Derry: Sinn Fein wants to lead the next Irish government, Gerry Adams told the party's ardfheis (national conference) in Derry this weekend.

Addressing an overflow attendance of more than 2,000 delegates, he said: "Sinn Féin will not prop up either a Fine Gael or a Fianna Fáil-led government."

Observers said the ardfheis was the best-attended event of its kind that Sinn Fein had held for decades. 

The air of expectancy was reflected by a delegate wearing a t-shirt with a smiling image of Gerry Adams and the slogan: "Taoiseach in waiting."

When it did go into government, Sinn Fein would abolish the controversial water charges altogether and scrap the unpopular property tax. 

"We will bring in a third rate of income tax for those individuals earning over one hundred thousand euro," he added.

Defending his party's role in the Stormont House Agreement, which involved some welfare cuts, he said the alternative was a return to direct rule in the North.

"Those who argue that power should be handed back to London need to get real. That would be the road to disaster," Mr Adams said.

The Sinn Fein president called for a common platform for political progress among the people of the entire island, including unionists and working-class loyalists.

Mr Adams said: "A new Citizens’ Charter, encapsulating fundamental principles could take us towards a citizen-centred, rights-based society."

He also said that next week Sinn Fein would be proposing in the Dail to extend the right to vote in Presidential elections to Irish citizens in the North and overseas.

Earlier at the ardfheis, delegates voted for a change in the law, in both parts of the island, to permit abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said couples who were caught up in this situation went through “unspeakable trauma."

She said that some women would choose to carry their pregnancy to term, but for others this would be “an unbearable cruelty”.

“For me, the decent thing, the right thing and the republican thing to do is to support the motion," she said.

Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín, who breached party discipline in the past on the abortion issue, indicated earlier he would not support the motion.

Anti-abortion protesters outside the Millennium Forum held up pictures of two Sinn Fein TDs from neighbouring Donegal, Pearse Doherty and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, along with photographs of aborted foetuses.

"We voted for him; he voted for this," the placards said, in a reference to Sinn Fein's support for 2013 legislation to permit abortion where the mother's life was at risk.

On the general political outlook, the North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said it was Sinn Fein's ambition to be the biggest party, north and south, in the coming elections.

“The symbolism of doing so on the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising will be massive," he said.

"The youth, the energy and the determination in this ardfheis is palpable," he added, and he quipped: "Maybe we should have it in Derry every year."

He said that, in the Stormont House Agreement, Sinn Fein protected people from welfare reductions and had been wrongly blamed for British Tory cuts that were "beyond our control."

"Sinn Fein doesn't do austerity, others do austerity. So what do we do? We do equality," he said.

Member of the European Parliament for Dublin, Lynn Boylan, got loud applause when she said the current Fine Gael-Labour government was “nothing but a cowardly bunch of yes men."

She said: "Unlike the new Greek government they failed to stand up for this country's interests in Europe."

She said the Government had a lot in common with the water charges regime it had brought in: "They are nothing but an unfair, unjust and unwanted imposition on the people of Ireland."

Delegates gave a warm welcome to a minister from the new Greek government, Mr Euclid Tsakalotos.

He said Syriza and Sinn Féin were "part of a great realignment in European politics".

"Some European Governments will be arguing that we should not giveproblematic Greeks special treatment,” Mr Tsakalotos said.

“You know that we are not asking for special treatment but for equal treatment in a Europe of equals.”

Mr Tsakalotos got a standing ovation at the beginning and end of his speech and, when he finished his contribution, Gerry Adams shook his hand on the podium.

There was also loud applause when the party's Member of the European Parliament for Northern Ireland, Martina Anderson described the changing political mood in Europe: "In Athens it's called Syriza, in Spain it's called Podemos, in Ireland it's called Sinn Fein."

Mary Lou McDonald said she accepted the challenge to a debate from Labour Party leader Joan Burton. "You know where to find me,” she said, in a message to the deputy head of government.

There was laughter and applause when Ms McDonald added that Labour's deputy leader Alan Kelly “has vowed to rip us apart - we are quakingin our stilettos."

“Today, we pledge to the people that we will not make false promises to grab political power. We are not the Labour Party,” she said.

“When we say that we will abolish water charges at the first opportunity, we mean it. When we say that we will abolish property tax, we mean that too.”

Party leader Gerry Adams was among the attendance at a meeting on the fringe of the conference where loyalist bandsmen from the Londonderry Bands Forum held a discussion with delegates.

The ardfheis backed a motion proposed by Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty which formally committed the party to staying out of any government led by Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.

The motion also committed Sinn Fein "to maximise the potential for an anti-austerity government in the 26 counties".
Mr Doherty asked delegates: "Do you honestly believe that, under Fine Gael, any upturn in the economy will be felt by the working classes?"

Party strategist Eoin Ó Broin said: "It's time for a real republican government, a left-republican government, a Sinn Fein-led government."