'This is a moment of generational change in Ireland' - Mary Lou McDonald tells Sinn Féin ard fheis

Mary Lou McDonald has said Sinn Féin is ready to lead government north and south, as the party builds towards ‘unity and a new Ireland’.
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The Sinn Féin leader made the comments will addressing her party’s 2023 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Athlone at the weekend. In a wide ranging address, Mary Lou McDonald said that ‘this is a moment of generational change in Ireland’, and said that Sinn Féin will get right the things that really matter to people in the here and now, and drive ambitious plans for the future.She also reiterated the right of Palestinians to their homeland, human rights and their freedom, and called for a ceasefire, peace, and for Israel to be held to account in the International Criminal Court.

Mary Lou McDonald told those gathered that “our sights set on building a future where workers, families and communities come first”.

Speaking about the Good Friday Agreement and Irish Unity she called for a citizen’s assembly on Irish unity.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald and vice-president Michelle O'Neill wave to the conference during the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis on November 11, 2023 in Athlone, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald and vice-president Michelle O'Neill wave to the conference during the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis on November 11, 2023 in Athlone, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald and vice-president Michelle O'Neill wave to the conference during the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis on November 11, 2023 in Athlone, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
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“Ireland has known war. Today, we know peace. But it wasn’t inevitable. Twenty-five years ago, brave peacemakers reached beyond the trenches of the past. They delivered peace. The Good Friday Agreement stands as testament that even the most intractable of conflicts can be resolved. That generation wrote Ireland’s chapter of peace. Now, our generation must write the chapter of unity. To build a new Ireland.

Government must plan for democratic constitutional change. That means a Citizens Assembly on unity. The day is coming when everyone on this island will have their say in referendums. Each vote counting equally, no vetoes, no shifting of the goal posts. Momentum is building, the conversation is live, history is happening now. Irish Unity is the very best opportunity for the future. In the words of Rita O’Hare, ‘We must keep going. A United Ireland lies ahead’."

She added: "Right across Ireland, it’s time for change. Change is essential to drive progress, to meet the big challenges, to embrace the big opportunities. We want to make change real in the lives of ordinary people.”

"Love of home is what defines us. From those who fled famine and persecution, to the generations who left in search of work, to our young people today who seek opportunity across the globe. Our special affinity with home binds us together. Home is where you are loved, secure, encouraged to reach your full potential. Home is where you belong. We want to build a new Ireland. A nation home for all. A unified nation of confidence and compassion, talent and ingenuity, claiming our future, our rightful place among the nations of the world. A new Ireland. The Orange and Green reconciled. No place for racism, Islamophobia, Antisemitism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or sectarianism. Where there is no them, only us. All of us who call Ireland home."

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald applauds the conference following her leader's speech during the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis on November 11, 2023 in Athlone, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald applauds the conference following her leader's speech during the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis on November 11, 2023 in Athlone, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald applauds the conference following her leader's speech during the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis on November 11, 2023 in Athlone, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

There was a standing ovation at the Ard Fheis as the Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland Dr Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid addressed those gathered on the atrocious situation facing the people of Gaza and the West Bank.

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Welcoming the ambassador, Teachta McDonald said: “The Palestinian people have a right to their homeland. Having endured generations of dispossession, occupation, oppression, Apartheid – human rights violations that should shake humanity.

"Tonight, hell rains down on Gaza. Gaza, the graveyard of children. A child’s life taken every ten minutes.

"Israel claims to act in self-defence. Carpet bombing civilians, Collective punishment, massacring children in their thousands is not defence. These are not justifiable responses to the horrific attack by Hamas’ on October 7. The world sees Israeli actions for what they are. Barbaric. Hateful. Cowardly. War crimes. This is a moment of reckoning for world leaders, for the European Union, a test of commitment to human rights, peace, democracy. We ask, where is the protection of international law for every child killed in Gaza? For every Gazan mother holding the cold body of their dead child? Israel cannot be allowed to commit atrocities with impunity. The government says that Israel’s actions cannot be without consequences. I agree. That is why the Irish government should take the lead and refer Israel to the International Criminal Court.

"Some of the most powerful voices come from the Jewish community calling for peace, justice, secure lives for Israelis and Palestinians. Their call emanates from the unimaginable horrors and collective trauma inflicted on their people, and in the name of humanity, they say – never again. Not to another people. We stand with them. Israel must stop its slaughter in Gaza. Hamas must release all hostages. Ceasefires must be called.”

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Teachta McDonald said that housing is Sinn Féin’s number one priority, and vowed to build “genuinely affordable homes, build enough of them, get the targets right, increase capital expenditure”, cut rents, giving a month’s rent back to every renter, and ban rent increases for three years, and implement “a real emergency response to the scourge of homelessness”.

Addressing the health crisis, Ms McDonald said Sinn Féin have a plan to deliver care in the right place, at the right time and to cut the cost of healthcare, invest in more beds, more front-line staff, and to increase capacity in diagnostics and surgical theatre space, ‘so that no child is left to wait and wait in agony for the spinal procedure that could change their life’.

On the economy, an an all-of-society, all-Ireland approach and nurturing Ireland’s flair for enterprise is how we grow and protect jobs now and in the future, she said.

Decent work, well-paid, secure jobs, workers’ rights, high productivity, the right to retire on your pension at 65, would be focused on, as well as supporting Irish businesses, collaborating on driving economic growth, success, and prosperity for everyone.

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Under Sinn Féin there would be ‘no half-baked measures’ when it comes to the cost of living crisis, Ms McDonald said, while also vowing that her party will bring fresh urgency to tackling the ‘epidemic’ of domestic and gender-based violence and the Climate Crisis and delivering a green energy revolution.

Turning to the elections, the Sinn Féin leader said the next twelve months provide the opportunity ‘to choose change, to make history’ north and south.

"We’re on our marks for a General Election, Local and European Elections in June. For a Westminster Election. There is a clear choice. Between the jaded politics of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael or a government for change led by Sinn Féin. Between devastating Tory austerity or a future of real progress, building public services and prosperity together.

"It’s eighteen months since Michelle O’Neill was elected First Minister. She’s ready to lead for all. For eighteen months the people of the North have been without government. People’s patience has run out. The DUP must end its boycott of government. The British government must stop endlessly indulging this boycott. This can’t go on and on. It’s decision time now. People want the Executive back working for them immediately. So, let’s choose progress.

"Let’s work together to create jobs, to improve health and public services, to attract investment. Let’s get the A5 upgraded. Let’s rebuild Casement Park and enjoy the opportunity and excitement of Euro 2028 together.”

“Sinn Féin is the largest party in the Assembly and in local government in the north. Our ambition is to lead government in the south. A new government without Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil for the first time in a hundred years. Just imagine that. That would be the very best outcome from the General Election. Of course, the people will make that call. It’s your decision. We take nothing for granted. There are no inevitabilities.

We’ll work hard to win your trust, your support, and your vote to elect enough Sinn Féin TDs to form a government for change.”