Speaking in June 1998, on the 200th anniversary of the Irish Rebellion, Gerry Adams began by referring to Wolf Tone, the Irish Republican leader captured by the British in 1798. He then summarised the role of Sinn Fein in Ireland after the Good Friday Agreement:
“[Wolf Tone] was an intelligent, courageous, and humorous man. A man who liked a drink with his friends. A man who loved his family deeply and suffered separation from them. He was a keen observer of the frailty of the human condition, including his own. Yet this was the man who, more than any other, was responsible for establishing republicanism in Ireland. He linked Protestant and Dissenter with Catholics under the United Irish banner. He brought the democrats of Dublin and Belfast together. He founded the Republican movement.
Wolfe Tone knew as he wrote his diary that the prospects for successful revolution in Ireland were fading but he was determined to struggle on… Today the Irish nation owes a great debt to Tone and the United Irishmen and Irishwomen of 1798. They brought together the disparate elements, the tributaries that flow into the river of the Irish mind, and created a national consciousness…
When we in Sinn Fein made our formal written submission on Constitutional Issues at the Multi-Party-Talks we deliberately paraphrased in our paper the words of Wolfe Tone, and I quote:
‘The constitutional and political status quo with which we have had to live for the past 75 years has manifestly failed. The root of the failure is the constitutional connection with England. As an Irish republican party we say clearly that that connection must be broken. We assert the independence of our country. We wish to replace the denominations of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter with the common name of Irishmen and Irishwomen’.
That remains our aim. That, God willing, will be our achievement. It is my conviction that will deliver the end of British rule in our country. And until we do the struggle will continue.
Sinn Fein is the catalyst for change on this island. It was our party that first prepared the ground for the building of the peace process. In building anything that will stand and endure, foundations are needed that are strong and solid. Our foundations are our Republicanism, our commitment is to a new Ireland, and our determination is to bring an end to partition and British rule in our country. Our quarrel was and is with the foreign power that continues to uphold partition. British policy lies at the heart of this conflict. It has failed, just as partition has failed.
Without Sinn Fein there would not be a peace process. There would not be the possibility of a real peace settlement. There would not be a Good Friday Agreement. But it is important to remember that we do not yet have a peace settlement. The talks process has not settled centuries of British interference in Irish affairs. The Good Friday Agreement marks the conclusion of one phase and the beginning of a new phase of struggle…
We will bring all our energies to ensuring that the essential all-Ireland element of the Good Friday agreement, which is the core of the agreement, is the powerhouse of the new political arrangements. It is through the new cultural issues that impact directly on the lives of our people.
As well as political power, social justice and cultural rights, we also are determined to see economic power reaching those who have been excluded and marginalised. On all the essential elements – equality, policing, prisoners – no preconditions can be attached.
Wrongs must be righted. And the British government cannot absolve itself of the responsibility to do this. That requires the British prime minister to remain focused and to be prepared to stand up to those within his own system who wish to perpetuate injustice…
Sinn Fein stands today with those who sought liberty, equality and fraternity. We have to develop, with others, a truly Irish vision of our nation, one which is not distorted by the prejudices and sectarianism which those opposed to independence have fostered and encouraged. We have to rely on the wisdom, life experiences, talents and ingenuity of all of the people of this small island, women and men. There can be no divisions, no apartheid, in finding solutions to the problems created by partition and the British presence.
Sinn Fein’s vision is for a new Ireland. An Ireland in which the guns are silent. Permanently. An Ireland in which all of the people of this island are at peace with each other and with our neighbours in Britain. An Ireland united by a process of healing and national reconciliation. An island free from division… An island thriving, working hard to produce the wealth to reduce unemployment, tackle poverty, build new homes, care for our environment and cherish all of the children of the nation equally.