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Sinn Féin activists plan for the future at major meeting in Dublin over weekend

Over 500 Sinn Féin elected representatives and activists from across the 32 counties of Ireland gathered in Dublin last weekend to discuss, debate and strategise the party's way forward.

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson for the Environment Brian Stanley has demanded that the government explain the €108 million jump in water metering costs in a period of eight weeks last year. 

Metering costs were judged to be worth €431 million when assessed by external consultants in May 2013. Final costs of €539 million were reported in July. This 25% jump in costs has raised serious concerns over Government accountability. 

Deputy Stanley said: 

“Serious question marks arise out of this huge jump in costs. Minister Kelly has attributed ongoing survey work for the hike. However it has been revealed that survey work on Irish Water metering costs was not completed until October 2013. It seems strange that the figures reported in July could accord exactly with figures produced in October when survey work carried out by the local authorities was finally completed. 

“This jump of €108 million occurred a month after contracts for water meters were awarded in June. It is very surprising that the same figure for contracts would match exactly with survey work carried out by local authorities, which concluded several months later. 

“There are questions that are of grave concern to the public, that the Government are consistently refusing to answer. The Government are not producing figures to account for this huge increase in expenditure. 

“This is tax payers money that is being wasted with here – this lack of accountability is unacceptable. It is as if the Government have simply given a blank cheque to Irish Water. I've said this many times in the Dáil over the past two years and I am increasingly convinced of this statement. 

“Sinn Féin has demanded that Irish Water be fully accountable to the Minister of the Oireachtas, with The Comptroller and Auditor General as well as the PAC having the right to scrutinise their accounts. Currently Irish Water is not answerable to any of these. Minister Alan Kelly can't continue to pass the buck to Irish Water. This is not good enough. 

“Almost €539 million is being blown on meters which will not be used for up to five years according to the Government. Water meters are now redundant.

“Sinn Féin has called for the disbandment of Irish Water, the halting of the wasteful metering programme and for the money to be directed into fixing leaking pipes. We are also demanding that Minister Kelly come into the Dáil and answer questions relating to the €108 million hike in relation to the water metering programme.”

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Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd has said today the integrity and commitment of the DUP to the current talks process has been called into question by remarks made by Gregory Campbell at the DUP party conference at the weekend.

John O’Dowd said:

“Gregory Campbell claimed to be speaking on behalf of his party when he addressed his party conference and said and I quote:

‘On behalf of our party let me say clearly, and slowly so that Caitroina Ruane and Gerry Adams understand, we will NEVER agree to an Irish Language Act at Stormont and we will treat their entire wish list as no more than toilet paper.  They better get used to it.’

“In doing so Gregory Campbell is clearly dismissing the hopes, aspirations and negotiating rights of almost one half of our people in these talks. While we have come to expect such outbursts from Mr Campbell this tirade appears to have been delivered on behalf of his party.

"The DUP leader Peter Robinson needs to clarify was Gregory Campbell representing the DUP’s position as a whole as that calls into question the integrity and commitment of the DUP’s approach to the talks.”

And John O’Dowd said he is appalled that Gregory Campbell was allowed to use the DUP conference to insult the entire Irish language community once more.

“The insult directed by Gregory Campbell at the Irish language community from the DUP conference is appalling.

“He was clearly sticking two fingers up to the Irish language community and to authority of the Assembly which sanctioned him for his unacceptable behaviour in the chamber.

“I’m dismayed that Peter Robinson, in echoes of his failure to deal promptly with abuse directed at the Muslim community earlier this year, has added insult to injury by suggesting Campbell’s mockery was a piece of comedy.

"I can assure Mr Robinson if I was to dismiss the negotiating position of the DUP as toilet paper or insult anyone's culture as we have witnessed from Gregory Campbell the leadership of my party would not find it one bit funny.

“Peter Robinson needs to show some leadership and demonstrate to Irish speakers, nationalist and republicans that this contemptible behaviour is unacceptable in the 21st century.”

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Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice has outlined how Palestine can learn lessons from the Irish peace process in terms of international assistance with conflict resolution.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn was addressing a major international conference in Palestine today.

Hundreds of delegates from all over the world, including Government Ministers, City Mayors, and Local Authority leaders joined hundreds of Palestinian political leaders and activists in Ramallah.

His key note address on the need for international solidarity and assistance with the Palestinian people was delivered alongside the famous PLO spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn stated:

“All over the world, people were marching to support freedom and justice for the Palestinian people. Throughout July and August thousands of people right across the island of Ireland came out on to the streets to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza. They protested the Israeli war crimes and wanted the international community to act and stop appeasing Israel. The message for Palestine was clear. You are not alone.

“However, the continued refusal of the Israeli Government to enter into meaningful peace negotiations to create a robust peace process is wrong. The Israeli Government must recognise the need for conflict resolution which in turn requires all representatives of the Palestinian people to be at the table and all causes of conflict up for discussion. Inclusive dialogue is central to an agreement and to bring an end to conflict.

“The International community needs to take the lead on this basic and important requirement for peace. Greater focus and pressure from world leaders and organisations is a necessity for real change.

“There are many lessons from our Irish peace process. The Good Friday Agreement was signed back in 1998. It would not have happened without the active participation of Governments and administrations in the United States, Ireland and Britain. The support of the South African Government with their experience of conflict resolution, led by the great Nelson Mandela, was also vital.

“Peace and the ending of hostilities is not enough. The emphasis should not just be on peace but on process. What was agreed must be fully implemented. It is a process that requires ongoing care and attention. In the North of Ireland, despite the progress made over the years, much remains to be done.

“While there are huge differences when we compare Ireland and Palestine, and I don’t seek to tell Palestinians how they should move forward, I think they and others can learn from our experience. Sinn Féin stands ready and willing to help the Palestinian Government and Palestinian people in any way we can.

“Please know that despite the failure of our political leaders in the international community to protect your rights and facilitate your freedom, you are supported by millions of people all over the world. I encourage you to reach out again.”

See below full text of Deputy Mac Lochlainn's address:

I want to thank you for inviting me here today. It is truly an honour to address this conference. I bring warm and fraternal solidarity greetings from Sinn Féin, but as a member of the Irish Parliament, I also bring greetings on behalf of the people of Ireland.

The Irish people are almost unique in Europe for the exploitation and discrimination that they have faced because of colonisation. Therefore we have a strong love and empathy for the Palestinian people.

Irish Republicans have long struggled for the freedom and dignity of the Irish people and we find a common cause with our Palestinian brothers and sisters. Throughout July and August thousands of people right across the island of Ireland came out on to the streets to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza being massacred by the Israeli army. They protested the Israeli war crimes and wanted the international community to act and stop appeasing Israel. There was huge protests marching through the heart of Dublin city and ending at the Israeli Embassy. The message for Palestine was clear. You are not alone.

And this wasn’t just in Ireland. All over the world, people were marching to support freedom and justice for the Palestinian people. The message for Israel was equally clear. We are awake and aware to your disgraceful and abhorrent human rights abuses. Your slaughter of innocent Palestinians cannot be hidden. Your excuses for continuing settlement building, for blockading Gaza, and for refusing to abide by international law and norms do not fool us. Those of us in Ireland and across the world who condemn the Israeli Government for their human rights abuses also condemn the killings of Israelis and Palestinians over recent times in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

However, the continued refusal of the Israeli Government to enter into meaningful peace negotiations to create a robust peace process is wrong and indeed against the interests and long term security of their own people. The Israeli Government must recognise the need for conflict resolution which in turn requires all representatives of the Palestinian people to be at the table and all causes of conflict up for discussion. Inclusive dialogue is central to an agreement and to bring an end to conflict.

The International community needs to take the lead on this basic and important requirement for peace. Greater focus and pressure from world leaders and organisations is a necessity for real change. We are seeing a huge increase in support for grassroots movements that stand up for the rights of Palestinians and Governments in Europe are being forced to listen. It’s our job to ensure that they go beyond empty rhetoric and ensure that they take meaningful steps to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine and allow the Palestinians their rightful place in the International community, becoming a nation amongst nations.

As the Palestinian people know, sometimes making an agreement is the easy part. The implementation of that agreement is the hard part. This is something we are keenly aware of in Ireland due to our own peace process. There are many lessons from our Irish peace process. The Good Friday Agreement was signed back in 1998. It would not have happened without the active participation of Governments and administrations in the United States, Ireland and Britain. The support of the South African Government with their experience of conflict resolution, led by the great Nelson Mandela, was also vital. The Irish and British Governments are co- guarantors of that agreement and are responsible for the implementation of all aspects of that agreement.

Peace and the ending of hostilities is not enough. The emphasis should not just be on peace but on process. What was agreed must be fully implemented. It is a process that requires ongoing care and attention. Guns can fall silent on both sides on an agreed date, but all sides need to continually work on and respect the agreement or the process will be in danger of stalling, reversing or indeed collapsing.

In the North of Ireland, despite the progress made over the years, much remains to be done. The legacy of 25 years of terrible conflict haunts our future. We are at a standstill. This has arisen because the British and Irish Governments have abandoned their responsibilities as co- guarantors to the Good Friday Agreement and the other agreements that followed and allowed the situation to drift for years now. Again, we require international intervention from the United States to assist negotiations on the next steps of our peace process. As we gather here today those negotiations are ongoing.

The Palestinian people have also endured this international complacency and indifference since the Oslo accord. However, the terrible cost to your people of that failure by the international community is incomparable to that of the people of the North of Ireland. For you, it means occupation, poverty, devastating death and destruction. It means that the immense potential of the Palestinian people is suppressed and strangled.

Please know that despite the failure of our political leaders in the international community to protect your rights and facilitate your freedom, you are supported by millions of people all over the world. I encourage you to reach out again. Just this month we have seen Sweden formally recognise the State of Palestine. It has become the first EU country to do this while a member of the EU. It has opened the door for other countries to follow suit, and break the EU’s empty rhetoric with tangible action.

Palestinian Ambassadors have played a vital role in gaining grassroots and official support for the Palestinian cause across the world. We have been extremely lucky to have two excellent Palestinian Ambassadors in Ireland who I know personally. Dr. Hikmat Ajjuri and current Ambassador Ahmad Abdelrazek. They have represented the Palestinian people with passion and dignity in Ireland. I also acknowledge the efforts of all of the Palestinian Ambassadors to Ireland down the years. When the Palestinian Ambassadors to Ireland have addressed our Sinn Féin Ard Fheisenna, our annual party meeting, they have received standing ovations from the 1,000 plus party members assembled.

Through our struggle in Ireland we know how important unity is and that the oppressor will always try to divide the oppressed in order to continue to dominate them. Therefore I believe Palestinian Unity is vital in the struggle for Palestinian freedom. I warmly welcome the establishment of the Palestinian Unity government and encourage all Palestinians to continue to unite on this common cause. Palestinian Unity scares the Israeli Government so much that they launched a massive and brutal crackdown on political activists in the West Bank and the so-called Operation Protective Edge on Gaza.

I urge you to stay steadfast and focus on what unites Palestinians rather than what divides them.

In Ireland it wasn’t until we had unity on the Irish nationalist side that we were fully able to progress into a peace process situation. Sinn Féin disagrees with the Irish Government and the nationalist SDLP on a wide range of issues, but we knew we had to focus on what unites us in order to achieve our rights and demands. While there are huge differences when we compare Ireland and Palestine, and I don’t seek to tell Palestinians how they should move forward, I think they and others can learn from our experience.

Sinn Féin stands ready and willing to help the Palestinian Government and Palestinian people in any way we can.

The Irish people stand shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinian people and we will not rest until the Palestinian people are living in peace and prosperity in their own State. Viva Palestine. Long live Palestine.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD said today the SDLP needed to wake up to the fact that negative anti-agreement unionism is forming electoral pacts in the run-up to next year’s Westminster elections.

 Gerry Adams said:

“For the past two years the political process has been challenged by a negative anti-agreement unionist axis which is attempting to turn the clock back. 

“Progress on a whole range of outstanding issues from the Good Fridayand other agreements, including an Irish Language Act, has been blocked.

“The SDLP’s refusal to consider a strategic approach to the next Westminster and Assembly elections by pro-agreement progressive parties ignores the reality that unionism is currently forming electoral pacts.

"The unionist parties have quite clearly set out their objective in successive party conferences of taking seats at the expense of pro-agreement parties.

“This would be a setback for the political process in the North. It would also add further momentum to the British government’s shift towards increasingly partisan support for negative unionism.

“There is a clear need for more innovative and forward-looking politics which can effectively counter the unionist anti-Agreement axis and the SDLP should be playing a role in that.” 

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Sinn Féin Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh last night addressed the annual conference of the Bloco de Esquerda party on the unification of European parties on the left against austerity.

Sharing the stage with prominent European Left party leaders in Lisbon, Ó Clochartaigh said:

“In the last number of years the Irish people have been relatively quiet about the impact of austerity measures. However, in recent times the sleeping giant has been awoken. A couple of weeks ago one hundred thousand people marched on the streets of Dublin. This was the largest demonstration against austerity in Ireland since the crisis began.

“It was, on the face of it, a march against an unjust water tax being brought in by our government, at the behest of the troika. But in reality this move by the government was the last straw for Irish citizens sick and tired of the taxes, charges and cuts imposed by the Fine Gael and Labour government, to repay the debts of corrupt bankers.

“These protests are an expression of the anger that people feel against a Government without any sense of fairness. After six long years of spending cuts and tax hikes, of unemployment and emigration, of bank bailouts and golden handshakes – people are saying ‘no more’.

“Sinn Féin believes that a better, fairer, more equal and prosperous Ireland is possible. But that cannot be achieved on the basis of the policies our government is following.

“I am conscious that the impact of austerity on people in Portugal and Greece in particular have been probably even more cruel than in Ireland. But Irish people are suffering unnecessarily also when Irish society continues to privilege the few over the many. Poverty, homelessness, health and education inequalities, unemployment and emigration will still be the daily reality for tens of thousands of people.

“But the political landscape in Ireland is changing dramatically. We must now work together, with other GUE/NGL partners, to strengthen coordination among the forces of the European Left. We must build on our common aims and not lose sight of who the political enemy is. Their most popular tactic and our most common challenge is divide and conquer. We as parties must not be distracted or overcome by this at home, or in Europe.

“Our vision for Europe is of national democracies working together, respecting each other’s sovereignty and having self-determination. The actions of the EU since the beginning of the financial crisis have shown that it is not a force for a positive social Europe.

“Left parties across Europe must now work primarily in their own country but also at a European level to bring about real reform.”

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Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams TD, speaking at the party’s Ard Comhairle meeting today, said the Government’s latest manoeuvre on the Water Charges issue will not work as it does not address the concerns of the hudreds of thousands who have taken to the streets on the issue. 

 Gerry Adams said: 

“As with every other issue, Fine Gael and Labour have failed to listen to citizens on the Water Charges. 

“The Government's latest policy is all about giving themselves a lifeline to run their full term. It's not about easing the pressure on those who cannot pay Water Charges. 

“What we got on Wednesday was a PR offensive - a desperate attempt by Fine Gael and Labour to cling to power for the next year. 

“Water charges have not been scrapped, the water metering programme will continue, metered charges are coming in, they will only go up, and there is still no constitutional right to water. 

“This cynical Government manoeuvre will not work. The people are not stupid. It fails to address the demands of the hundreds of thousands of citizens who have taken to the streets on this issue. 

“Sinn Féin is a central part of the Right2Water campaign and I am calling for the maximum possible turnout in protest against Water Charges on December 10th  to deliver a strong message that Water Charges must be scrapped.”

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Robinson playing to conference gallery – Murphy  

Newry Armagh MP Conor Murphy has said comments by DUP leader Peter Robinson on Sinn Féin are patently incorrect and pitched at the party faithful on the eve of a deeply divided conference.

Conor Murphy was responding to comments by the DUP leader on the state of play in the all-party talks.

Conor Murphy said:

“Peter Robinson’s assertion that there are divisions in the Sinn Féin leadership is clearly another piece of wishful unionist thinking.

“Sinn Féin decides on party policy collectively and we continue to do so. That’s the approach we take on all policy matters including our submissions to any talks process.

“Sinn Féin is prepared to discuss all issues including reducing the costs of the Assembly and departments. 

“However there is no agreement and no growing consensus on these issues.

“Any agreement on these issues is interlinked with other areas of the negotiations particularly the North South implementation bodies, which if agreed could reduce duplication of services on the island and provide greater efficiencies and savings.

“All this and the toxic issues of flags, parading and the legacy of the past need to be fully explored.” 

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Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD has welcome today’s statement by the National Executive of SIPTU that the organisation will now work with those in the Right 2 Water campaign.

Deputy McDonald said;

“The announcement is very welcome. It is an extremely positive development. SIPTU will add further weight to those of us working in the Right 2 Water campaign. 

“It is essential that any campaign against water charges is as broad and as inclusive as possible and should include SIPTU.

“The SIPTU National Executive has clearly seen that the Government’s announcement this week is not a progressive step for the future of water services in Ireland.

“I am calling on the leadership of SIPTU to work with us in the build up to the Right 2 Water rally on December 10th and to work to achieve the stated aims of the campaign.

“Water charges must be scrapped. There must be a constitutional provision guarding against the privatisation of our water supply.

“As the Right 2 Water campaign affirms – Water is a human right and water charges should be scrapped.

“I am calling on everybody to do what they can to make the demonstration on December 10th the most colourful, peaceful and powerful expression of public opposition to water charges.

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Sinn Féin councillor Niall O Donnghaile has said he is taking his complaint against the BBC over its treatment of Irish speakers to the BBC Trust. 

Speaking after the BBC attempted to defend its treatment of the Irish language on an episode of 'The Nolan Show,' councillor O Donnghaile said; 

"I made a complaint to the BBC over the disrespect shown to me and the wider Irish language community on 'The Nolan Show' on November 5. 

"The programme discussed the offensive remarks on the Irish language made by Gregory Campbell in the Assembly. 

"My complaint centred on the fact that the presenter repeated the remarks on numerous occasions with the intention of getting a cheap laugh. 

"This was not a laughing matter and should not have been treated as such. The remarks were grossly offensive to the Irish language community and bordered on racism. 

"I challenged the BBC on this and called on it to apologise. 

"Instead the BBC has sought to defend the remarks, bizarrely claiming they were 'editorially justified' and that no offence was intended. 

"In response, the BBC have claimed that I 'introduced a lightness of tone' into the exchange. 

"I not only reject that assertion but also the inference that it could be used to justify the unacceptable and offensive behaviour of the presenter which followed. 

"As well as repeating my call for the BBC to apologise I have also lodged a complaint with the BBC Trust as the governing body of the organisation and the arbitrator for all complaints."

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