Irish Times
26 May 2012

**Video onsite

Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has offered to hold talks with dissident republicans. He insisted, however, the process of building a new future “will continue with or without” them.

In the first keynote address this morning at the the Sinn Féin ard fheis he said he was offering dissidents an “opportunity to meet and talk, come and tell us what you hope to gain by deluding yourselves and the gullible, that your actions will succeed in what is certainly a pathetic and futile attempt to turn back the clock”.

Referring to Unionist concerns he said those who thought a united Ireland could be built without unionist participation and leadership were “deluded”.

And he pledged the party’s commitment to push for voting rights to be extended to those in the North and emigrants. “Talk during elections is one thing. Now is the time for action,” said the former Presidential election candidate.

A former senior IRA member, Mr McGuinness told about 400 delegates at the morning session: “I was part of the conflict. I was there during the difficult and tragic times we had in the past and let me tell you there is nothing romantic about the war.”

“It was hard, it was painful and it was traumatic and I never ever want the children of Ireland who live today in peace to be subjected to the conflict, pain and hurt that we lived through.”

He added that “if anyone can claim to understand the mindset of those opposed to peaceful Irish republicanism I think I can”.

The Mid-Ulster MP and MLA said there were those who claimed to be republican and to “still be fighting for Ireland, these people claim they love our country but clearly they don’t love our people as the murder of Ronan Kerr, a young GAA loving police officer in April last year showed”.

“Those involved in these violent acts don’t believe for one minute that they further the cause of Irish reunification. What’s more they also know the agreements we have negotiated are solid and secure.

He had met Mr Kerr’s mother Nuala Kerr and Kate Carroll, whose husband PSNI officer Steven Carroll was killed in Craigavon and they were genuine supporters of peace and change.

“My message to those who remain committed to violence is that it is not much of an achievement to think that the only thing you have shown the capability to break are two fine women’s hearts.”

Delegates at the ardfheis also debated the economy, health, education and the household charge. Laois-Offaly TD Brian Stanley said next month Sinn Féin will introduce the Local Government Household Charge Repeal bill seeking to force the Government to get rid of the €100 household charge.

He said half of all householders had not paid the charge and he urged unions, community groups, councillors and TDs, particularly Labour members, to rally behind the attempt to consign the charge “to the rubbish bin of history”.

The party’s health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin criticised the U-turn by Minister for Health Dr James Reilly from Opposition to Government. “For years James Reilly was like a hawk swooping on Mary Harney and today he is but a parrot repeating her words”.

Donegal North East TD Padraig MacLochlainn told the ardfheis that “while there are no quick fixes or easy answers to our economic crisis there are choices. Unfortunately the Government is making all the wrong ones.”

He said Sinn Féin had a roadmap to get to a prosperous and equal Ireland. “We have produced a detailed, costed and credible plan.”

Sinn Féin Youth delegate Diane Nolan said unemployment was 14.7 per cent in the Republic in February. Under 25 unemployment was more than double that figure at 31.6 per cent. “And in the North youth unemployment is at a 15 year high,” she said.

MP and MLA Conor Murphy said the Northern Ireland Assembly’s lack of fiscal powers limited Sinn Féin’s ability to tackle the economic crisis. “Without the necessary tools we cannot design the policies to assist economic recovery on the island and are simply reduced to redistributing an ever decreasing block grant from London.”

Senator Kathryn Reilly surprised delegates when she took off two GAA club jerseys, one after the other, leaving on a London GAA club jersey. She said it was to highlight how clubs had been ravaged by emigration. Ms Reilly pointed out that the only thriving GAA clubs were those abroad.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams will address the ardfheis at 5.25 pm.