McGuinness criticises dissidents at Sinn Féin árdfheis

Party president Gerry Adams to give keynote address this evening

 

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has hit out at dissident republicans following further arms finds in Derry and at the Orange Order for its failure to engage in talks about parades in Belfast.

Mr McGuinness said he had offered dialogue to republicans opposed to the Sinn Féin strategy.

He told delegates at the party's árdfheis in Castlebar today that he watched dissident republican protests to see who was attending. He said he did not recognise those 50-year-olds, 40-year-olds and 35-year-olds at those demonstrations. "I wonder where they were when there was a war," he said to sustained applause.

Those people "now need to take the next step and join us in a peaceful and democratic journey to Irish unity”, he said.

As the marching season approaches in the North Mr McGuiness said he was still waiting for a reply from the Orange Order to his letter six months ago offering talks about marches in Belfast.

Mr McGuiness said he had written to the Orange Order following its statement that it had no objection to any Orange lodge engaging in talks with local communities, but to date none had made any contact with communities in flashpoint areas of Belfast.

The Northern Ireland Minister has repeatedly said the dispute over marches in Derry had been resolved eight years ago through dialogue and he could not understand how the problem could not be resolved in Belfast.

The Mid-Ulster MLA also contrasted choices made in the North with those of the Irish Government. “We chose not to have water charges. The Government here made a different choice. We chose to have free universal healthcare. The Government here made a different call."

Sinn Féin, he insisted, was "the only political party in this State putting forward a sensible and coherent alternative to the failed politics of austerity".

Education

Highlighting improvements in education standards the former education minister said the North's current Minister John O'Dowd was investing £180 million in new schools and "in two recent surveys the standards of primary education in the north came out top in the English-speaking world".

Mr McGuinness also challenged unionists to "seriously look again" at the education issue. He said "it is simply not credible for them to complain as they have about educational underachievement in the Protestant working class and then stand up and defend the very system of academic selection at 11 years of age, which delivers this. And people living in those areas need to make their voices heard. Does mainstream unionism really represent your views on this and a raft of other issues?"

Property tax

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said Sinn Féin would introduce legislation to scrap the "family home tax" as the party calls the property tax. "We are giving a clear commitment from this árdfheis that if elected to Government we will abolish the family home tax".

He asked what type of Government "cuts child benefit when bankers are so overpaid". He highlighted Sinn Féin proposals including the reduction of taxes on low and middle-income earners and "asking those at the top to pay a little more".

The Donegal South-West TD also proposed family home protection for those in mortgage arrears with adjudication where agreement can't be reached with the banks by an independent board.

MEP Martina Anderson described Taoiseach Enda Kenny as the "poster boy for the EU" who was "determined" to cut €34 billion euro from the EU budget. She claimed he was "not satisfied" with austerity in Ireland alone.

"Along with his political soul mate David Cameron, he is determined to slash the EU budget. Tories in government in Dublin and London are working hand in hand to impose austerity across the EU,” she said.

She acknowledged waste in the EU and said €180 million could be saved by scrapping the "monthly travel circus to Strasbourg". Ms Anderson said the overall cost of the EU was "60 cent per person per day - not even the price of a cup of coffee".

Cllr Catherine Funchon said many workers had no recourse to representation by trade unions. They feared victimisation, bullying and loss of their job "if they are seen even talking to a trade union representative", she said.

She called for "real penalties" to be put in place for adversely treating workers who join trade unions. One delegate hit out at Fianna Fáil, who agreed the family home tax in government but were currently saying that now was not the time for the property tax. She asked "does that mean when they are in Government is the right time for such a tax".

Defending rural Ireland and policing are among the topics to be discussed at the árdfheis later today.

The annual event began in Castlebar yesterday, with around 2,000 delegates attending to discuss 252 motions over the two days.

Environment and transport, international affairs, education and health are also on today’s agenda.

Party president Gerry Adams will give his keynote address to the árdfheis tonight at 8.30pm.

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