Sinn Féin - On Your Side

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Sinn Féin President elect Mary Lou McDonald TD gives her first major speech to party activists


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Speaking at Leaders Questions, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said his party has a "clear and unambiguous commitment to democratic politics and the pursuit of our goals by legal and peaceful means". He said efforts were being made "to spread guilt by innuendo, guilt by association and guilt because of the political views of people and not because of anything they have done".

Deputy Ó Caoláin told the Dáil that Sinn Féin Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh had stated categorically that he has "no knowledge of and was in no way connected with any activity for which five people were convicted yesterday".

Full text follows

Will the Tánaiste acknowledge that I say here without equivocation that Sinn Féin is a party that rejects criminality of any kind and that no republican worthy of the name can be involved in criminality? Will she note that I go further and state that if there are within this party people who are involved in criminal acts then they should leave our ranks immediately. Will she note that I say there is no room in Sinn Féin for other than a clear and unambiguous commitment to democratic politics and the pursuit of our goals by legal and peaceful means.

Will the Tánaiste acknowledge that the members, elected representatives and supporters of this party are entitled to the same respect due to all citizens, to the presumption of innocence and not to be damned and demonised?

Does the Tánaiste recognise that in a climate such as this there are efforts being made to spread guilt by innuendo, guilt by association and guilt because of the political views of people and not because of anything they have done?

Will the Tánaiste note that while it would be easy at this time to devote all our energies to the war of words, to remain on the defensive and to be distracted from our purpose and pursuits that I have chosen instead to spell out very clearly our responsibilities to address any and every matter that requires our address.

Will the Tánaiste and the House note that if republicans have issues to address we will address them. If there are republicans involved in any activity that in any way besmirches the name of Irish republicanism they should cease those activities immediately. Any and all activities that fall outside the norms of legitimate political action should cease forthwith.

Will the Tánaiste and this House accept that we in Sinn Féin are as determined as ever to take whatever hard decisions must be taken to move the peace process forward?

Will the Tánaiste note our determination to continue to play the role we have played in helping to create this process, in helping to bring about the cessations, in helping to bring about the Good Friday Agreement and all that has flowed from it and that it is our intent to actively pursue and achieve the full and I repeat, full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement with all that that entails.

Will the Tánaiste note and acknowledge our determination to see all guns taken out of Irish politics and to be part of the collective effort that will create the conditions where the IRA ceases to exist?

Will the Tánaiste accept that republicans have taken many difficult decisions in this peace process in the past and that the Sinn Féin leadership has moulded a political strategy that has brought the vast majority of republicans away from physical force, and that that process is not ended and will continue to a successful conclusion?

Will she note that my colleague Deputy Ó Snodaigh has stated categorically that he has no knowledge of and was in no way connected with any activity for which five people were convicted yesterday.

Will she note my rejection and that of my fellow Sinn Féin TDs of the brutal murder of Robert McCartney and our call for anyone who can assist the family to do so, and our absolute opposition to intimidation in any form." ENDS

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Speaking on the party's Private Members motion on Education for Special Needs in the Dáil today Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Seán Crowe TD while acknowledging the progress that has been made in the area of special needs education said there was "growing frustration and concern among parents, teachers and principals at the plans for future provision for those with special needs."

He said, "there is anger and dismay out there among broad sections of people in the education sector and especially the hard-pressed parents and other carers of children with special needs.

"There are three old chestnuts that keep coming up time and time again when talking to parents, the lack of and the inability to access psychological services, speech therapists and occupational therapists. The Minister must address the issues urgently. Let no one be under any doubt the situation is extremely serious."

Deputy Crowe was also highly critical of the proposed weighted system for the allocation of special needs saying, "more than a third of the country's disadvantaged schools were set to lose teachers" under the system.

"I want to reiterate that it would be scandalous for any school in a disadvantaged area to lose out under the new special needs allocation," he said.

Concluding he said, "This motion is about real people. It is about families and children who often struggle against the odds. It is about people with disabilities who demand their right to education. It is about parents whose lives revolve totally around their children and the struggle to allow them to reach their full potential. All they ask is the proper supports and rights that the Government and the State has promised them repeatedly."

Full text of speech follows....

The motion before the House acknowledges in its opening lines that progress

has been made in the area of special needs education, including the passage

of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. I

think Deputies on all sides of the House would agree that the Act was a

positive step forward. The Minister herself acknowledged here last October

that the record of the State over decades in providing for children with

special needs had been poor. She said that in many ways they were playing

catch-up. We acknowledge that recent years have seen additional resources

put in place and that is most welcome, if long overdue.

That said, we had no hesitation in raising this issue here again and

devoting our Private Members Time to this important subject. The people

concerned deserve all the attention and support this Oireachtas can devote

to them. The period since we last debated this issue on the floor of the

Dáil has seen growing frustration and concern among parents, teachers and

principals at the plans for future provision for those with special needs.

My fellow Sinn Féin TDs and I have been in touch with many people and it is

no exaggeration to say that there is anger and dismay out there among broad

sections of people in the education sector and especially the hard-pressed

parents and other carers of children with special needs. There are three

old chestnuts that keep coming up time and time again when talking to

parents, the lack of and the inability to access psychological services,

speech therapists and occupational therapists. The Minister must address

the issues urgently. Let no one be under any doubt the situation is

extremely serious.

The Irish Primary Principals Network, the Irish National Teachers

Organisation, the Irish Learning Support Teachers and many, many others

have expressed grave concern at the proposed weighted system for the

allocation of special needs teachers. The new system is due to be put in

place for the start of the next school year. That is only just over six

months away in September 2005. To plan properly schools need to know as

soon as possible what resources they will be allocated. Principals in

particular bear a heavy responsibility under the Act and as time passes the

pressure on them will undoubtedly increase. But far worse is the pressure

on children with special needs and their parents, many of whom face the

actual loss of services under the system as proposed.

In December last the INTO released the results of a survey of almost 300 of

the most disadvantaged schools. The survey was carried out in October and

November and replies were received from a total of 289 schools representing

over 3,600 teachers. The results point to major difficulties in the areas

of special needs and also in staffing, funding and attendance.

The INTO survey showed that under the new system of allocating special

needs teachers to schools proposed by the previous Minister for Education

and Science, more than a third of the country's disadvantaged schools were

set to lose teachers. The survey showed that 117 schools would lose

teachers compared to 102 that would gain. There was no change in provision

for the remainder of schools. This vindicates the view of Learning Support

teachers who described this as a quota system rather than a weighted

system.

The Irish Primary Principals Network has also acknowledged the commitment

on the Government's part to provide a comprehensive and satisfactory system

of special needs education resource delivery. However, on the weighted

system, they have this to say:

"Circular 09/04 refers to a 'weighted system' of resource allocation for

SEN. This is actually a misnomer as it is more of a Quota System using

pupil ratios as a blunt instrument that does not address the many nuances

of disability. A true weighted system would address each individual

child's educational needs giving a points rating appropriate to their

learning disability or impairment. Each child would be individually rated

in terms of their additional teaching and learning needs and the challenge

they present in a mainstream classroom situation. Consequently the overall

points rating of the school would reflect each individual child's

educational needs and would ultimately determine the staffing level for the

year. This system would be both fair and transparent."

The Minister has stated that she would review the proposed new system and

was committed to ensuring that no child would lose resources to which they

are entitled. I welcome that commitment. One of the main reasons we tabled

this motion was to give the Minister an opportunity to outline the results

of the long awaited review and to set out a revised and improved system for

deployment of special needs teachers. As I have stated, there is a growing

urgency to do this. Schools need to plan in detail now, for September of

this year.

I hope the Minister will respond to other serious questions raised,

especially regarding the range of special needs, which will be addressed

under a new system. There is concern that children who have been identified

as having Mild General Learning Difficulties will no longer be entitled to

access resource teaching. These children were under the old system entitled

to two and half hours, one-to-one resource teaching per pupil per week. If

the Minister is to fulfil her commitment that no child with special needs

will lose out then this must be addressed.

What of the position of children with Severe Specific Learning

Difficulties, otherwise known as dyslexia, or children with Down's

Syndrome? Again there is concern that the move to a new system will

actually mean that many of these children will have to move back to special

schools and out of the mainstream, when the whole thrust of an enlightened

policy is to ensure that these children are educated with their peers and

with all the assistance they need.

Again, I hope the Minister has noted very carefully the view of the Irish

Primary Principals Network that Circular 09/04 would also appear to be in

conflict with the Education for Persons with Special Education Needs Act

and The Equal Status Act. The individual's person's entitlement to an

assessment of needs and an Individual Education Plan is emphasised in the

Act. As the IPPN states: "The provision of resources on a quota basis where

many schools' total resourcing will disimprove, does not appear to be

compatible with the thrust of the Act. The legal implications of this

situation need to be addressed urgently."

I want to cover now some of the other key issues raised in the motion. I

have mentioned the case of schools in disadvantaged areas. I have a number

of them in part my own constituency.

I want to reiterate that it would be scandalous for any school in a

disadvantaged area to lose out under the new special needs allocation. I

urge the Minister not to allow that to happen. But of course disadvantaged

schools have other needs, which are pressing. One of the main issues is the

high rate of turnover of teachers and the relatively high number of

inadequately teachers, including second-level teachers, working in these

schools. The INTO survey shows that over one in five pupils in

disadvantaged schools miss more than twenty school days in the year. This

is substantially higher than the State average in primary schools which is

roughly ten percent. In the most disadvantaged schools nearly a third of

all pupils miss more than twenty days.

There is another statistic which speaks volumes and which highlights what

people often call the myth of free education. In disadvantaged schools only

about 8% of income is from fund-raising and voluntary contributions from

parents whereas in non-disadvantaged schools over 30% of income on average

is from parents' contributions and fund-raising. That is a massive gap.

Apart from the access to extra paid grinds, it is another real indication

of inequality at the heart of our education system. Our primary schools

should be places of equality in our communities.

Instead, inadequate State support means that they reflect directly in the

classroom the social and economic divisions outside the school gate.

Our motion focuses on primary education but it is important also to point out that there is a huge shortfall in the provision of special needs education at second level. Applications for resources for second level schools have risen from 3000 in 2001/2002 to 12,500 in 2003/2004. In conclusion I want to say that this motion is about real people. It is about families and children who often struggle against the odds. It is about people with disabilities who demand their right to education. It is about parents whose lives revolve totally around their children and the struggle to allow them to reach their full potential. All they ask is the proper supports and rights that the Government and the State has promised

them repeatedly.

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Speaking following the announcement yesterday at Hillsborough of an arrangement for enhanced cooperation between the PSNI and An Gardaí Suíchona, Sinn Féin Donegal County Councillor, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn has called on Justice Minister Michael McDowell to demand that the PSNI now fully cooperate with the family of murdered Sinn Féin Councillor, Eddie Fullerton in their ongoing search for truth and justice.

Cllr Mac Lochlainn said:

"The family of Eddie Fullerton were intrigued to hear the PSNI Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, describe cooperation between the PSNI and An Gardaí Suíchona as "seamless". If that really is the case, then I am sure Hugh Orde will have no difficulty in instructing his officers to fully assist the family during the ongoing reinvestigation of Eddie's murder by An Gardaí Suíchona".

"In the recently aired documentary 'Fullerton' on TG4, a new witness alleged that he saw a number of men being picked up by an unmarked RUC car at Culmore in the early hours of the morning not long after Eddies murder, only a short distance from where the car used in his murder was found burnt out. The assistance of the now PSNI would be most helpful in this regard".

"Furthermore, a number of reputable journalists have alleged that the killers belonged to a UDA/ UFF unit which were led by agents of different agencies of British military intelligence including the notorious Force Research Unit (FRU). Indeed, it has been alleged that at least one of the killers was a British agent. Again, the assistance of Hugh Orde and the PSNI would be vital in this regard".

He concluded: "It is now almost 14 years since the murder of Eddie Fullerton, an elected representative of the people of Buncrana and Donegal. In all of those years, those responsible for policing on both sides of the border have shown little or no interest in helping the Fullerton family in their campaign for truth and justice. I now call on Michael McDowell to deploy the same resources in to investigating the murder of this democratically elected representative as he has in relation to the Northern Bank robbery. The Fullerton family will be watching him and his colleagues in the PSNI with great interest". ENDS

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At the February monthly meeting of Monaghan County Council Sinn Féin Councillor Matt Carthy asked how many planning applications were received by the local authority in 2004.

In a written reply from the Director of Services, Paul Clifford, Cllr. Carthy was told that Monaghan County Council received 1,536 planning applications. Of these, 1,223 decisions to grant permission were issued and 123 applications were refused. 49 planning applications were withdrawn.

Speaking after the council meeting Cllr. Carthy said: "It is clear that significant development is taking place throughout County Monaghan. I certainly expect that 2004 levels will continue for this year and even beyond. It is therefore vital that appropriate services are put in place especially when large scale housing development is being considered. County Monaghan needs substantially more play parks in each electoral area and we also need enhanced leisure facilities for young and old alike."

Referring to the 123 decisions for refusal Cllr. Carthy claimed that improved pre-planning facilities could address many of the issues involved. He slammed the government‚s current policy of having an embargo on staff recruitment within local authorities. "It is clear to every one of us that has had dealings with Monaghan County Council's planning section that it is under staffed. Indeed, were it not for the efficiency of the current staff I feel we would be in a very difficult situation. I am calling on the government to lift their recruitment embargo in this instance" Cllr. Carthy concluded. ENDS

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Sinn Féin South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey speaking from London today following the decision of the British government to extend sanctions on his party said that "Paul Murphy has no right to discriminate against democratically elected Irish politicians". Mr Maskey also questioned the claims of the Irish government to be opposed to sanctions.

Mr Maskey said:

"Paul Murphy does not have one vote in Ireland. He has no right to discriminate against democratically elected Irish politicians. These actions are a distortion of democracy. The people of Ireland elect us and we are accountable to them. We reject these anti-democratic actions by a British government against an Irish political party.

"We will continue to fight this discrimination politically, legally and through an ongoing campaign of democratic resistance. We will go to the nationalist and republican people in elections in May.

"The IMC upon whose report this action is based is not independent. It has no credibility. It is the tool of the securocrats whose stated aim is to prevent the further growth of Sinn Fein and the further development of the peace process. Sinn Féin predicted exactly the scenario we see being played out now when this body was first established at the behest of the UUP.

"The Irish government claim to be opposed to sanctions. What are they going to do about it? If they are co-equal partners with the British in the management of this process are they prepared to block these sanctions?

"The British government has no right to act unilaterally if this is a partnership arrangement. More importantly, the Irish government has a duty to defend the rights of Irish people and their political representatives. Will they do so? Will they stand up to the British government? Either the Irish government are co-equal partners or they are not." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today called for the widening of broadband technology to "cater for the whole of Ireland". Ms McDonald also said that the siting of broadband masts must be "community sensitive given concerns regarding exposure to them".

Ms McDonald was responding to a report by Forfas, which estimates that Ireland requires an additional 700,000 broadband connections by 2007. The report also shows that businesses with broadband are at 20% in Connaught/Ulster.

Speaking from Strasbourg Ms McDonald said:

"It is unacceptable that some areas of the country enjoy unlimited access to broadband services while others are forced to do with out. While there has been a steady rise in the rollout of broadband, many areas of the country remain disadvantaged.

"In particular, rural areas have suffered greatly. Local business and economic development has been disadvantaged because of the lack of investment in infrastructure. The rollout of Broadband into rural areas will be an important incentive in creating a level playing field both in terms of our local indigenous businesses and in attracting inward investors.

"Whilst Sinn Féin would welcome the rollout of this service, the siting of masts must be community sensitive. Given some of the very legitimate concerns regarding long term exposure to broadband and mobile phone masts, there is concern that some masts are in areas where local communities may be at risk. I have also recently called for current mast locations to be reviewed as a matter of urgency.

"It is also important to note that not all people have direct access to a computer or can afford to buy one, let alone pay for broadband facilities. Government has a responsibility to provide adequate resources for local communities, through the provision of information services, computer courses, IT training and support for those who want to access this medium." ENDS

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Sinn Féin candidate for the Meath by-election, Councillor Joe Reilly has described the pact between Fine Gael and Labour as "Laughable". Speaking in Meath today he said the pact was "all smoke and mirrors" and that "the two parties couldn't agree on the colour of milk never mind important political policies".

Councillor Reilly said, "The pact between Fine Gael and Labour that has been announced today is laughable, the two parties differ on a wide range of political issues including taxation, health, neutrality and the M3 motorway. The two parties couldn't agree on the colour of milk never mind important political policies.

"A vote for Fine Gael's Shane McEntee is a vote for the M3 to go ahead as planned and a vote for Labour's Dominic Hannigan is a vote against the M3 as planned. How can anyone ask the electorate to vote no.1 for one project and no.2 for the complete opposite project? Its all smoke and mirrors.

"Dominic Hannigan was elected to Meath County Council as an independent last June and joined with other independents and Fianna Fáil to elect Tommy Reilly as Chairperson. Is this pact still intact? Will Dominic be voting for Fianna Fáil when it comes to elect the next chairperson in June? He has subsequently joined Labour and is now part of an election pact with Fine Gael.

"This whole project is all about building the coalition of the confused. These two parties are more interested in taking power from Fianna Fáil than they are in their own policies and ideals. They‚d sell their own mothers if it would get them in power.

"Sinn Féin will stand on its own policies and republican values. We will be standing on our record of working in communities on local and National issues and our record of work on the peace process. The people know what they are voting for when they vote for Sinn Féin. They are voting for, among other things, an end to the two-tier health system, the M3 to be re-routed away from the Tara/Skryne valley, a proper transport system for Meath and on a national level they are voting for a united Ireland. We will not compromise our beliefs or our policies in order to gain power." ENDS

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Sinn Féin are urging farmers to fill in an expression of interest form for the Farm Waste Management Scheme before the 1st March 2005 or they will not be able to apply for the scheme.

Sinn Féin MLA, and Spokesperson for Rural Development, Pat O'Rawe, has said, "The scheme currently has £45 million allocated and we would encourage all farmers to apply for it. However, farmers cannot apply if they have not filled in an expression of interest form before the 1st March 2005. Any farmers who wish to express an expression of interest can contact the Armagh Sinn Féin Constituency Office (028 37 511797) for the application form."

"Sinn Féin are working very hard on behalf of rural and farming communities and we welcome schemes and initiatives such as the Farm Waste Management Scheme. We are sending a strong delegation to Brussels to argue that DARD should be allowed to increase the amount for this scheme from £45 million to £60 million." ENDS

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Sinn Féin agriculture spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has welcomed the enthusiasm of the Food Strategy Implementation Partnership (FSIP) but questioned their ability to 'grow sales internationally' without using the clean green Irish image as an international brand.

Ms Gildernew said:

"While I welcome the clear enthusiasm of the FSIP and their clear identification that 'the ultimate measure [of success] will be to grow sales internationally' I would question their ability to do this without using the clean green Irish image as that is already established as an instantly recognisable international brand.

"Throughout the 'Fit for Market' report there is no recognition of the ability of the North to establish a genuine brand. The north of Ireland is seen throughout the world as part of the Ireland. For us to continue to try and get a food hold in international markets without positively making strategic alliances with Irish promotional organisations is at least blinkered.

"Surely the food and processing industry has seen the benefits of putting quality Irish food on the world stage. There is now a consensus throughout the processing and food world, alongside the political spectrum that the North must go it alone in seeking the removal of the beef export ban.

"The UK has a large domestic market which is controlled by a small number of large supermarkets, Ireland exports 80% of its food products, we are very dependant on international markets, for this reason the FSIP must look again at its strategy and input throughout its recommendations the need for a common approach in selling our food on the world stage as Irish." ENDS

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Sinn Féin have said that illegal dumping is continuing unabated in several parts of Crossmore, Armagh, and must stop immediately. Speaking after visiting Drumcarn, in Derrynoose, Newry/Armagh MLA Conor Murphy has said that over the last two weeks, Sinn Féin has highlighted the dumping of dead calves along the Clea Road, near Darkley and Keady. This has shocked local residents and also exposed a number of other dumping hotspots along the Armagh/Monaghan border.

When local councillor, Pat O'Rawe MLA and local representative, Willie Monaghan highlighted the issue, a number of local residents contacted our office in Armagh to alert us to other sites including Drumcarn bog in Derrynoose, an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).

Local Sinn Féin representative, Willie Monaghan, who initially visited the dumping sites, said:

"When I was brought to Drumcarn Bog by a concerned Derrynoose resident, I was shown what could only be described as an illegal dumping hotspot. There were at least eight dead calves, remains of decomposed sheep, drums of diesel residue, bags upon bags of household waste and all sorts of household appliances including fridges, washing machines and televisions. It is saddening to see a beautiful area abused in such a way. Speaking to local residents, it is very clear that they are angry at the amount of illegal dumping going on in border areas and especially in this Area of Special Scientific Interest, which was declared in 1998, that contains many rare species of plant and invertebrate, including the very rare Irish Damselfly."

Sinn Féin councillor for the area, MLA for Newry/Armagh Pat O'Rawe, who is Chairperson of the Armagh City and District Council Environment, Health and Recreation Committee, contacted the Environmental Officer immediately added, "I have been speaking to the Environmental Health Officer and welcome the approach the council has made in dealing with this awful situation. I am aware that the area was assessed straight away and that moves have been made to begin clearing up. I am also in contact with Environmental Heritage Service and they will assess the area to see how much damage has been done to this important habitat and how further damage can be prevented. We cannot make this any clearer; this illegal dumping may have already had a disastrous effect on the rare plants and vertebrates in Drumcarn.

Concluding, Conor Murphy said, "From we first highlighted the dumping of calves, the entire issue of illegal dumping in the area has been exposed and must be stopped. I pay tribute to the residents in Clea and Derrynoose who contacted us and I ask all residents, and farmers in particular, to continue to be vigilant against illegal dumps. Sinn Féin will work closely with residents, Armagh City and District Council and the Environmental Heritage Service to try and prevent continuance of this problem. We will also, through our Sinn Féin colleague in Co. Monaghan, Jackie Crowe, be in contact with Monaghan County Council as this issue requires a regional approach." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Derry Cityside Councillor Peter Anderson has castigated the Electoral Office for what he described as its abject failure to assist Cityside voters in ensuring that they are able exercise their right to vote.

Councillor Anderson's comments came after the Electoral Office announced that its only Mobile Centre in Derry aimed at assisting voters to obtain Electoral Identity Cards would be held in Lisnagelvin Leisure Centre. Speaking after the announcement, Cllr Anderson said:

"In the Cityside electoral area almost 2,000 people who should be entitled to vote are not on the register. This situation has come about because of the changes in Electoral Law, all aimed at making it harder for people to obtain their vote. There are many people in the Cityside area who whilst on the register do not have the necessary forms of electoral identity to ensure that they can vote; yet the Electoral Office is making no provision to assist them.

"The Electoral Office needs to re-examine its decisions and roll out Mobile Centres across all the electoral areas in the City.

"Does the Electoral Office really believe that voters in the Cityside would feel safe travelling to Lisnagelvin given the number of attacks on Nationalists that have taken place in that area?

"If the Electoral Office is genuine about wanting to assist voters in obtaining Electoral Identity Cards then it should be in consultation with locally elected representatives and groups in all areas of the City seeking to find out how it can help ensure that everyone can claim their vote.

"If anyone out there needs assistance with registering or getting the necessary Electoral Identity Card then they could contact any Sinn Féin centre and assistance would be provided." ENDS

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Sinn Fein's Environmental Spokesperson Cllr Willie Clarke MLA, welcoming the news that an international panel of experts in the field of trail development have agreed that the North of Ireland has the potential to be one of the best sites for Mountain Trial Bikes in the world has said that the potential of off-road biking in the Mournes should be fully realised.

Speaking after receiving a letter from the Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) who for the past two years have been working on the strategic development of off-road cycling in the six counties, Cllr Clarke said:

"I welcome the efforts of CAAN who have prioritised the development of an 'Off-Road Cycling Centre of Excellence' which would include trail development in Castlewellan, Tollymore and Rostrevor Forest Parks in Co. Down and Carlingford and Ravensdale forests in Co. Louth. This would make the Mournes the first mountain bike destination in Ireland. The potential benefits of the project include an investment in the rural area of approximately £1.5 million. It would also bring increased visitor numbers to the area and help encourage the development of sustainable tourism in the Mournes.

"Off-Road Cycling would ensure improved opportunities for local people to take part in a safe and enjoyable activity and encourage local riders to train for competition. It would also mean a reduction in illegal mountain bike trail development, which is often unsafe and can cause damage to the environment and conflict with other forest users.

"What is worrying therefore, is that CAAN, who have submitted several major funding applications relating to this project have yet to have one accepted and unless positive movement is made in the near future, funding of approximately £550,000 could be lost to the area.

"The project has been developed in partnership with Forest Service, Coillte, the Tourist Board and Environment and Heritage Service. It is clear that there is substantial support from other organisations and individuals throughout the Mournes and groups such as Mourne Heritage Trust, Mourne Activity Breaks, Tollymore Mountain Centre, private outdoor activity providers and local cyclists are supportive of the scheme. Sinn Fein supports the proposals put forward by the CAAN and we will be working with the Forest Service to secure greater support for this initiative that could have significant and tangible benefits for the Mournes." ENDS

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Dublin South East Sinn Féin Representative, Councillor Daithí Doolan has called for the Government to "fund a community based information and awareness programme in the battle against cancer."

Cllr. Doolan was speaking ahead of tonight‚s information meeting being held in St Andrew's Resource Centre, Pearse Street.

Speaking today in City Hall, Cllr. Doolan said:

"Tonight's event is part of an ongoing programme of meetings being organised by the City of Dublin Development Board in partnership with the Irish Cancer Society and others including St James Hospital and Dublin City Council. The aim of the meetings is to raise awareness in communities on the need for prevention and early detection of cancer. In meeting tonight I hope we can have a discussion on steps that people can take to lessen the chances of developing cancer, we hope to also inform people about the signs and symptoms we should all be watching out for. The key is prevention and detecting cancer as early as possible.‚"

In urging the public to attend Cllr. Doolan claimed, "that there are several ways we can tackle cancer and ignorance is not one of them".

In conclusion Cllr. Doolan called on the, "the Minister for Health, Mary Harney, to fund a programme of community awareness so the battle against cancer is brought into our communities where it counts most." ENDS.

For further comment call Cllr. Doolan 086-8534666

A community information evening on prevention & early detection of cancer. Tuesday, February 22nd, St Andrew‚s Resource centre, Pearse Street.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP and Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP will accompany the Sinn Féin Meath by-election candidate Councillor Joe Reilly when he hands in his nomination papers tomorrow (Wednesday 23rd) at 10:30AM at Trim Town Council Hall.

Mr Adams, Mr McGuinness and Mr Reilly will be available to speak to the media and will do a walk about afterwards. ENDS

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Sinn Féin will this week use their Dáil Private Members Time to call on the Government to address the concerns of parents, teachers and school principals about the proposed system of special needs education due to be implemented in schools throughout the State later this year. The motion calls for more resources of children with special needs and for the Government to fulfil its promise to reduce class sizes.

Publishing the motion, Sinn Féin Education spokesperson Seán Crowe said:

"Children with special needs are still not receiving the education which is theirs by right. There is widespread concern that the proposed Œweighted system‚ for allocation of special needs teachers to schools will lead to many schools actually losing resources. Minister for Education and Science

Mary Hanafin is reviewing this and has said she does not want to see any child losing out. She should publish her plans as soon as possibl

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today said that the European Commission is "intent on turning public services into private enterprises".

Ms McDonald made her comments before a debate in the European Parliament on Competition Policy within the European Union. A report is due to be delivered by Jonathan Evans MEP later this evening which supports moves by the European Commission to further privatise public services.

Speaking from Strasbourg Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin is opposed to the privatisation of public services. Clearly there are those within the European Union who are attempting to drive through an agenda which would see essential public services like health and education opened up to the highest bidder.

"On the 8th February 2005, the European Commission published a report which suggested that the opening up of the services market could bring significant economic growth to the EU. Alongside the controversial Services Directive, this is another indication of the right-ward shift of the European Commission.

"Sinn Féin believes that the on-going process of the privatisation of public services has not brought any visible gains to the public, rather it has led to price increases, a marked decrease in the service provided and increases in the cost of provision according to consumer associations. In addition, this process contributes to destroying jobs and the creation of private monopolies.

"On this basis, both I and my colleague Bairbre de Brún will be voting against this report and opposing further moves to integrate Competition policy into EU legislation. Sinn Féin will continue to demand that public services are protected against the relentless drive toward privatisation." ENDS

Note to Editor

Mary Lou McDonald is a member of the EU Committee of Employment and Social Affairs

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP, Martin McGuinness MP, and Martin Ferris TD in a joint statement issued in Dublin this today said:

"Sinn Féin is totally committed to the peace process and to engaging with the Irish government in these difficult times to find a way forward.

Despite our anger at attempts to criminalise our party and its supporters we have been measured in our comments. We have asked others to do likewise as we are conscious that a protracted war of words among Irish nationalists is deeply damaging to the overall process.

However given the seriousness of Michael McDowell's outburst on the national airwaves on Sunday we have taken the unusual step of issuing a joint statement in response.

We want to state categorically that we are not members of the IRA or its Army Council. Our involvement in the peace process is as leaders of Sinn Féin and as elected representatives for West Belfast, Mid Ulster and Kerry North respectively. As part of this, in the past we have met with the Army Council to put propositions regarding the peace process.

Sinn Féin's contribution to this process has been substantial and we will continue to play our part.

For some time now Michael McDowell has been unable to distinguish between his role as Justice Minister and President of the Progressive Democrats. He has made countless unsubstantiated allegations against our party and its leadership.

Recently the Irish government accused Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams of withholding information and of conspiring to rob the Northern Bank in December. We challenged the government to stand this accusation up and they failed to do so.

And then at the weekend Michael McDowell made his unfounded and serious allegation that we -Martin McGuinness, Martin Ferris and Gerry Adams - are members of the IRA Army Council.

For Minister McDowell to do this is an abuse of his office.

"If his view is shared by the Gardaí then the only way this issue can be confronted is for us to be charged with IRA membership"ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has today said that people will be 'shocked' by reports that 310,000 people die annually from the effects of air pollution in the European Union.

Ms de Brún was responding to an assessment by the European Commission which also revealed that air pollution is reducing normal life expectancy in Europe by almost nine months on average. The report by the European Commission is due to be presented to the 'Clean Air for Europe' steering group in Brussels today.

Speaking from Strasbourg Ms de Brún said:

"I think people will be shocked by this report by the European Commission. It will be of particular concern for us in Ireland where there is such a high rate of respiratory illness.

"It is difficult to comprehend that 310,000 people will die prematurely as a consequence of exposure to air pollutants. That figure is roughly equivalent to three times the population of Derry City. We are dealing with a serious problem which will require a unified and effective response.

"Whilst the report shows that Ireland is not the worst in relation to air pollution, a recent report found that carbon dioxide emissions in the 6 Counties were 1.9% higher than in 2002. A complete change of direction is needed by government and industry if we are to tackle this serious problem.

"The amount of vehicles on our roads is contributing greatly to air pollution. Sinn Féin believes that proper investment in an effective public transport system will go some way to cutting down the need for reliance on private transport.

"The Kyoto protocol goes a small way towards cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, but much more needs to be done. The second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol begins in 2012, and we need to be developing a global plan for a more ambitious approach to climate change and air pollution. The world faces a stark choice, continue along this current path or actively begin to address the serious implications of environmental disaster.

"The European Union must lead the way in the fight for a safe clean environment. Sinn Féin is committed to playing its part in bringing forward and supporting policies which effectively combat climate change". ENDS

Editors Note

Ms de Brún is a member of the EU Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.

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f a campaign to force the Irish government to begin the preparations for Irish Unity through the commissioning of a green paper on the subject and the initiation of a series of sensible and practical moves to help bring about the historic task of uniting Ireland in a planned and controlled fashion.

"Our elected representatives are part of an all-Ireland team something that no other party can boast. We are ideally placed to deliver real and meaningful change and today's meeting is an important part of bringing this even closer."ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking in Strabane this afternoon to commemorate Michael Devine, David Devine and Charlie Breslin who were ambushed and executed by the SAS on February 23rd 1985 . Mr Adams said:

"Many of those who are attacking us now are back in the place where they are most comfortable. They don't want an open debate on the national question; they don't want a focus on their management of the social and economic affairs of this island; they don't want the peace process to succeed if that means the loss of political power for them. At all costs they want to stop the growth of Sinn Féin and halt the radical political alternative to the forces of conservatism in Ireland. And in order to achieve this and to distract attention from all other matters they are trying once again to smear republicans with the criminalisation slur.

"Sinn Féin does not underestimate the seriousness of the current situation. People across Ireland are concerned that the peace process appears to be in freefall and that ten years of work and progress is now being cast aside. My friends it is not enough for us to cry foul or to invoke the memory of the hunger strikers.

"No republican worthy of the name can be involved in criminality of any kind. If any are they should be expelled from our ranks. We are not involved in criminality and we will not tolerate such behaviour. Our opponents know that. But some of them can barely disguise their glee at the recent turn of events. There has been trial by media.

"A Sinn Féin member is arrested and released without charge and the entire Sinn Féin party is condemned as criminal. Money from the Northern Bank robbery is found in the RUC Athletic Association Club in Belfast and this is reported as being an effort to embarrass British forces. All of this stated as fact. And let there be no doubt that this campaign of vilification is going to continue for some time.

"But let there also be no doubt that Sinn Féin will weather this storm. Do they think we are not serious about our republicanism? Do they think we are not determined to pursue our legitimate goals? Do they believe our commitment to the peace process is a pretence?

"Of course if we were criminals as they allege their strategy would work. But we are not. And we have come too far, and too many people depend upon us. Let me tell you that Sinn Féin will continue, in the hundredth year of our party, to build political support, and a dynamic radical political organisation across this island.

The importance of the upcoming elections here cannot be overstressed. Others are already electioneering. The contest will be Sinn Féin versus the rest. So our effort has to be, in every single contest, to ensure the largest Sinn Féin vote possible.

"20 years ago when Michael and David and Charlie were killed Sinn Féin was in the very early process of fighting elections and beginning the difficult work of building a political party. Today we are the largest pro Agreement party in the north and third largest party on this island with elected representatives throughout Ireland. None of this was supposed to happen. The government thought that Sinn Féin would remain a minor player on the political scene but they were wrong.

"Their mistake was in underestimating nationalist and republican people and they are doing that again.

"And what of the IRA?

"Let me restate here at the memorial to these IRA volunteers that the objective of all republicans must be to create the conditions in which the IRA ceases to be. That is a huge challenge for republicans. Others at this time think they can beat the IRA by the avalanche of propaganda, which is being spewed out.

"Sinn Féin's contribution to the peace process has been dismissed and abused. Including our efforts to take all the guns and all the armed groups out of Irish politics. That remains the Sinn Féin leadership's objective. Many of those who are attacking us at this time have made no useful contribution to the peace process, but some have. If, as I believe, they intend to continue with the politics of smear, they have a duty to spell out how this will contribute to rebuilding the process in the time ahead."ENDS

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