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


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West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty says that the readiness of the DUP to sit alongside members of the UDA and UVF on the West Belfast Parades Forum shows the sickening hypocrisy of this party.

Mr. Doherty said:

"Day in, day out, DUP politicians attempt to outdo one another in portraying the most hard-line stance against Sinn Féin.

"Yet here we have the spectre of some of these same politicians not only sitting talking to but strategising with members of the UDA and UVF on the issue of Orange Parades.

"The West Belfast Parades Forum was hastily convened ahead of Saturday's Whiterock Loyalist Parade and this "development" was incredibly used by the Parade's Commission as evidence of progress to justify the reversal of its original decision to ban the parade from the nationalist Springfield Road.

"The Parades Commission had earlier cited the refusal of the parade organizers to enter into dialogue with nationalist Springfield Road residents as one of the main grounds for banning the Parade from entering this area.

"Despite the fact that the Parade organisers refused to do this the Parade's Commission capitulated because of predictions of widespread violence from unionist politicians and loyalists.

"This issue is a glaring example of the hypocrisy DUP politicians. These founding fathers of Ulster Resistance rub shoulders with the UDA and UVF on a daily basis. As the DUP becomes increasingly desperate in its attempts to rationalise their irrational refusal to meet Sinn Féin - the majority voice of the nationalist electorate in the north - it is time that the British government stops pandering to the DUPs hypocritical agenda and starts calling a spade a spade."ENDS

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Sinn Fein Spokesperson on the Review of Public Administration, South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey speaking ahead of a major conference on the RPA in the Stormont Hotel in Belfast tomorrow, Tuesday 29th June, has said that the review must deliver fair and accountable government.

Mr Maskey said:

"The success of the review of public administration will be in its' ability to deliver 'power to the people' by scrapping the huge layers of bureaucracy and unaccountable quangoism that have flourished as a result of previous direct rule administrations. It is needs to create a new democratic relationship between decision-making, control and accountability in our society.

"The review of public administration is huge in its scope. However if it is to deliver the results that are required it must fundamentally dovetail with the review of local government to ensure that services are provided at the time and in the right place and are accessible and that service provision goes hand in hand with real democratic accountability.

"The Assembly and the institutions are only part of the wider process of democratisation that are crucially important if we are to reject the failed old ways of doing things in the past that was about maintaining prestige and power in the hands of a small elite.

"When we look at local government it is also vital that we develop a model that rejects the type of exclusion we see in Lisburn Council. If people are to be given a real stake in decision-making then their representatives at whatever level must not be excluded by the failed politics of the past. Above all the review of public administration must deliver fair and accountable government." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for Upper Bann John O'Dowd has said that the Parades Commission could have come to no other decision than to re-route this weekends Drumcree Orange march away from the Garvaghy Road.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"At it most basic level the Drumcree Orange parade is little more than a sectarian coat trailing exercise through the Catholic community in Portadown. It is up to the Orange Order to explain the rational behind wanting to parade through an area where they are clearly not welcome.

"The Parades Commission could not have come to any other decision than to re-route the parade away from Garvaghy Road. However there is now a real concern that given the capitulation of the Parades Commission to an alliance of unionist politicians and paramilitaries over last weekends Springfield Road march that they could go down a similar route over the Drumcree parade.

"Nationalists in Portadown and elsewhere remember well the events of 1996 when an alliance between David Trimble and Billy Wright was used to threaten violence and force the parade down Garvaghy Road. The Parades Commission would be very foolish if they were to consider a similar outcome this Sunday." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has described as a 'shameful spectacle' the forcing of the Orange Order Whiterock parade through the nationalist Springfield Road.

Mr Maskey said:

"Last night the Parades Commission in written communication confirmed that the DUP, UUP, Orange Order, Protestant Churches and the unionist death squads had formed an alliance with the aim of threatening the nationalist community into accepting Orange Parades through their areas.

"After a week of such threats the British Government through the Parades Commission capitulated to those threats and sought to force an unwanted paramilitary parade through the Springfield Road community.

"Today's parade on the Springfield Road accompanied by a massive PSNI military operation was a shameful spectacle. It was a victory for intimidation, violence and threats. The events of the past few days do however raise serious questions for the UUP and DUP. It seems they have no problem forming alliances directly with the unionist death squads but simultaneously they attempt to ignore the electoral mandate of Sinn Féin.

"Nationalists across the island are angry at the events of the past few days and are watching closely to see if further unionist threats and intimidation are rewarded with other parades being forced through nationalist areas." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member Michael Ferguson has congratulated nationalist communities throughout Belfast who came together to block a series of main roads in the city this afternoon to protest at the disgraceful treatment of the Springfield Road community.

Mr Ferguson said:

"This morning nationalist community groups in the city met to discuss their response to the Parades Commission decision to reward the unionist community for threatening the Springfield Road residents with an unwanted parade through their area.

"They decided to block a series of main routes in Belfast to coincide with the blocking of the Springfield Road by the PSNI to facilitate a sectarian parade through that area. The message being sent to the British government is very clear. If nationalist communities are hemmed in and unable to move about their normal business then the same standard will be applied to everyone else.

"Nationalist communities will not be treated as second class. The British government need to understand clearly that the broad nationalist community is not prepared to simply sit back and watch small nationalist areas being besieged by the PSNI to force through unwanted parades.

"The community organisations have made it clear today that the nationalist community will not be walked over by the Parades Commission or anyone else in the coming weeks." ENDS

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Fine Gael must accept Sinn Féin's mandate in Kerry

Sinn Féin Kerry County Councillor Toiréasa Ferris as criticised Fine Gael for engaging in politics of exclusion when it came to the possibility of entering a technical arrangement with Sinn Féin. Cllr. Ferris was speaking after today's AGM of Kerry County Council. She said that Fine Gael's unwillingness to put an arrangement with Sinn Féin in writing was an insult to Sinn Féin‚s integrity and a slap in the face to the thousands of people that voted for her party throughout Kerry.

Cllr. Ferris said:

"Sinn Féin is a democratic party and a party of inclusion; I stated publicly last week that we were willing to talk to any grouping regarding the make up of the new council. That included Fine Gael. However, Fine Gael‚s offer of a three year, unwritten deal with the possibility of Sinn Féin taking the Mayorship in the fourth year was totally unacceptable to our members. In fact, no self respecting party could have accepted this arrangement.

"I also want to address some comments being made by certain Fine Gael representatives that Sinn Féin's arrangement with Fianna Fáil and two independents went against the people's wishes for change. I wonder did this enter the minds of their colleagues on Killarney and Tralee Town Councils where Fine Gael councillors supported Fianna Fáil nominations for the chair, with Sinn Féin being totally excluded from any sort of committee on Tralee Town Council.

"It's about time that Fine Gael accepted that Sinn Féin is here to stay. They must accept our mandate. It is unfortunate that Fine Gael in Kerry could not take a lead from their colleagues in Monaghan where Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael managed to come to an arrangement on the council."

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Sinn Fein West Belfast MP Gerry Adams has described the Parades Commission's reversal of its earlier determination on the Springfield Road parade as an "act of moral cowardice".

Mr Adams said:

"The Parades Commission has succombed to sectarian threats. This is an act of moral cowardice."

The West Belfast MP appealed for "nationalists and republicans to be disciplined", and he commended the local residents and their representatives for the calm they have shown.

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Sinn Féin councillor Bridge Meehan has accused the PSNI in Glengormley of 'disgraceful sectarian behaviour'. Cllr. Meehan's comments come after a PSNI member in Glengormley barracks informed her that he would be throwing an application by residents to hold a peaceful protest against an Orange march in the bin.

Cllr. Meehan said:

" Last night I was asked by local residents in Glengormley to hand in a application for a peaceful protest to highlight a contentious Orange march in the area. When I handed the application into Glengormley PSNI barracks I was verbally abused by the PSNI member present and he then said that he would not process the application but would instead throw it in the bin.

" This sort of blatant sectarianism is unacceptable and unwarranted. The PSNI member obviously has serious problems coming to terms with concepts of basic equality and fair play. I will be raising this matter with the Police Ombudsman at the earliest opportunity. This sort of intimidation by the PSNI will not deter me from continuing to represent the people of this area and continuing to confront sectarianism and bigotry from whatever quarter." ENDS

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Speaking as striking NIPSA members gathered for a lunchtime rally at the City Hall in Belfast, Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew has again urged the British Direct rule Minister Ian Pearson to engage constructively with the union to resolve the dispute.

Ms Gildernew said:

" Yesterday Mr Peasrson moderated his language and appeared to be adopting a more conciliatory approach to the strike. If this is the case then this would be a welcome development. I have met with striking civil servants over the past number of weeks and they are eager and willing to see this dispute resolved amicably.

" The onus lies firmly with the Minister to open up meaningful and constructive dialogue with the union. Trying to determine the outcome of such dialogue before talks even commence is an obvious non-starter.

" I am again calling on Ian Pearson to get a grip of this issue and sit down and sort this pay dispute out once and for all." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams will be in Dublin tomorrow, Saturday 26th June, for the launch and signing of the paperback edition of his book Hope and History in Easons bookshop on O'Connell Street.

Mr. Adams will be available to talk to the media at Easons at 11am about the ongoing efforts, including today's talks in London involving the two Governments and all the parties, to get momentum back into the peace process. ENDS

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Commenting today on Michael McDowell's sudden decision to attack America's foreign policy on the eve of President George Bush's visit to Ireland, Sinn Féin TD and International Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh said that that the Minister's comments smacked of hypocrisy.

Mr. Ó Snodaigh said: "It's a little too late in the day for the Minister to start showing concern for those held in American custody, given that he has expressed no concern about the War in Iraq at all, to date. In fact, in the past he has been extremely vocal on the subject of anti-war protestors, labeling them anti-American among other things.

"It would appear that Mr. McDowell has pulled his usual stunt of picking the optimum time for publicity, and as on so many occasions before, he is adjusting his opinions to suit a headline.

"What's even more interesting is that in his capacity as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. McDowell has himself failed the litmus test on human rights. Amnesty International has criticised his department for failing to deal with Irish prison conditions and for failing to deal with police misconduct.

"Instead of dealing with the treatment of prisoners in this country, the Minister has proposed half-baked plans involving the closure of some of the best-run units in the state, and has done nothing about the degrading conditions in Limerick Prison and Portlaoise. Mr. McDowell can't have it both ways. He can't pretend to be a champion of prisoners abroad and at the same time preside over a system that is failing prisoners in his own country.

"Instead of racking his brains for ways to get onto the front page, Mr. McDowell should devote his energy to tackling his own portfolio." ENDS

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Sinn Féin representatives Gerry Kelly MLA, Fra McCann MLA and Cllr. Tom Hartley will meet with the Parades Commission this morning to discuss this weekends Whiterock Orange Parade.

The meeting will take place at 10.30am at the Parades Commission Offices in Windsor House, Bedford Street and the delegation is available to speak to the media outside.

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Speaking on the State Airports Bill today, Sinn Féin Transport spokesperson Seán Crowe described the proposed break-up as a "glaring example of the Government's drive towards appeasing the private sector and vested interests."

Deputy Crowe said:

"Minister Brennan's signalled proposals for the break-up of Aer Rianta have produced little more than a rewrite and re-naming, at considerable cost in financial terms, in terms of stress to employees of Aer Rianta to trade unionists, in terms of time used in Government departments and in terms of the real cost to the tax payer, and only to put another name on a dilemma that is sure to resurrect its head in the not too distant future.

This Government and its Minister have failed to present a credible rationale for the proposed break-up of Aer Rianta and the whole proposition is probably one of the most glaring examples of the Government's drive towards appeasing the private sector and vested interests. Ironically many of us are relying on Charlie McCreevy for common sense to prevent this new direction. There is a serious absence of forward-thinking at play - in fact there is serious evidence of a lack of any serious logical thinking at all.

"The break up will not only affect Aer Rianta workers but the thousands of other workers that service the respective airports. The assurances given to staff in relation to remuneration and transfer are not cast in stone and will be dependant on whatever the unions and staff associations will be able to extract during the six month period after the Act is passed. The Bill states that employees transferring to Cork or Shannon cannot be reduced to lower beneficial terms "except by collective agreement?." The challenge to arrive at collective agreements is one to which Trade Unions and workers are well accustomed and we will see a similar battle again in relation to the proposal to break up C.I.E.

"Sinn Féin has called for the production of a White Paper on Air Transport and certainly a credible policy paper needs to be produced as a matter of urgency. There is a need for an improved infrastructure at regional level. Ireland needs a solid, forward-looking aviation strategy and the money spent so far by the Minister in pushing forward amendments to the Airport Bill would have been better used in the research and consultation that would go to devise such a strategy.

"The proposals contained in this bill will not improve services for passengers and workers in the industry. I believe these proposals will serve vested interests and inevitably lead to greater privatization, greater cost to passengers and a downgrading of services at these airports. There is no financial plan or no clear vision coming from this legislation. It's all smoke and mirrors but we still don't know who is pulling the strings and on behalf of whose interests." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has called upon the Taoiseach to propose a female candidate for nomination as the new EU Commission President, following a transparent application process.

With discussions on-going over who will become the new EU Commission President, Ms McDonald stated that the time was right to propose a woman EU Commission President to redress the gender imbalance within the political process.

Speaking today, Ms McDonald said:

"We are still a long way from the EU of Equals that Sinn Fein wants to build. Currently, 23 out of the 30 EU Commissioners are men and only 7 are women. That is a disgrace, and it must change.

"All of the discussions around the nomination of an EU Commission President have focussed upon male candidates for the position. There are plenty of talented, and indeed qualified women within Irish politics who would fit that criterion for Commission President.

"The Irish Government has the opportunity and indeed the responsibility to propose a credible female candidate for nomination as Commission President to redress the present under-representation of women in decision-making at EU level, and I urge them not to waste it.

"In January 2004, an Irish delegation to the Council of Europe had their voting rights suspended because the delegation had no female representatives. This is deeply embarrassing in this day and age that the Council had to suspend Irish voting rights because of the inherent under-representation of women. It further reinforces the need for gender equality within the political process." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will lead a party delegation to the talks in Lancaster House, London, tomorrow, Friday 25th June.

The delegation will include Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP, Bairbre de Brún MEP, Mary Lou McDonald MEP, Caitriona Ruane MLA and Mitchel McLaughlin MLA.

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality issues Caitriona Ruane has challenged both the British government and the BBC to declare publicly why they are opposed to the organisation becoming subject to the statutory equality duty (Section 75). Ms Ruane's comments come after the British Minister John Spellar wrote to Sinn Féin to confirm that he has decided not to designate the BBC.

Ms Ruane said:

" It is a welcome move that the British government have designated another six public bodies to come under section 75 provisions. This has come about after work by Sinn Féin and others. However the decision not to designate the BBC is wrong and will have far reaching implications.

" The BBC is without any doubt one of the most influential public bodies in the six counties. Nationalists and republicans have expressed serious concerns over many years about the manner in which the BBC operates. People will be shocked and angered that the British government has exempted the BBC from conforming to the same basic statutory equality provisions which other public bodies have to abide by.

" I am demanding that both the BBC and the British government tell us what they are trying to hide by exempting the corporation from Section 75. Why is the BBC resisting equality provisions.

" This decision will have the effect of increasing nationalist and republican suspicions of the agenda and direction of the BBC in the six counties. However, Sinn Féin will not be letting this matter drop. We will continue to meet with the British government on this issue and we will continue to press the British government to ensure that the BBC eventually are brought under the same equality provisions as other public bodies." ENDS

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Commenting after the meeting this afternoon of Lisburn Council at which the practice of institutionalised sectarian discrimination was continued, Sinn Féin councillor Paul Butler said:

" At this afternoons meeting Sinn Féin and the SDLP were once again excluded from every single position of authority within the Council. This mirrors the situation which existed last year. The message to nationalists and republicans in Lisburn is very clear. Unionists are incapable of sharing power. They are wedded to the policy of institutionalised sectarian discrimination.

" The Irish government had given a commitment to send a representative to witness today's meeting. However in the face of unionist threats the Irish government backed down and refused to attend. This situation is hugely disappointing. The Irish government have an obligation to promote and defend the rights of Irish citizens living in the six counties. They have an obligation to challenge blatant sectarian discrimination.

" Sinn Féin will not stop our campaign for equality within council chambers across the six counties. At present the councils with unionist majorities are in the main incapable of embracing basic principles of proportionality or equality. This situation will not be allowed to go unchallenged." ENDS

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West Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Tom Hartley has criticised the erection of a large sign facing nationalist homes on the Springfield Road with the slogan 'Kill all Taigs'. The sign was erected last night by at least five masked men.

Cllr. Hartley said:

" Tensions in the Springfield Road area have in recent days been deliberately risen through a series of protests and threats issues by prominent unionist politicians in the wake of the correct decision taken by the Parades Commission to restrict this weekends Whiterock Orange march. Last night masked men erected a sign facing nationalist homes on the Springfield Road with the slogan 'Kill all Taigs'.

" There has unfortunately been a deliberate effort to raise tensions in the lead up to Saturdays parade. Responsible politicians and community leaders need to work together to reduce tensions and make every effort to ensure that this weekend in particular and the summer months generally pass off peacefully. The decision to erect this sign overnight is a worrying indication of unionist intent towards the nationalist community on the Springfield Road.

" Unionist politicians on the Shankill need to see this sign removed without delay as part of the collective effort to reduce tensions and see a peaceful weekend." ENDS

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Speaking in a Private Members debate on the Nitrates Directive, the Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, criticised the lack of consultation with farmers on its implementation. Deputy Ferris also claimed that the problems surrounding the Directive were yet another example of the manner in which EU regulations are approved with minimal input from the Irish Government.

In part of his speech, Deputy Ferris said: "One of the main issues which this debate highlights once again is the lack of real input from this state into decisions made at EU level. Once again we have a situation where people in this state are expected to comply with a regulation made without any consultation with local stakeholders, and without any specific research into local conditions.

"The fault in the case of the Nitrates Directive rests with successive Irish Governments since 1991. There are numerous other examples of a similar attitude that has led to Irish farmers being faced with fait accompli and only discovering after the event the numerous problems that they are presented with, and which might have been addressed had Irish officials paid closer attention to what was going on.

"Minister Cullen stated last night that any member state, including Ireland, will have to present detailed scientific arguments in support of a claim for derogations above the 170kg limit. Why has it taken until now to do so, and is it not the case that the ability to present that type of argument has been damaged by the cutbacks in agricultural research over the past number of years.

"As Deputy Upton pointed out last night, Teagasc has indicated that the preparation of the case that is required is still not complete. In response, the Minister stated that Teagasc has accepted an invitation to appear before the Environment Committee to discuss the Directive. That is all very well and good, but surely the fact that this is only taking place now highlights the lack of urgency with which the issue has been treated.

"What the controversy over this issue has proven is the clear need for local research into the manner in which the Directive is applied based on local conditions. As other Deputies have pointed out, there is no agreement on a number of issues including the relationship between current nitrates use and water pollution levels and the manner in which the restrictions on spreading will be applied in different parts of the country.

"Unfortunately the ability to do conduct such research has been hampered by the cut backs in Teagasc. To give just one example, it is clear that the closure of Ballinamore will mean the loss of valuable research into soil conditions in the North West. Such facilities are vital to the provision of up to date knowledge regarding farm production systems, and in the case of Ballinamore could make a contribution to the future survival of dairying in that part of the country."ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA for North Antrim, Cllr Philip McGuigan, has slammed the DUP on Ballymoney Council for appointing their own councillors to the positions of Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson for the fifth year running.

Cllr McGuigan said:

"Yesterday, at the Annual General Meeting of Ballymoney Borough Council, the DUP used their mandate to squeeze out all other political parties from holding the top two posts in the council. This is the fifth time this has happened in the past five years and shows how power-hungry and opposed to equality the Democratic Unionists are.

"Given our mandate, Nationalists should be entitled to hold the post of Chair or Vice-Chairperson at least once during the lifetime of this council. By setting up d‚Hondt we can ensure that all shades of political opinion can be represented in elected positions in the council.

"This is the attitude that the DUP has in every council, not just Ballymoney‚s. It further highlights the need for safeguards to be introduced to protect nationalist ratepayers, especially if the Review of Public Administration places us in a larger, more Unionist dominated council."ENDS

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