New Year’s message from Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD
The coming year marks the beginning of a new decade and the opportunity to write a new chapter in our country's history.
It is a decade in which to achieve an equal and fair society in which your wellbeing is prioritised over the enrichment of wealthy elites and corporate interests.
It is a decade in which to renew the principles of decency, goodwill and common sense; principles that underpin prosperity and progress for you and your family.
These are things that should never be bartered away by those in power - a roof over your head, access to a doctor and a hospital if you become ill, fair pay and rights in the workplace and a free education from primary school to graduation.
I also believe this should be the decade in which you are afforded a vote on the reunification of your country and to finally end the historic wrong of partition. This is not for Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Green Party or any other party to decide, nor do they have the right to shutdown debate. This is your country, it is your conversation and it will be your decision to make.
For you to prosper and for our country to reach its full potential, we need to change those who have led government in the south for the past century. You deserve better politics, fresh ideas and genuine commitment from those who you entrust with the running of our country.
Not only do you deserve better, you are entitled to it.
The last ten years have shown why political change is absolutely necessary. You and your family have been held back by bad Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael led governments, economic crisis and austerity. Families, workers and communities have suffered, and our public services have struggled.
This new decade must be about putting that right.
With better politics and better government, 2020 can be the year in which we can kick-start a decade of change, solutions, progress and unity.
You should have a home that is secure and that you can afford.
We face a housing crisis that now touches every section of our society. It is a crisis affecting families, young people and renters, and we have an entire generation now locked out of any prospect of home ownership. This did not happen by accident. The crisis has been caused by terrible policies drafted and implemented by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil who have prioritised profit over the housing needs of ordinary people.
This must change, because our people and our economy cannot sustain another year of this housing nightmare. It is a crisis that can be met head on and solved but only with real political determination and the right policy approach.
Sinn Féin have the solutions to turn the tide.
We need to see the largest public housing programme that Ireland has seen, and we need to cut rents and freeze them because we need action commensurate with the scale of this crisis and Sinn Féin is committed to delivering this.
In the Ireland of 2020, you should be able to see a doctor if you are sick. Our health services struggle every day, and waiting lists, cancelled procedures and trolley counts bear testimony to this.
There is an urgent need to invest in more capacity in our health system, yet the government continues to ignore the pleas of frontline staff that conditions are unsafe for patients. This a reckless approach.
Sinn Féin is committed to fully resourcing our health system, to creating a health service that can recruit and retain staff, and building a health service that can give you excellent care.
You should not be paying a second mortgage in childcare fees and sending your kids to schools should not be a source of distress.
Our childcare and education systems need investment and transformation and this decade must be the one in which we deliver truly free education - to give every child, every student and every person the opportunity to achieve and contribute to their greatest potential.
It must also be the decade in which we make childcare a public service. Crisis and controversy over the last twelve months has shown that our system is not fit for purpose. Children and families deserve a system that is highly regulated, resourced and accessible and that transformation must start now.
I am very conscious of the families, workers and people who will this year struggle to make ends meet because economic recovery hasn't come to their door. This year must be about putting money in their pockets and lifting the pressure on them.
The guarantee of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work must be the minimum threshold for Irish workers and this year should be the year of the living wage, the year in which carers and people with a disability are supported and assisted in living a life of dignity.
The Tory Brexit project now moves ahead from the withdrawal phase to the forging of a new relationship between Britain and the EU. The real dangers posed by Brexit should not be underestimated. The protection of Irish livelihoods, business and jobs is crucial, and the protection of our peace process and political stability is paramount.
People in the north of Ireland did not consent to Brexit - they voted to remain and this pro-remain majority has been reflected again in recent European and Westminster elections.
The collective, cross-party stance to protect Irish interests has served this country well. The voice of Ireland - in particular the concerns of the north - have been heard and heeded.
Allies in Europe and the United States have stood firm in defending Irish interests and the Good Friday Agreement against Tory belligerence, and Sinn Féin will continue in our efforts to ensure that Ireland, north and south, is protected.
Brexit has also raised the most fundamental questions for the British constitutional order.
The debate on Irish unity is live in Ireland and internationally. The provision for a referendum on unity is part of the Good Friday Agreement, and it is now not a question of if there will be a referendum, but when it will happen.
I have heard other political leaders say that now is not the time for talk about Irish unity, and while we can agree to disagree on the timing of a referendum - I believe a five year time frame is reasonable - Sinn Féin will never collude in the lie that partition is permanent.
Irish unity may present challenges to be met and managed, but it is in the best interests of the future of our island.
To that end, we need a forum or a Citizens Assembly to talk about Ireland post-Brexit, to plan for constitutional change, to ensure that the path to reunification is inclusive, orderly and peaceful, because it is reckless to refuse to plan for the future. The Irish government and those parties who reiterate this position are acting recklessly and are not protecting or respecting any section of our people - unionist, nationalist or otherwise.
It is now imperative that the British government sets out clearly the threshold, as they see it, for the calling of a referendum, and they too must begin the process of planning for Irish reunification.
I believe that this decade is the one in which we will finally cast off the shackles of partition and unite all those who share this island.
There is no contradiction in working for Irish unity and working for the restoration of the Executive and Assembly - they are all part of the Good Friday Agreement.
We have spent three years searching for agreement to re-establish the north’s institutions and we got there in February 2018, but the DUP walked away from that deal. We cannot have that scenario again - the choice is now for agreement, or elections, but the current situation cannot continue. It is in the interests of all our people that we establish good government and real power-sharing based on equality and respect.
The outstanding issues can be resolved. The time for acrimony and division is over. The time for slogans and soundbites is over. The test now for every party that has talked up getting back to work is to go back to the Executive table and deliver.
The first act of a new Executive must be to restore pay parity for health workers, and a new Executive will require a significant cash injection from London to begin the work of repairing a decade of Tory austerity. There are big infrastructural deficits that must be addressed, as well as the collective job of protecting our island from the Brexit chaos.
We are facing into a general election in the south in 2020 and I do not underestimate the challenge that presents. I do not take the support of any voter for granted and every vote will be hard won. Neither do I underestimate the real need and appetite for a viable alternative to the politics of the 'big two'.
The political establishment want it all their own way and to reduce the election to a binary choice between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and between Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin. That is really no choice at all. It is in reality the political establishment attempting to shoe horn people into more of the same.
Sinn Féin offers the alternative and real solutions. We are the party that stands up for you, that champion fairness and equality and that work hard in our communities every day to build a better Ireland.
Sinn Féin is the party of Irish unity and we look to this new decade of opportunity with hope and optimism.
I ask you to join with us in shaping a prosperous future that includes everybody.
There is work to be done, so let's get to it.
Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Duit.
Happy New Year.