An open letter to the PEOPLE of South Down, on the eve of ELECTION 2015
As the election campaign draws to a close, I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for engaging with myself and your local Sinn Féin canvasing teams during the past few months.
We’ve been delighted to knock on tens of thousands of doors and actively engage with families across the county – I just hope we remembered to close tens of thousands of gates behind us!
Polling day tomorrow offers us all a real chance to make a difference for our families, our friends and the wider South Down community – for too long we’ve been neglected, for too long we’ve watched as jobs and health services were lost to Belfast, for too long your MP has done nothing about it.
Its time to invest in our youth – its time to empower those in our community with the vision and the passion to rebuild the South Down economy, reshape community relations, and redraw the boundaries of our aspirations.
This election is about JOBS - about creating the economic conditions so that the next generation do not have to emigrate to find work in Australia or Britain.
This election is about HEALTH – about fighting tooth and nail for our local hospitals and community health services.
This election is about FAMILIES - about protecting the vulnerable, providing for the needy, and caring for the sick.
This election is about EQUALITY - about standing up for all in South Down no matter their sexuality, race, or religion.
If you want to help build a better South Down for you and your family, then YOU have to empower those people who will make the difference. If we continue to vote along traditional lines or stay at home and not vote then we will never realise our potential.
Sinn Féin are the biggest political movement in Ireland – we’ve got the power, the vision and the passion to make a difference for you and your family.
So come out tomorrow and lend us your vote – we wont take it for granted like some nor will we trade it for favours like others.
Tomorrow Vote Sinn Féin – Vote Chris Hazzard.
Chris Hazzard talks to Q Radio’s Kevin McAllister (17/04/2015) about the management of our health services, honest abstentionism and the active ambassadorial role he’ll bring as MP for the betterment of South Down.
Full text of the speech given by Chris Hazzard MLA at the Westminster Election launch 26/03/2015 in the Burrendale Hotel, Newcastle.
A Chairde agus a chomrádaithe, the last 3 years has been a great privilege and indeed a very humbling experience to be a Sinn Féin representative for the people of South Down – and so it is a huge honour to be launching our Westminster campaign tonight with so many of you by my side.
Thank you all for making your way here tonight from all corners of the county and further afield.
Can I also extend thanks to those here beside me – to Donegal’s very own Pearse Doherty TD, to Caitriona Ruane, and of course to Willie Clarke & Stevie Burns.
I want to give a special welcome tonight to Eileen Peters from Killough – who not only is currently leading up the campaign to Save St John’s Point Lighthouse, but is also the grandniece of Thomas Ashe, one of the very first Republican Hunger strikers who died in 1917.
Can I also extend a very warm welcome to some of the families of the Loughinisland Justice Group who are here tonight – the strength and determination you have displayed in your quest for justice is remarkable and on behalf of everyone here tonight I want to extend our solidarity.
Of course I would also like to say a special thanks to my own family; to my wife Lisa, my parents, and my sisters. Like all those selfless families who have stood behind Irish Republicans for generations you know only too well both the sacrifice and privilege it is to be an elected representative.
Last but certainly not least, I want to pay tribute tonight to the trojan work that both Mick Murphy and Caitríona Ruane have put into building the Westminster project in previous campaigns. I want to commend them for building our support and for handing myself and our team in 2015 a very exciting and achievable target.
And be assured comrades, our target is simple – we will continue to build political strength so that we can affect real and sustainable change for the people we represent right across Ireland and at home here in South Down.
With three Senators, four MEPs, five MPs, 14 TDs, 29 MLAs, 264 councillors, 10 thousand active members and half a million votes across this island – Sinn Féin is once again the largest political movement in Ireland.
From Strangford to Skibereen and from Ballyholland to Ballymun the Irish people are desperate for change – for an alternative to the gombeen politics of golden circles, for the building of progressive alliances rather than the discord that has left deep divisions between our peoples.
South Down badly needs to tap into this new momentum – we need to set our local economy and our local community on a new direction. We need to build inclusive partnerships for change.
And it is we ourselves, South Down Sinn Féin that will be the driver for this change – and this is not cheap electioneering – Sinn Féin have consistently demonstrated to the people of South Down that we are the real deal – that we are the party of delivery.
When we said we would decentralise public jobs, we meant it – and next month will see the relocation of DARD Fisheries office out of Belfast and into Downpatrick.
When we said Down needed a new hospital – the former Sinn Féin Health Minister Bairbre de Bruin built it – and today we continue to lead the fight to keep vital services in the Downe & Daisy Hill Hospitals.
When we promised to invest in new school builds for our local area – we have followed that up with nearly £100 million invested in new school projects in the last few years.
When our local farmers and fishermen were severely hit with harsh weather in recent years Sinn Féin ensured that hardship payments were delivered and an industry taskforce created to deal with local concerns.
When others touted the imposition of National Park status upon the community in the Mournes we stood with that local community – we promised that we would not allow a National Park to be foisted upon the Mournes against their wishes – and the controversial plan was binned.
When others stand for photos at Newry Pride and yet fail to show up to vote for equality for our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community – Sinn Féin consistently fight for the rights of all in our society. We have demanded Marriage Equality and we have blocked the DUPs discriminatory ‘Conscience Clause’ bill.
And when the SDLP controlled Down Council only managed a meagre 15 new jobs as a result of foreign direct investment in the last 5 years, the Sinn Féin controlled Newry & Mourne Council promoted nearly 1500 new jobs.
Put simply comrades, this is the difference.
This is who we are; Delivery is what we do.
When others tell us change is not possible – we invoke the words of our comrade Mandela – that it always seems impossible until it is done!
When others say we cant effect change because we don’t take our seats at Westminster; let us not be afraid to challenge this lazy and entirely illogical point.
The SDLP have held this seat for as long as I’ve been alive – and yet you genuinely wouldn’t need every finger on one hand to count any accomplishments garnered from sitting on Westminster’s green benches.
They know it themselves – its why Margaret Ritchie’s attendance & voting record is one of the lowest of any MPs.
Whilst SDLP MPs busy themselves with West End matinees, Sinn Féin MPs work tirelessly in their community, they embrace the role as ambassadors for their constituents – and they effect real change where it matters most.
This is the platform that I will build as an MP for South Down.
For too long South Down has been a forgotten area when it comes to signature investment – I will build new partnerships in order to tackle this longstanding neglect.
I will convene and chair a specific investment taskforce which will invite all MLAs, Community & Business leaders, Tourism promoters and local Council Officials to participate. For its only when we work together that we can truly deliver for the all the people of South Down.
Westminster – and the British political elite simply does not get it when it comes to the needs of the people of South Down – that our community, from all sides and none, who have endured decades of conflict, must now be afforded the opportunity to benefit from the fruits of peace.
And enjoying the fruits of peace is about giving people equal access to an excellent education and a decent job, about providing fit-for-purpose public services, and the freedom for citizens to determine their own destiny. This also means we stand up for the most vulnerable, the marginalised and the disadvantaged within our community.
It is said that the test of any society is how we treat those who are in the dawn of their life – the children; those who are in the twilight of life – the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life – the sick, the vulnerable, and the marginalised.
As an Irish Republican, as a Sinn Féin Representative, and as the future MP for South Down I am proud that it is this desire for social justice that provides the moral compass for myself and my party.
So let’s leave here tonight inspired, motivated and enthused by the fact that just as Republicans in 1916 delivered a blow to British Imperialism from which it never recovered, that we deliver our own fatal blow to our political opponents.
Just as the men & women of 1916 set in motion a determined drive for independence and an Irish Republic – let us set in motion our own chain of events – Let the next 6 weeks set in motion a generation of real and sustainable change in South Down.Chris Hazzard MLA
Full text of what Chris Hazzard had to say in an interview with David McCann (06/03/2015) at the Sinn Féin Árd Fheis, Doire.
David McCann: “After 3 years in the Assembly representing South Down, what makes you want to go for Westminster at this stage?”
Chris Hazzard: I think it’s very important that SF builds on the success of the Assembly and that we take it to another level. I don’t think that can be done from within Westminster, but by creating an ambassadorial role for our MPs…
I think our MPs need to look beyond the horizon. I’ll make no bones about it, I’m an honest abstentionist, I won’t be sitting inside the House of Commons, and I think that’s actually the best for the constituency. I don’t want to waste my time talking to myself inside Westminster.
I’m going to be taking South Down out into the world. One of my pledges is that I’m going to create a cross party task force, all the MLAs will be invited, business leaders, community leaders, council officials. We are going out to bring jobs, bring prosperity, grow our tourism sector and we’re going to bring a bit of life back into South Down. That’s done throughout the world. It’s not done in London and it’s something I’m very much looking forward to.
David McCann: Obviously the SDLP have had seat in South Down for 25 years. It’s a big task to unseat Margaret Richie. Do you think you can do it this time?
Chris Hazzard: Without a doubt. You’re right, the SDLP have had this seat since the 1980s. I think the people of South Down are looking for a change, for something fresh and certainly I represent that. Sinn Féin represent that.
We’re running on a platform of change. We’re asking people: Are you content with what you have? And if they are content with what they have, they can stick with what they have.
More and more people are telling us, we need something different. Things are not good enough.
Over the last decade, we’ve been losing jobs to Belfast, we’ve been losing our health services to Belfast, and we’ve been losing our transport services to Belfast. No more. Downpatrick is as many miles from Belfast as Belfast is from Downpatrick.
We’re going to start bringing things the other way and I think that message is starting to resonate with people is South Down.
David McCann: Margaret Richie is generally regarded as a fairly effective lobbyist in the House of Commons. So first off, do you agree with that?
Chris Hazzard: I think there are very many roles to a political representative. Representing your constituents is just one, but you have to have vision. You have to want to build an economy that’s fair and equitable for all the people of South Down. You have to deliver more than just getting a few potholes filled on a road. We need a South Down economy that delivers for everyone in South Down. We need the vision to harness what we have. You know we have an outstanding natural environment. It is world class. We don’t have the facilities yet to tap into that. It really is untapped and we have to deliver on that. I think I have the vision to do that. In Sinn Féin I am part of a very strong team. I have TDs on one side of me, I have MEPs, I am surrounded by a strong team of councillors and MLAs. No other party can offer that sort of team. I think that why I’m starting to appeal more and more at the doors.
David McCann: Just to turn that around and be a bit of a critic. Yeah you’ve got all that political representation and it’s still about nothing for South Down. Is that not an admission of failure on Sinn Féin’s part?
Chris Hazzard: Absolutely not. If we take jobs for example: In 2 months’ time The Fisheries Office will be decentralised from Belfast to Down. No other party, no other minister has brought jobs to Down. Sinn Féin have done it. We’ve promised to decentralise jobs, we’ve done it. When it comes to fighting for health jobs in the Downe (Hospital), Sinn Féin Minister, Bairbre de Brun, a number of years ago, built a £60 million hospital in Down. Successive ministers have stripped South Down of those services and Sinn Féin stands shoulder to shoulder with the community in fighting to protect that service.
David McCann: Now you take over this candidacy from Caitríona Ruane, who’s had two goes before you. How are you going to run a different campaign from Caitríona Ruane? Because obviously outside commentators saw Caitríona as a liability to the Sinn Féin ticket in South Down – obviously I don’t expect you to agree with that. But how are you going to be different from her? Do you plan any differences in approach or tone from what she had?
Chris Hazzard: Of course we don’t agree with your analysis of Caitríona. Caitríona is one of the hardest working Sinn Féin MLA’s I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside. Yes we’re part of the same party, it’s still the same members of Sinn Féin coming to the doors and engaging with people. But me and Caitríona would be different in a number of ways. I’m from the east of the county. Myself and Margaret are both from that part of the world, we have strong family connections in that part of the world. I’m an active playing member of the local Gaelic club. I very much love being a part of my county and I think that’s something I have on my side. I can connect with people on the doors. When I present to them the vision, they believe it. But you know, so did Caitríona. Caitríona brought the Sinn Féin project on from Mick Murphy before. I’ll be very much carrying on the baton which Caitríona gave me. And that’s very much the message that I’ll be going with.
David McCann: I just want to ask you a bit about your opponent Margaret Richie. What do you make of her? On a personal level, what do you think of her?
Chris Hazzard: Margaret seems very personable.
David McCann: Do you have much interaction with her?
Chris Hazzard: On various occasions, at meetings and events, we got on. That’s the thing about South Down…there’s very little small ‘p’ politics. We try to bring that partnership approach. The hospital campaign around the South Down is very much cross party. And that’s what I want to build on. I want to build that partnership style approach, to deliver. I think people in their homes don’t actually really mind what party delivers for them, as long as there’s delivery. As I say, Sinn Féin are very strong on this message, I am very strong on this locally. I don’t care who I work with. I am going to deliver for the people of South Down.
David McCann: I just want to depart from Westminster a wee bit… You’re one of the younger MLAs. You’re the second youngest MLA in Stormont. Am I right?
Chris Hazzard: Third, Claire Sugden is now in. I’m the youngest male.
David McCann: You’re very much the future of this party. Even if you don’t win in South Down, you probably will at some point, in the non-too distant future, when there’s a vacancy…we’ll get through all the stuff first.
David McCann: At this Árd Fheis, where do you see the party going? Cynics like me will say you’re going in a centrist, centre-right direction. What for you Chris Hazzard? In 20 years’ time, you’re in an Árd Fheis, what do you see? This is what we stand for…this is our platform.
Chris Hazzard: I was actually in a discussion earlier on, with an old tutor from Queen’s (University Belfast). We were talking about Parnell and mentioned the quote: “No-one has the right to set the boundary of a nation.” And very much this is what I see from Sinn Féin at the minute. We heard Martin McGuinness speaking there now. We’re on the cusp of something really historic here. We’re on the cusp of not just being the biggest party in the Assembly, but the biggest across this island, in both states, in Leinster House and the Assembly. Coming up to the centenary of 1916, who is to say where that’s going to take us? But we’re not just about getting seats to get into government. It’s about taking power, it’s about challenging the political establishment, and it’s about setting a new path for Ireland. For too long we’ve had to deal with mismanagement from London. For too long we’ve had to deal with bureaucracy from Brussels. We need to set our own path. I think that’s the really exciting thing that I see. You only have to look at that hall, packed already tonight. It’s full of young people, it’s full of women as well, which is fantastic to see. I certainly wouldn’t want to be setting a boundary to where we’re going, because over the next generation it’s going to be very exciting and I’m just delighted to be a part of it.
David McCann: Just one final question, before I let you go. Obviously the party and your approach to governance in the north is incredibly important. I’ve just noticed from some of the younger members of the audience, there’s a bit of blow back about corporation tax. Some delegates got up and made speeches against it, “it’s a ridiculous idea”. For you, a younger MLA, where do you fall down on the issue? Are you a bit more sceptical than some of your leadership on it?
Chris Hazzard: I think it’s an issue we’re taking careful consideration of at the minute…that is right. I myself stood up today and spoke about some of the dangers inherent, I think, in just blindly following the group-think, without reasoned debate… that we just rush in to cut corporation tax without really taking cognisance of what it means. You know there’s plenty of research into the phenomenon (of) the Celtic Tiger, as they called it. The role of corporation tax there in creating jobs, it’s a fallacy…it didn’t happen. It went into a speculative housing market. There are a lot of dangers around this. But the unfortunate thing about the north, (is) we do not have economic control over our own economic destiny. We need to look to make gains, if we need to be able to be flexible with corporation tax…to be able to build that sort of engine room, well then so be it, but we need to be very careful.
David McCann: Thanks very much for your time.
Chris Hazzard: No problem.
Pupils Want Change
This week I participated in a panel debate in ‘The Assumption’ in Ballynahinch. It was a really enjoyable experience as myself and Minister for Health Jim Wells were put through our paces by a sharp audience – Maith Sibh to all who got involved!
First topic up for discussion was Votes@16 – a hugely important issue for so many young adults today around Ireland – and it was obviously a hot topic for the girls at the Assumption. I think its fair to suggest that the public mood is increasingly in favour of this reform, indeed the audience seemed disturbed that Minister Wells thought they ought to “have something better to do” than involve themselves in the democratic process at 16 and 17 years of age.
Sinn Féin have been committed to extended voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds for some time now – it is simply the right thing to do – so Im delighted that the audience appeared to support this policy.
Next up for discussion was the role of Grammar schools and their use of academic selection to determine entrance. To the surprise of many in the room, both myself and Minister Wells agreed that selection at 11 yrs of age is a crude and divisive instrument for testing academic ability – it simply doesn’t. However Jim is a fan of the Dixon plan (selection at 14), and whilst he makes some considered arguments regarding the situation in the Lurgan area, I simply don’t see the educational value in forcing families into separate schools at any age.
I have to say the discussion around educational reforms and selection in particular was fascinating – and at times more nuanced than what I’ve come to expect from some corners at Stormont. It was a great reminder that our young people have a huge amount to offer the political process, and their views should be sought at all times.
Finally we explored the opportunities arising from the recent Stormont House Agreement. Minister Wells was keen to stress just how far we have come as a society, the memory fading quickly of the conflict and strife. He is right of course – its easy at times to forget just how far we have travelled together as a society in building the peace.
But I took the opportunity to stress that we mustn’t rest on our laurels – for every success there are multiple challenges that we still must tackle. The Stormont House Agreement gives us a platform to make progress, but we must not resort to putting difficult issues on the long finger merely because we are afraid of making the hard choices.
Political leadership is vital in any society, especially in a post-conflict society such as Ireland. As a younger generation watch on from the sidelines they are becoming increasingly agitated at the obfuscation and failure from some quarters to show leadership – I hope that they see in Sinn Féin a party who are committed to their futures.