I want to thank Donegal SF for the invitation to attend and address this selection convention.
Before I begin to talk about the battle here in Donegal over the next 20 weeks, I want to take a moment and look back over the last 20 years.
Because it’s only by us taking time to recognise the journey we’ve travelled that we can today appreciate the magnitude of the threshold on which we now stand.
As Republicans, as Democrats, as Socialists, as Progressives, as Irish Citizens, north and south, we – the people in this hall, our friends, families, communities and neighbours across Ireland – have changed the face of Irish history.
From conflict to politics. From discrimination to progress. From isolation to inclusion.
From the very deepest feelings of desperation and despair, to a new situation that promises the potential of lasting hope.
We have waded through the poison of partition and we now face the prize of creating a new country within our lifetimes.
There’s an old saying that you need old dogs for the hard-road.
And looking around this room, there’s a few old dogs alright – but the sort you could never walk this journey without!
And there are also legendary comrades whom we have lost along the way, not least our friend Eddie Fullerton.
But the thing about those who have come before us, is that they always kept their eye on the future.
And that is what today is all about: the future of this society, from Bunbeg to Ballymurphy; from Ballyshannon to Ballymena.
For too long, Donegal’s past has been dominated by conservative parties.
They have managed the neglect of this county.
You don’t need me to list their catalogue of chaos:
· Some of the highest unemployment and emigration rates in the country;
· Poor healthcare provision underwritten by a privatisation agenda; and
· Failure to deliver serious rail and road infrastructure
The list goes on, and on, and on. Small towns across this county have been decimated by the scourge of neglect and inequality and emigration.
The Taoiseach and Tanaiste tell us – they’re delivering a recovery.
I’d love to see them tell that to local GAA clubs that can’t even field full teams – because our young people are once again forced to fly to America and Australia.
That’s why the next election is so important.
Yes, there is a historical context with the 1916 centenary celebrations.
And yes, there is a political context with the unresolved issue of partition and its impact in the north.
But this election is also about farming and fishing families in this great county; about corner shops and small business; and about redressing decades of social unfairness and economic injustice.
This election will be a chance to make history for Donegal, and for Sinn Fein.
Just five years ago, SF in Donegal only had four county councillors and no TDs.
Now we have nine county councillors and two of the highest-profile and hardest working TDs in this state.
We now have the chance to return three TDs out of five. That is titanic.
It has happened through hard-work and high vision: strategies for growth and party development that took ten years and more to deliver.
Sinn Féin as a party must ensure that political power has democratic values at its heart.
We must demonstrate the change is a state of mind, not just a slogan for elections.
That’s why we will – and do – challenge the elites and status quo at every opportunity.
Never forget, Pearse Doherty took the government to the High Court to ensure that Donegal had its fair representation and he then succeeded in winning a by-election.
This forthcoming election is another chance to make real change.
Donegal is being ambitious and taking a risk by running 3 candidates.
It’s the responsibility of everyone in the room to make sure that the risk pays off.
We have to knock every door in the county, explain our strategy and show them that change is possible.
Gary is an excellent addition to the ticket.
He topped the poll in the local election last year, after only a short time in the council.
He has given a radical and progressive voice to the Finn Valley.
I firmly believe he can and will become the first TD in the Finn Valley in decades.
So comrades, we’ve a great job of work ahead. But I believe we can do it.
In the meantime let’s change the future and let’s win this election.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh.