Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald uses leader's speech at party's ard fheis to call for "new Ireland"

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has criticised the "jaded politics" of the Irish government along with "devastating Tory austerity" as she set out the party's ambition to lead north and south of the border.

Ms McDonald used her leader's speech at the party's ard fheis to call for "a new Ireland".

In her address, Ms McDonald also said housing is the party's top priority and that "momentum is building" for Irish unification.

Speaking to conference delegates at the Technological University of the Shannon campus in Athlone, Co Westmeath, Ms McDonald said: "We want to build a new Ireland, a nation home for all.

"A unified nation of confidence and compassion, talent and ingenuity, claiming our future, our rightful place among the nations of the world.

"A new Ireland. The orange and green reconciled."

Ms McDonald said this means an Ireland that has "no place" for racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia or sectarianism.

Ms McDonald told Sinn Fein delegates that the next year provides an opportunity to "make history" in upcoming elections.

She said there is a possibility for a new Irish government without Fianna Fail and Fine Gael "for the first time in 100 years".

"There is a choice between the jaded politics of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael or a government for change led by Sinn Fein.

"Between devastating Tory austerity or a future of real progress, building public services and prosperity together."

The Sinn Fein leader said: "Our ambition is to lead government in the south.

"A new government without Fine Gael and Fianna Fail for the first time in a hundred years. Just imagine that."

In Northern Ireland, Ms McDonald said party vice president Michelle O'Neill is "ready to lead for all" as First Minister.

The Stormont Assembly remains collapsed amid protest action from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) over post-Brexit trading arrangements and Sinn Fein has accused the UK government of pandering to its concerns.

Ms McDonald called on the DUP to end its "boycott of government".

She told the hundreds of gathered Sinn Fein members that housing is the party's "number one priority".

She said the home ownership has "collapsed for an entire nation" under the current government.

Ms McDonald said: "Sinn Fein will build genuinely affordable homes, build enough of them, get the targets right, increase capital expenditure, cut rents, giving a month's rent back to every renter, and ban rent increases for three years.

"Implement a real emergency response to the scourge of homelessness."

She said the party would cut bureaucracy and bring thousands of vacant homes back into use.

Ms McDonald said Sinn Fein would deliver an "affordable" retrofitting scheme as part of its response to climate change.

She said the agriculture sector "must be supported as it reduces emissions".

"We need a government with the drive to achieve energy independence.

"Off-shore wind, solar and green hydrogen will spearhead Ireland's energy revolution.

"We need pace and scale, a planning system that's fit for purpose, and strategic investment in our infrastructure."

Ms McDonald called for a ceasefire in Gaza and for Israel to be "held to account".

Sinn Fein has called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Ireland and is also bringing a motion to the Dublin parliament seeking a referral of Israel to the International Criminal Court by Ireland.

Ms McDonald also called on Hamas to release all hostages.

She said: "Only a peace process, dialogue, international law can deliver peace and Palestinian freedom.

"This is the only way that the children of Gaza and of Tel Aviv can have the future they deserve.

"So, tonight from Ireland we say 'ceasefire now'."

Earlier in the conference, the Palestinian ambassador to Ireland received a standing ovation after delivering a keynote speech.

Ms McDonald re-iterated the party's call for a Citizens' Assembly on Irish Unity as she said government must plan for "democratic constitutional change".

She said: "The day is coming when everyone on this island will have their say in referendums, each vote counting equally, no vetoes, no shifting of the goal posts.

"Momentum is building, the conversation is live, history is happening now.

"Irish Unity is the very best opportunity for the future."

Ms McDonald said a Sinn Fein government would also transform healthcare, address the cost-of-living crisis and achieve energy security.

In concluding her speech, she said: "We will house our people, we will make healthcare accessible to all, we will win the race against climate change.

"And friends, in our time, we will unite our country and build a nation home for everyone.

"This is the momentous task before us but we do not walk alone. We walk together. Together for our people, together for the republic.

"Together, for Ireland. So, let's seize the moment. Let's seize the day. Let's make change happen now. Let's make change happen for everyone. "

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