Irish government now carries a huge responsibility.

The failure of the last Irish government to fulfil its obligations as a co-guarantor for the Good Friday Agreement is a national scandal.

This dereliction of political leadership must end.

The new Taoiseach and his administration should now publicly disassociate itself from the pro-unionist, partisan position of the British government.

This Irish government should bring forward a comprehensive plan for Irish reunification, including:

     – A joint Oireachtas committee on preparing for Irish unity;

     – A government White Paper on national reunification; 

     – And, specific proposals for a unity referendum on the island.

This month 40 years ago and here at Tone’s grave our comrade Jimmy Drumm correctly observed that the achievement of national and social liberation relied upon the development of a popular progressive movement for change throughout Ireland.

Today we live in an Ireland of endemic financial scandal, political corruption, gombeen elites, discrimination and sectarianism.

The strategic position articulated by Jimmy Drumm in 1977 is now more relevant than ever.

The austerity programmes imposed by Fine Gael and the British Tories have entrenched social inequality, both North and South.

None of our children should have to live in fear from poverty or austerity; inequality or discrimination; or from intolerance or sectarianism.

Social inequality is the antithesis of values enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation and the democratic programme of 1919.

Every Irish citizen is entitled to a home, an education, comprehensive health care free at the point of delivery, and, equal pay for equal work.

Instead social inequality, political corruption and financial scandal have become bywords for public policy under Fine Gael.

The new Taoiseach seems determined to take his government further to the right.

If that is his intention, then he should call a general election now, and let the people cast its verdict on that political programme.

In those circumstances Sinn Féin will go forward with our progressive political agenda.

We know where we stand, and it’s not with the gombeen men, the crooks, or fat cats.

To paraphrase Tone Sinn Féin stands with:

That numerous and respectable class of the community, the men of no property.”

Irish unity has never been more achievable. 

But that goal is only inevitable when Republicans successfully persuade sufficient numbers of our people that an agreed, united Ireland will serve their interests.

The refusal of significant sections of political unionism to embrace a shared future, and divisions caused by deep-seated sectarianism, create enormous challenges for Republicans.

Yet despite that, we must continue to show generosity of spirit, and reassurance to our unionist neighbours in the North.

As agents of change it is up to us to reach into the wider unionist constituency.

As republicans in the United Irish tradition we have to demonstrate how their rights, traditions, and identity will be accommodated in a new constitutional framework of an agreed Ireland.

It is for us to convince them that it is far better for Irish unionists to exert their influence over a progressive Ireland, instead of being reduced to stage props for a right-wing British Tory government.

Sinn Féin’s policies on reconciliation and anti-sectarianism represent genuine contributions towards the development of reconciliation between Republicans and unionists, within Irish society, and, between Ireland and Britain.

These need to be internalised and mainstreamed within our political work, both North and South.

Our generation of Republicans are history makers.

Martin McGuinness atá anois ar shlí na fírinne, and whom we greatly miss here today, as well as others in our leadership, have brought us to this point.

Now it is for the rest of us to finish that work.

We must become the nation builders.

We must continue the transformation of Irish society.

Meeting these responsibilities requires a step change in our party.

We need to be always strategically focused, cohesive, flexible and creative.

Let us be clear: building popular support and political strength is not a plan for opposition.

Our political strategy is a road map for governmental power.

So that means Sinn Féin being in government North and South.

This is our road map to achieving national democracy and a united Ireland.

But being in government is not a vanity contest.

This party is not interested in acting as a prop for the status quo North or South.

Political institutions are not ends in themselves: they should be made to work as the means to make positive change.

And of course, we must avoid being defined by the nature of the political institutions.

Sinn Féin participation in the Dáil, Assembly, all-Ireland institutions and European Parliament must be at the heart of a broader momentum for political and social change in Ireland.

If change is to be people centred, then change must be driven by the people.

A popular democratic movement for transformation needs to be developed across Ireland.

That is a progressive coalition of political, civic, community, cultural and labour activists united in support of economic democracy, sustainable public services, equality, rights, and the welfare of citizens.

These are the means of modern Republicans today.

Ireland is in transition. Our party is in transition.

The process of leadership succession has already commenced.

We have begun to implement a ten-year plan to regenerate our party with more youth and women; and enhanced skills and capacity.

Mar sin, más cearta, cothromas agus Poblacht atá uaibh –  ná habraigí é – eagraigí, tógaigí, agus déanaigí é.

Bígí línne.

If you want equality and rights – if you want fairness in Irish society:

If you really want a Republic – then just don’t vote Sinn Féin:

Join Sinn Féin – and get your family and friends to do the same.

We continue to take our inspiration from Tone.

This afternoon in Bodenstown we stand resolute in the tradition of Henry Joy McCracken, William Orr, Roddy McCorley, Jemmy Hope, Betsy Gray and Mary-Anne McCracken.

Now let us go forward reenergised and confident, to mobilise and organise, and to achieve national independence and Irish Unity.

After 46 years, families of victims of McGurk’s Bar bombing deserve justice – Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile

Commenting after the families of the victims of the McGurk’s Bar Bombing spoke before the the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality, Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile said:

“The McGurk families were very welcome to the Oireachtas today.

“Their accounts of the massacre of their loved ones in December 1971 and the treatment of the atrocity by the British government of the time and successive British governments is appalling.

“Fifteen people, including two children, died in the outrage.

“Within hours of the massacre the British government deliberately spread lies that the IRA was responsible for the bombing and that those who died were also involved despite the fact that an eye-witness gave RTE an interview, which was broadcast saying he saw the bombers fleeing the scene.

“These lies were based on reports from the British Army and the RUC that were willingly accepted and promoted by the British and unionist governments.

“A British Army scenes-of-crime assessor submitted a report to the British Army Headquarters in which he stated that the bomb was placed in the entrance to the bar.

“This contradicted the public account by the British government and the soldiers report was marked ‘Not for PR’.

“The lie was publicly supported by Reginal Maudling, British cabinet minister, Brian Faulkner, the North’s prime minister, John Taylor, unionist cabinet minister, Graham Shillington, RUC Chief Constable and Sir Harry Tuzo, British Army GOC among many others.

“The lie continued for decades until the families uncovered the truth themselves from the British government’s own files in Kew Gardens.

“The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and the police Ombudsman failed to find these files.

“The families are seeking justice and the truth.

“I support the calls they made today for a new investigation, a new inquest and the scrapping of the HET report into the massacre.

“It is time the families of the bereaved were given the truth after 46 years of lies and deceit.”

Sinn Féin publishes Bill to reduce costs of Tribunals of Inquiry

Sinn Féin TDs Jonathan O’Brien and Pearse Doherty have today published a Bill which seeks to reduce the costs of Tribunals of Inquiry including the one set up last week to look into the alleged smear campaign against Garda Whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

Speaking today Teachta O’Brien said;

“The government has established a Tribunal of Inquiry rather than a Commission of Investigation into the alleged smear campaign against Garda Whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

“This is a decision that we welcome and last Thursday the Dáil passed the extended terms of reference for the Tribunal of Inquiry without opposition.

“While there was no opposition to the terms of reference, a number of Deputies raised the potential cost of a Tribunal given recent experiences with other Tribunals.

“While the Minister gave a commitment to examine whether that legislation could be progressed, Pearse Doherty and I have today published our own Bill, the Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) Bill 2017, which would address the issues of costs.

“We have submitted it to the Ceann Chomhairle today seeking leave to introduce it as soon as possible.

“We are hopeful that the Government will accept the Bill and allow its speedy passage through the Dail.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that the Charleton Tribunal is allowed to do the important job of work it has been allocated without incurring the types of exorbitant costs which we have seen associated with past tribunals.”

Cyber-safety is a major child protection issue of our time- Kathleen Funchion TD

Speaking today after a briefing from the ISPCC on cybersecurity for children, Sinn Féin’s TD for Carlow Kilkenny said that cyber-safety is a major child protection issue of our time.

She said:

“The dangers presented via the internet to children today have advanced significantly through the use of smartphones and what that brings; easier access to predatory behaviour, cyber bullying and inappropriate content for younger children. We also know that technology advances at incredible speed leaving many adults and parents naive or ignorant to what is accessible to their children online.

“The ISPCC are calling on government and policy makers to take heed and direct some much needed attention to this child protection issue. Current legislative and policy provisions need to be modernised.

“I fully support their call for the immediate development of a National Strategy on Children’s Cyber Safety and for this to be made a priority by government. This should include key education measures regarding online behaviour such as: 1. Reform of the legal framework regarding children’s cyber safety and 2. The establishment of an Office of the Digital Safety Commissioner and a regulatory policy framework.

“The ISPCC’s recent research carried out in 2016 showed that perpetrators often groom many young people simultaneously and within a relatively short space of time, with An Garda Síochána reporting that children are being groomed in 3-4 interactions.

“This is terrifying  information but valuable evidence that the risks to children online is escalating at a rapid pace and it further substantiates the need for government to tackle this growing issue immediately.”

Outrageous refusal by NTA to carry out review of private licences issued on public loss-making bus routes as strike looms – Imelda Munster TD

Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Transport, Imelda Munster TD, has questioned what the National Transport Authority (NTA) has to hide, in response to the refusal of the CEO of the NTA to carry out Deputy Munster’s request for a review of licences to private operators on public bus routes.

Speaking at a meeting of the Transport Committee today on the ongoing crisis in Bus Éireann, Deputy Munster requested that the NTA carry out a review of all licences issued to private operators on all bus routes, with a particular focus on routes that have been identified by Bus Éireann as being loss-making.

Deputy Munster raised this issue following the refusal by the CEO to accept that the NTA had a significant role to play in the current crisis, in that too many licences have been issued on some routes, leading to over-saturation and loss-making for the Expressway service.

The CEO said that such a review could not be carried out as the information sought was commercially sensitive, or it was not available to the NTA.

Deputy Munster said:

“I find that incredibly hard to believe. The CEO is saying that the NTA has not asked Bus Éireann which routes are making losses. The NTA and government refuse to acknowledge their role in this situation, and now the NTA claims it has no idea what is going on in Bus Éireann. The NTA is tasked with over-seeing public transport, so I am amazed that today its representatives are saying they have no idea what is going on in Bus Éireann in this time of crisis.

“I am very wary of the lack of information available to us here, and apparently, to the NTA. People’s livelihoods, the public transport network and the needs of many people in rural areas are at stake here. Given these circumstances, the attitude of the NTA is astonishing!”

Pearse Doherty TD says government has forgotten about mortgage crisis

Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Pearse Doherty TD, has said the government has forgotten about the 80,000 families in mortgage arrears. He said the promises in the programme for government have been watered down, put on the long finger or simply dropped altogether.

Speaking at a Public Meeting in Swords organised by Louise O’Reilly TD, Deputy Doherty said:

“In December the Central Bank published its latest figures on mortgage arrears. A total of 79,562 (11 per cent) of accounts were in arrears. This is still a huge crisis happening day in day out for the thousands of Irish people affected, yet it barely gets a mention any more from the government!

“421 properties were taken into possession by lenders during the third quarter of 2016. That is over 4 homes a day being taken over. The government think this issue is gone away, they think it’s in the past. They are wrong.

“Promises to review the insolvency thresholds and set up a new Special Mortgages Court sit on the legislative programme 6 months after they were due to be published. A commitment that the Central Bank would amend the Code of Conduct seems to have been rebuffed altogether by Governor Lane.

“The Abhaile MABS service is up and running but is only scratching the surface in the number of people in arrears it has helped out. This government in permanent crisis has well and truly taken its eye off the ball when it comes to mortgages.

“Sinn Féin will put in place real solutions, not promises.

“We will protect the Family Home in law to a greater degree. My legislation to do exactly that was voted down in 2013. We also do not accept that vultures are part of the solution. If we can’t get rid of them they need to be taxed, regulated and not fed by the State’s own banks.

“The 80,000 families in arrears deserve to be front and centre in political debate. This is not an issue that has gone away.”

Gerry Adams TD raises Orkambi with Taoiseach

Sinn Féin Party leader and Louth TD, Gerry Adams, has urged the government to resolve urgently the crisis around the provision of the cystic fibrosis drugs, Orkambi and Kalydeco.

A major demonstration is being planned for next Wednesday March 1st outside the Dáil.

Deputy Adams said:

“Before Christmas Oireachtas members heard distressing first-hand accounts of CF sufferers and their families. Orkambi and Kalydeco can save lives. They can dramatically improve the well-being of hundreds of patients.

“At the beginning of February media reports suggested that HSE drug committee had not recommended the use of the drug Orkambi for more than 550 Irish CF sufferers.

“Today, I raised the availability of Orkambi with the Taoiseach. His response was deeply disappointing and failed to clarify the current state of discussions between the HSE and the drug company Vertex.

“New evidence has now emerged to support the case for approving Orkambi. According to Cystic Fibrosis Ireland this new data shows Orkambi will save the health system even more than was previously estimated.

“Whatever decision the HSE makes the ultimate decision on the availability of Orkambi and Kalydeco will rest with the Minister and the Government.”

Sincerity of Bus Éireann management’s approach to finding a resolution is questionable – Imelda Munster TD

Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Transport ,Imelda Munster TD, has today criticised Bus Éireann management for their approach to talks with transport unions in the Workplace Relations Commission on the matter of the crisis in Bus Éireann’s Expressway service.

Deputy Munster said:

“Bus Éireann management did not act in good faith when they sent out provocative correspondence to the workers threatening job losses, pay cuts and changes to terms and conditions on the day that talks were to commence. This is not how talks should be conducted, in what is already a tense environment. We have to ask if this was a deliberate move to destabilize the talks.”

“There are many issues at the forefront of these negotiations, and the number 1 issue is bad policy and decision-making by government and the NTA in relation to over-saturation of profitable routes.”

“How could they not have foreseen that financial loss was inevitable following a policy of oversaturation of certain routes. It’s unacceptable that their primary target now is the workers with no resolve to correct the bad policies.”

“The first thing Bus Éireann management need to do, if they are sincere and genuine about preserving and protecting our public transport network, is to carry out a full review of all licences issued on intercity and rural to urban routes.”

“The government needs to play a part in this too. It’s absurd to think that this can be resolved without government participation, and an admission and re-examination of past policy failures.”

John Brady TD to publish Bill calling for the abolition of mandatory retirement age

The Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) Bill 2016 is being brought forward by Deputies John Brady and Denise Mitchell.

Sinn Fein spokesperson for Social Protection, John Brady TD, will be calling for the abolition of the mandatory retirement age when Sinn Fein’s Bill is debated in the Dail on Thursday, 23/02/17.

Teachta Brady said:

“Every year workers are forced to retire for no other reason than their age.

“This Bill seeks to put an end to this discrimination and gives workers a choice when it comes to their retirement.

“There are a number of exemptions in this Bill for those who work in security related employment such as An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces.

“This is a Bill about choice for older workers when it comes to their retirement. Instead of being obliged to retire without any choice whatsoever at 65 or 66 years old, workers will be able to decide if they would like to retire immediately or continue working.

“This Bill will also address two major pension issues:

1/ It will end the current practice of those forced to sign on for Jobseekers payments at 65 for one year until they are eligible for the State Pension at 66.

2/ It will give people who have insufficient contributions for the State Pension an opportunity to continue at work to make up the additional contributions to avoid a reduced pension if they so wish.

“Last month, Minister Varadkar announced that it was his intention to make mandatory retirement ages illegal. Fianna Fáil have been consistently in favour of the abolition of mandatory retirement and also tabled a similar Bill after this once it was introduced last December.

“I am calling on both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to support this Bill for the benefit of all workers.”

Social housing output remains low as approvals process stalls delivery- Eoin Ó Broin TD

Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD has labelled the government’s social housing delivery for 2016 as “uninspiring and wholly inadequate.” Deputy Ó Broin made the comments on foot of the publication of the Social Housing Construction Projects Status Report for 2016.

He said: “This report shows that only 652 units were delivered in 2016. This is just 8% of the overall number of units currently “in development”. This figure is spread across Local Authorities, Associated Housing Bodies, Capital Assistance projects, rapid builds, regeneration projects, Capital Advance and Leasing projects and turnkey projects.

“Another 21% of the units are on site. However, 34 of the 90 developments described as on site only commenced in the fourth quarter of 2016. The majority of the developments, over 70% of the social housing units announced, are being held up by the cumbersome approval, tendering and procurement rules that the Department of Housing imposes on local Councils. These rules can delay the delivery of social housing by up to 24 months.

“For example, the figures published in this status report worrying show that 89 of the 353 projects stuck in the bureaucratic approvals process have been at the first stage of the process, the capital appraisals stage, since the third quarter of 2015 or before. Over a quarter of the social housing projects currently under development have been stuck at stage one of the approvals and procurement process for 16 months or more.

“This is not good enough given the level of social housing need in this state. Last November I published a document as to how the approval, tendering and procurement regime for social housing could be speeded up. This would consist of a one stage approval process instead of the current four stage process.

“Sinn Féin also recommend that to enable local authorities and Associated Housing Bodies to deliver social housing programmes as quickly as possible the Department of Housing should provide them with, in principle, funding approval for six years to cover the period of the government’s Housing Plan. The Department of Housing must take the time to review its own procedures and see how it can reduce the red tape holding up the delivery of social housing.”