Ireland is in the grip of a “social crisis” with thousands of young people being forced to emigrate to find work, Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson has said.
Ms Anderson made the comment during her address to the Sinn Féin ard fheis which was held in Wexford at the weekend,
Speaking during the live televised portion of the party’s annual conference on Saturday morning Ms Anderson said young people must be given an incentive to stay at home rather than emigrate.
The MEP was one of a number of speakers from Derry who addressed the ard fheis at the Wexford Opera House.
Ms Anderson said funding opportunities from Europe should be exploited to boost the North’s economy. “We need to be clever about accessing the EU money that is available,” she said.
“I have been promoting the funding opportunities available and advising people where to look. I have held over 50 meetings with small businesses and groups and organisations from both traditions exposing the funding opportunities to them.
“In two weeks’ time I will take a 25 strong delegation of the three sporting codes – GAA, soccer and rugby to Brussels to explore the potential funding for sports organisations and the young people they serve,” she explained.
Ms Anderson also said young people have been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn. “We are not just living through a deep economic crisis but also a deep social crisis.
“Young people are voting with their feet and emigrating, which has a devastating effect on families, on communities and GAA organisations across Ireland.
“In the South the state will be punished by the EU if it departs from the austerity programme being enforced by the European Commission. And in the North we will be financially penalised by the British Government if the Executive does not implement Welfare Reform.
“The austerity policies of London, Dublin and Brussels have to change. There is another way. Invest in jobs and growth. Invest in small businesses, in infrastructure, and in clean, green industries.
“Give our young people reasons to stay not reasons to leave,” she said.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness used his address at the ard fheis to challenge unionist leaders to face down extremists in their own community.
Mr McGuinness raised the case of a catholic teacher and Sinn Féin councillor, Catherine Seeley, who resigned from her job at a protestant school after being subjected to sectarian abuse online.
“If this situation was reversed and a young Protestant teacher, who was also a member of the DUP, was being forced from her job in a Catholic school, I would be at the door accompanying her to her work.
“I would challenge directly those behind the threats and do everything in my power to see them faced down.
“People will judge for themselves the response of unionist politicians to the attacks on Catherine Seeley. There was a time when people should rightly have expected a robust response from leaders within unionism. This has yet to come,” he said.
Mr McGuinness also paid tribute to the pupils of the school who spoke out in support of their former teacher.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin national chairperson Declan Kearney, from Claudy, called on all parties in the North to sign up to a dedicated reconciliation strategy.
“A defining point has been reached in the peace process,” he said. “It is no longer an option to simply manage the peace while extremists peddle wreckers’ agendas. A new phase based upon reconciliation is needed.
“Only an authentic reconciliation process will foster the new relationships and trust we need,” he added.
“Sinn Féin believes an act of common acknowledgement by all sides, for the suffering experienced and inflicted by all sides, should be agreed as a contribution to a healing process,” he said.