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Sinn Féin solidarity vigil with the Palestinian people

Sinn Féin solidarity vigil with the Palestinian people as Israel continues its horrific bombardment of Gaza



“HAP is not a solution and if the government succeeds in passing it into law, it will have wide ranging negative effects on the future of housing in Ireland and our ability to tackle housing need in the years to come.”



Nuacht

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Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy continued his visit to Colombia today today by meeting with victims of state violence to hear their stories at first hand. 

The Newry and Armagh MP said; 

"The delegation to Colombia had a chance today to hear the harrowing stories of some of the victims of Colombian state violence when we visited the 'Mothers of Soacha' group. 

"The delegation to Colombia had a chance today to hear the harrowing stories of some of the victims of Colombian state violence when we visited the 'Mothers of Soacha' group. 

"In 2005 the Colombian military leader, General Montoya issued a secret order to his forces offering financial and other bonuses for the killing of guerrillas which led to a huge upsurge in extrajudicial executions. Protests from human rights groups that the military were killing non combatants and dressing their bodies in FARC uniforms were dismissed as propaganda by the government despite the fact that the groups had identified almost 1000 cases.

"In 2008 the army established a bogus employment scheme in the poor neighbourhood of Soacha, on the southern outskirts of Bogota, to tempt young men to leave the area.  23 young men vanished from Soacha as part of this scheme and their bodies were subsequently found hundreds of miles away, killed in guerrilla fighting according to the army.

"One mother told us how she and her other son refused to accept this account of their sons death and began to publicly challenge the army, leading to death threats to the family. Her surviving son was kidnapped by two policemen and thrown off a bridge, surviving with serious injuries, only to be subsequently executed by  gunmen.

"Despite the ongoing death threats the mothers banded together and took on the state prompting a UN investigation into what has now become known as the scandal of the 'False Positives'. 

"The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights accused the Colombian army of "systematic and widespread" extrajudicial killings and a "crime against humanity". 

The UN Rapporteur went further stating the military was guilty of  "cold-blooded, premeditated murder of innocent civilians for profit".

"The Colombian government promised action and General Montoya stepped down from his post (to be made Ambassador to the Dominican Republic) followed by 27 other senior army personnel, however none have been convicted and a Human Rights report notes that there is "little chance that justice will be obtained".

"As our delegation squashed into the tiny barrio home of Maria, one of the mothers, to hear her testimony and that of her friends, we were struck by their determination to achieve justice despite their obvious ongoing devastation at the murder of their sons. 

"These women have begun to organise and educate themselves and are not daunted by taking on the might of the Colombian military and state. 

"They want the world to know their story and we promised to tell it for them.

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Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said today that all parties should return to talks to deal with the issues of flags, parades and the past. 

Speaking after meeting British secretary of state Theresa Villiers, Mr McGuinness said; 

"It is important that we all show leadership at this time. 

"All parties need to come back to the table to find a way forward on all the remaining issues around parading, flags and dealing with the past. 

"In relation to parading, it is our view that the integrity of the Parades' Commission should protected and defended. 

"We are passionate about getting a resolution to this issue and to do that we all have to work collectively and all the relevant stakeholders need to be involved.

“This requires political leaders to show the necessary leadership and get back to the table with a view to resolving these issues.” 

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The recent comments by the new Minister for Health Leo Varadkar T.D. that Medical Card approval on a medical basis was “unrealistic” and “very difficult” have been challenged by the Opposition spokesperson on health, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin T.D.

“Minister Varadkar has in his first week in office caused considerable distress for many individuals, families and service providers when he appears to rule out the recently adopted and oft quoted approach of his predecessor, and of Government, to Medical Card issuance policy.

“Following the debacle of the HSE and Government cull of discretionary Medical Cards it was announced that a medical need approach would be pursued with an expert group established and expected to report in September.

“His pre-emptive remarks require an explanation at the very least. The best we can expect is that he will acknowledge that need-based schemes have functioned satisfactorily heretofore even though they have not been accessible by all with serious illness. The Long Term Illness Card scheme is a case in point.

“Minister Varadkar must accept that all of these steps, including the piecemeal roll-out of so called Free GP access, are all steps towards the delivery of a system of Universal Healthcare for all on the basis of need and need alone. That has been a shared objective by Government and Opposition voices with differences presenting principally in how we fund and operate such a system and how quickly it can be put in place.

“The Minister should get back on track” concluded Deputy Ó Caoláin.

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“The at least 81 cases of Section 38 agency employees who receive payment and perks exceeding the terms of Government Pay Policy and are arguing their entitlements based on contractual terms should enter voluntary compliance and set an example and standard that could be followed by their Section 39 counterparts” stated Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin following today’s meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children convened to address the issue.

Deputy Ó Caoláin, in the course of questioning the Deputy Director General of the HSE Ms. Laverne McGuinness, asked how it was expected that Section 39 high pay recipients would respond to a ‘request to have due regard for overall Government Pay Policy’ when those who are required to adhere to Government Pay Policy were being excused from compliance because of contractual agreements.

“It would appear that anything up to two thirds of the business cases made for so-called ‘red circling’ could yet be approved. This is a serious matter that will undoubtedly allow the much greater number across Section 39 entities to dig in their heels.

“I am calling on all those, and without exception, who are employed in agencies funded under Section 38 of the Health Act 2004 to enter into voluntary acceptance of Government Pay Policy. There should be no exceptions and no one should seek to press for what is morally unacceptable through the use of legally arguable employment terms. They are Public Servants and they are members of public sector pension schemes and should be treated exactly the same as all other public servants and should not seek to place themselves on an elevated platform” concluded Deputy Ó Caoláin.

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Sinn Féin Senator Kathryn Reilly has stated that the Government’s programme of austerity has failed young people and she called on the new cabinet to change direction in order to provide a real future here at home.

Speaking following a demonstration organised by Sinn Féin Republican Youth outside Leinster House today, Senator Reilly said;

“The frustration and anger of younger people will not subside simply because the Oireachtas is in recess until September. We need to see a change of direction coming from the new cabinet and they do not have to wait until the Oireachtas resumes to set this in motion. Discussions should be happening now between Ministers on how to address the critical issues of emigration, youth unemployment and quality education and training options.

“Exploitative schemes such as JobBridge are not acceptable. Sinn Féin MEPS only last week called on the EU Commission to start investing in citizens. We need this government to begin investing in young people.

“This protest today was about highlighting that young people will not tolerate these new faces in cabinet playing the same austerity tune of their predecessors.”

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The Partition of Ireland was accompanied by a counter-revolution which created two very conservative states on this island.

Both states were shaped to serve the interests of specific political and economic elites.

An Orange, one-party state in the north sustained itself through institutionalised discrimination, sectarianism and segregation.

In the South, the idealism and vision of the republican revolutionaries of 1916 was replaced by the narrow interests of a conservative elite in business and politics.

These forces took their lead in social matters from an extremely conservative Catholic Church hierarchy.

The control of Health and Education was franchised out to the Church and we are still dealing with the dreadful consequences of this today.

The institutional failings of this State are a direct consequence of these events.

However they are also due to the repeated failings of successive generations of politicians.

Those politicians who were in government and whose failures are unquestionably linked to the institutional failings cannot be let off the hook on the basis that they were acting within the political culture of the time.

And this includes those who were in government and leading the Opposition during the latter years of the ‘celtic tiger’ period.

Like the insulting suggestion that we all partied during the ‘boom’ there has been a trend to suggest that we are all complicit in the political culture of this state since its foundation.

But through those years there were people who spoke out and fought back – progressive voices suppressed by the combined strength of a conservative establishment.

There were ordinary people – like those families who fought against pressures to put their daughters into Magdalene laundries or Mother and Baby homes – who took a stand against the accepted norms of the time.

Many of the institutional failings of this state have only been exposed when courageous individuals have spoken out and challenged the status quo.

I am thinking of people like Tom Gilmartin, Christine Buckley, Andrew Madden, Louise O'Keefe, the still anonymous midwife from Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda who blew the whistle on Dr Neary, Tom Clonan, and most recently Maurice McCabe and John Wilson who exposed the penalty points scandal within in the Gardai and have both paid a heavy personal price for doing so.

Look at how disgracefully this State treated Louise O’Keefe and look at how it has treated the victims of symphysiotomy — an abuse that had its routes in the unhealthy relationship between Church and State.

We have also had the Morris Tribunal which exposed corruption in the Gardai, the Mahon Tribunal and the Moriarty Tribunal which exposed the actions of planners and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael politicians while the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into institutional child abuse, the Murphy Report and the Ferns Report exposed criminality at the heart of the Irish Catholic Church.

It was the actions of the individuals that exposed the corruption, abuse and malpractice that has occurred in this state since its foundations.

It takes individuals to blow the whistle but it takes the combined strength of the ordinary people to make the change – to change both politics and political culture.

The political culture of this state has its roots in the formation of the State itself.

In its reactionary nature and in its repression of all those who confronted or challenged the status quo.

A State which so easily turned its back on citizens in the north, on its emigrants and on the citizens who most needed its support.

Similar to many colonial struggles, the national revolution gave way to a counter revolution.

Many post-colonial governments mimicked the imperial empire. In Ireland we inherited a system of government, reflecting Westminster. Our economy was attached to London and we had no ideological difference between the main parties in the state.

What developed here was a political culture of impunity – a State with no real opposition to hold governments to account and no media willing to hold politicians to account.

The politics of an establishment consensus that did not have the interest of the majority of the Irish people at its core.

Self-preservation by a small but powerful elite has been the underlying feature of this political culture.

It’s a culture of entitlement – seen in the opposition to wage cuts at the top of the public sector and by the recent scandals that have engulfed certain State-funded charities.

When we look at political culture and institutional failings we cannot ignore the role of the media.

Almost uniquely in Western Europe, this state has no left wing media and there is a growing problem with the development of a monopoly in media ownership.

The Irish media not only failed to challenge the economic policies of the ‘celtic tiger’ period, but in the main it actively and aggressively promoted them.

Instead of asking the questions about the implications of a property bubble and the dependence of the exchequer on taxes related to construction and consumption or querying what was going in the banks and in terms of financial regulation, the mainstream ignored, rubbished or silenced critical voices asking these key questions.

Light touch regulation was part of a dominant political philosophy in this State.

It was pursued with vigour by the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fail and largely unchallenged by what were the major opposition parties in that period – Fine Gael and Labour – and again, crucially, unchallenged by the media.

Political culture will only change when politics changes – when we break to strangle hold of the establishment parties on the governance of the state.

For far too long this state has been governed in the interest of the few.

The disadvantaged and vulnerable have, at best, seen a blind eye turned towards their needs.

Ordinary citizens have been forced to pay a heavy and unjust price for the fact that successive governments have been in hoc to an elite of private interests including lobbyists, developers and bankers.

The establishment has had it its own way for far too long.

We have seen the rot that was allowed to develop within the gardai, within politics, within banking, in the entanglement of church and state, and within the state itself, as the two conservative parties retained their stranglehold on government.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail politicians have been more than happy to have emigration act as a safety valve against pressure for political and social change.

In his contribution to the Report of the Commission on Emigration produced in the early 1950s Alexis Fitzgerald, who went on to be a Fine Gael Senator and an advisor to Fine Gael Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald, summed up this attitude when he stated:

“I believe that there should be a more realistic appreciation of the advantages of emigration. High emigration, granted a population excess, releases social tensions which would otherwise explode and makes possible a stability of manners and custom which would otherwise be the subject of radical change”.

The Irish diaspora then, as now, were denied a say of the future of their country.

Corruption in Irish political life has been endemic and systemic under governments involving Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail.

A culture of political cronyism and favouritism has prevailed for decades, allowing ‘golden circles’ of powerful individuals to consider themselves above the rules that apply to ordinary citizens.

This crony culture has been widely evidenced over the years in terms of appointments to State boards.

What message then do we send out when we propose to send to Europe as our Commissioner a person who embodies what is wrong with our political culture?

What message do we send by promoting someone for party loyalty with no regard to their actions in promoting political cronies and boasting about denying Traveller families access to housing?

A cultural shift is urgently required in order to restore public trust and confidence.

Sinn Féin is committed to modernising public sector governance in the wider context of political reform.

This includes corporate governance of all state bodies that are publicly funded.

Sinn Fein would ensure that all publicly funded appointments are made on the basis of merit, reflect the make-up of our diverse society and that equality is at the core of the public appointments process with opportunities to serve on public bodies promoted to the widest possible field of potential candidates and in a public manner.

Trust and confidence in the political system have been shattered as a consequence of the disastrous mismanagement of the economy, public services and state finances by the previous Fianna Fáil-led administration and the inaction of the current government in delivering on their promise of introducing political reform.

The Fine Gael/Labour coalition’s approach to political reform has been piecemeal and minimalist.

It has done nothing to rebalance power between central and local government or in the Oireachtas between the Executive and Legislature.

Meaningful political reform proposals must be based on the principles of sovereignty, democracy, accountability, transparency, national unity, equality, the empowerment local communities and the creation of a political system where citizens come first.

Many of the issues which I have touched on today are the legacy of bad politics and the legacy of politicians who failed to stand up for the best interests of the citizens of Ireland.

But politics in Ireland is already changing. The old dominance of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is going and with that comes the hope that real change can be achieved.

Progressive voices have never been louder.

The challenge is to build on this.

We are on the cusp of something that has never been achieved — a government without Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. That is when political culture in this state will really change.

There can be no elite in the New Ireland.

No group which is immune to the laws that all of us must obey.

Nor can there be any group that is denied equality or justice.

There is a better way.

In business there is a saying that form should follow function — that structures should be built for a purpose.

That we need to recognise that there is a need for a fundamental change and that this should be reflected in our institutions.

This is not without precedence. Arising out of conflict the Good Friday Agreement recognised the fundamental rights that all people should be treated equaly and with respect.

This became the starting points for the design of institutions which were based on power sharing and interlinked, reflecting the relationships within the north, between the north and south and between Ireland and Britain. It also put in place robust legislation on equality and commissions to safeguard human rights.

I am not suggesting that these institutions should be brought wholesale into this state, nor or am I suggesting that the potential of the Good Friday Agreement have been fully realised.

But I do believe that there is a need for a discussion on the future of our people and nation and the institutions that serve them.

The Good Friday Agreement does demonstrate that fundamental change is possible where there is political will.

The Agreement also provides for the peaceful and democratic pathway to a united Ireland.

It provides this generation with the opportunity to reimagine Ireland and our people.

At the recent elections we stood on a platform of speaking out and standing up for the needs of ordinary people, particularly those struggling under the burden of austerity.

Sinn Féin makes no apologies for it – we are here to challenge the establishment, to challenge to status quo, to challenge the political culture, to fight for a state and a country that acts in the interests of citizens not in the interest of a small and privileged group at the top echelons of society.

Sinn Féin is not and never will be afraid to make a stand on issues even when it is not popular to do so.

Political culture does not emerge from nowhere; the political culture we have inherited reflected a lack of vision and ideology, and a failure to heal the wounds of the civil war and promotion of privilege and position over the needs of the people.

Culture evolves and can be challenged and changed.

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Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew has said the people of Fermanagh are opposed to controversial fracking for Shale gas. 

Speaking after a protest in Belcoo against plans to drill a borehole, the Fermanagh/South Tyrone said; 

"Sinn Féin has been consistently clear; we are opposed to any form of fracking. 

"There is widespread opposition to fracking in Fermanagh and right across Ireland. 

"The protest near Belcoo was yet another example of that opposition. That opposition is growing every day. 

"Farmers in Fermanagh have already signed a pledge that they will not allow fracking on their land. 

"Planning permission for any drilling operation rests with the Department of the Environment. 

"If any application is made for fracking Sinn Féin will be bringing it to the Executive to oppose it."

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Sinn Féin’s Midlands North West MEP Matt Carthy has written to Taoiseach Enda Kenny urging him to reconsider the nomination of Phil Hogan as EU Commissioner.

Carthy said:

“Phil Hogan has been a poor, ineffective Minister.  Apart from the fact that he has been responsible for implementing some of the worst policies of this government’s Austerity agenda he has actually made a mess of so many elements within his brief that regardless of one’s political viewpoint it is clear that he is not up to the job of taking Ireland’s place on the European Commission. 

“It is clear that he has been nominated because of his loyalty to Enda Kenny rather than his ability to deliver for Ireland.

“Couple that with the questions that will undoubtedly be raised by MEPs and European observers when the ratification process begins, there is no doubt that this will be a difficult sell for the government. 

“Phil Hogan can expect to be questioned about his record of appointing cronies to state boards, his boasts of preventing a travelling family accessing housing and his questionable mention in the Moriarty tribunal report.  For a government that talks so much about our international reputation does the Taoiseach believe that such questions about our Commission nominee will be good for Ireland?

 “I have listened to some commentators talk about the need for MEPs to ‘wear the green jersey’ but I contend that the government, if it insists on nominating Phil Hogan, will be putting the interests of Fine Gael ahead of those of the country.

“I am therefore calling on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to save Ireland a lot of embarrassment by nominating somebody who will inspire the confidence of not just MEPs and governments but the people of this state and across Europe.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly has condemned outright an attack on a synagogue in north Belfast. 

 Speaking after windows at the synagogue on Somerton Road were smashed at the weekend, the North Belfast MLA said; 

 "I condemn outright this attack on the synagogue on Somerton Road. 

 "There can be no place for attacks on any place of worship, regardless of the religion or denomination. 

 “The local Jewish community makes a valuable contribution to our society and there is no justification for hate crimes.

"If anyone has any information on these attacks then they should contact the PSNI." 

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Lynn Boylan MEP