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


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In August 1994, the leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann announced a complete cessation of all military operations. We did so to enhance the democratic peace process and underline our definitive commitment to its success.

That cessation ended in February 1996 because the British Government acted in bad faith when the then British Prime Minister John Major and Unionist leaders squandered that unprecedented opportunity to resolve the conflict.

However, we remained ready to engage positively and in July 1997 we reinstated the cessation on the same basis as before. Subsequently, we honoured the terms of our cessation with discipline and honesty, despite numerous attempts to misrepresent those terms by others.

Since then - over a period of almost eight years - our leadership took a succession of significant and ambitious initiatives designed to develop or save the peace process. Those included:

•Engaging with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning;

•Agreeing that independent inspectors could inspect the contents of a number of IRA dumps, allowing regular re-inspections to ensure that the weapons remained secure and the reporting of what they had done both publicly and to the IICD;

•Setting out a clear context for dealing definitively with the issue of arms;

•Acknowledging past mistakes, hurt and pain the IRA has caused to others and extending our sincere apologies and condolences for the deaths and injuries of non-combatants caused by us;

•Agreeing a scheme with the IICD to put arms completely and verifiably beyond use;

•Implementing this scheme to save the peace process by putting three separate tranches of weapons beyond use on:

- 23 October 2001

- 11 April 2002

- 21 October 2003; and

•Seeking to directly and publicly address unionist concerns.

In 2004 our leadership was prepared to speedily resolve the issue of arms, by Christmas if possible, and to invite two independent witnesses, from the Protestant and Catholic churches, to testify to this. In the context of a comprehensive agreement we were also prepared to move into a new mode and to instruct our Volunteers that there could be no involvement whatsoever in activities which might endanger that agreement.

These significant and substantive initiatives were our contributions to the peace process. Others, however, did not share that agenda. Instead, they demanded the humiliation of the IRA.

Our initiatives have been attacked, devalued and dismissed by pro-unionist and anti-republican elements, including the British Government. The Irish Government have lent themselves to this. Commitments have been broken or withdrawn. The progress and change promised on political, social, economic and cultural matters, as well as on demilitarisation, prisoners, equality and policing and justice, has not materialised to the extent required, or promised.

British forces, including the PSNI, remain actively engaged in both covert and overt operations, including raids on republicans' homes.

We are also acutely aware of the dangerous instability within militant unionism, much of it fostered by British military intelligence agencies. The British/loyalist apparatus for collusion remains intact.

The political institutions have been suspended for years now and there is an ongoing political impasse.

At this time it appears that the two governments are intent on changing the basis of the peace process. They claim that 'the obstacle now to a lasting and durable settlement... is the continuing paramilitary and criminal activity of the IRA'.

We reject this. It also belies the fact that a possible agreement last December was squandered by both governments pandering to rejectionist unionism instead of upholding their own commitments and honouring their own obligations.

We do not intend to remain quiescent within this unacceptable and unstable situation. It has tried our patience to the limit. Consequently, on reassessment of our position and in response to the governments and others withdrawing their commitments;

•We are taking all our proposals off the table.

•It is our intention to closely monitor ongoing developments and to protect to the best of our ability the rights of republicans and our support base.

The IRA has demonstrated our commitment to the peace process again and again. We want it to succeed. We have played a key role in achieving the progress achieved so far. We are prepared, as part of a genuine and collective effort, to do so again, if and when the conditions are created for this.

But peace cannot be built on ultimatums, false and malicious accusations or bad faith. Progress will not be sustained by the reinstatment of Thatcherite criminalisation strategies, which our ten comrades died defeating on hunger strike in 1981. We will not betray the courage of the hunger strikers either by tolerating criminality within our own ranks or false allegations of criminality against our organisation by petty politicians motivated by selfish interests, instead of the national need for a successful conclusion to the peace process.

Finally, we thank all those who have supported us through decades of struggle. We freely acknowledge our responsibility to enhance genuine efforts to build peace and justice. We reiterate our commitment to achieving Irish independence and our other republican objectives. We are determined that these objectives will be secured.

P O'Neill
Irish Republican Publicity Bureau
Dublin

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In an initial response to Wednesday night's IRA statement, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said:

"The IRA statement is obviously a direct consequence of the retrograde stance of the two governments. It is evidence of a deepening crisis and I regret that very much.

"The two governments have opted for confrontation. They are engaging in the sterile politics of the blame game without any regard for the consequences. This negative approach has effectively scuttled the enormous work done in persuading the IRA to undertake the unprecedented initiatives which they publicly outlined in December.

"All of this good work has now been undermined."ENDS

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Tallaght based Sinn Féin TD, Seán Crowe has called on the Minister for Health to provide some clarity in regard to the crisis at Tallaght Hospital after receiving confusing figures on numbers of patients left on trolleys and the length of time before these persons accessed wards in the hospital.

Deputy Crowe said "Before Christmas I asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of patients left on trolleys per day in Tallaght Hospital and the length of time before these persons accessed wards in the hospital.

"The figures I received from the Eastern Regional Health Authority seemed to conflict with figures in the media at the time. After checking the figures with the Irish Nursing Organisation I found that they don't add up.

"For example the Irish Nursing Organisation figures for the number of patients awaiting a bed in the period from Monday 11th October to Friday 15th October are as follows: Monday - 33, Tuesday - 28, Wednesday - 36, Thursday - 30, Friday - 24 while the Eastern Regional Health Authority figure for the week ending 17th October is just 7.

"These figures seem to create more questions than they answer.

"Aside from the difficulties and trauma that families have to go through with loved ones lying on trolleys the worrying message seems to be that we can't begin to resolve the problem until we learn the extent of the problem.

"I would call on the Minister to clarify these figures as a matter of urgency. " ENDS

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South Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Alex Maskey has said attempts by politicians to turn the tragic stabbing of a man outside a bar at the weekend into a political point scoring exercise is shameful and despicable.

Mr Maskey said:

" The killing of Robert McCartney after a fight in a Belfast bar at the weekend was wrong and an absolute tragedy particularly for his family. There is a growing violent knife culture in our society, which must be condemned, and this incident is an extension of that.

"However what has also been disturbing has been the shameful attempts of politicians with no interest or stake in the communities affected most by this death to try and score political points.

"Allegations have been made by Reg Empey, Sammy Wilson, Alaister McDonnell and now also Mark Durkan. This includes an outrageous claim that republicans are in some way covering up the events of Sunday night and orchestrating the recent trouble on the streets of the Markets. These allegations are clearly untrue and without foundation. There is no cover up and no orchestration of street violence. That is why none of these individuals have been able to produce one scrap of evidence to back up their claims.

" None of these individuals have set foot in either the Markets or the Short Strand in recent days unlike republicans who have been on the streets trying to maintain calm. Their interventions have not been motivated by any desire to help or assist the McCartney family or the local community but have instead been entirely motivated by a despicable desire to try and politick around the tragic death of a young father of two." ENDS

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Sinn Fein MLA Michael Ferguson and Party Spokesperson for Higher Education has challenged the University of Ulster's decision to request that the 1 day Collusion Display be taken down from the University.

The Display, which has been in the Assembly Long Gallery, QUB and other institutes, shows the impact Collusion has had on the victims through poster, photographs and oral video interviews.

Commenting upon the situation Michael Ferguson said:

" I will be speaking with the UU Administration to ascertain why they are objecting to this display given that it was agreed through the Student Council to show it.

"This is a Display, which conveys the impact of Collusion, the greatest untold story of the conflict, and a display, which we showed at the Assembly and other Higher Educational institutions including QUB.

"It would be insulting to the relatives for the UU to deny them the opportunity to highlight the need for the Truth and it also undermines the integrity of the Student Council who agreed to the display." ENDS

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Dublin 15 Sinn Féin Councillor Felix Gallagher has slammed the stance of the Socialist Party on Fingal County Council regarding a second runway for Dublin Airport. Both the Socialists and Labour had motions seeking to block the provision of a second runway.

Cllr Gallagher said "The main arguments put forward for these motions centred around the idea that they would prevent privatisation of Dublin Airport. I believe that this analysis is completely flawed and the alternative offered by the Socialists for a second airport would increase the possibility of privatisation. My analysis is shared by the Civil Aviation Branch of SIPTU. I am absolutely astounded that this motion was put forward by the Socialist Party Councillor Clare Daly who is herself a shop-steward in that same Trade Union.

 

Cllr Gallagher continued "The alternative to a second runway is the opening of a second commercial airport, most probably at Baldonnell. To be viable this second airport would need to be private and as such would be able to undercut Dublin Airport. Undoubtedly this would lead to cost cutting and job losses."

In response to Cllr Coppinger's concerns over noise pollution, Cllr Gallagher responded "The future of Dublin Airport is critical not just for Blanchardstown or even Dublin, but the State as a whole. Sinn Fein has signed up to the European Written Declaration on Noise Pollution by Night Flights. Cllr Coppinger has until 15th November to do likewise." ENDS.

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today called for a "complete overhaul of the Lisbon Agenda to one which prioritises its social aspects".

Ms McDonald made her comments after former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok admitted that the central goals of the Lisbon Agenda were a "bridge too far". The Lisbon Strategy aimed to establish the EU as the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010.

Mr Wim Kok headed up a review of the Lisbon Agenda and presented a report of the Lisbon strategy to the European Commission in late 2004.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

"Mr Wim Kok's comments that the central goals of the Lisbon Agenda were a "bridge too far" highlight the failure of the strategy to date. The agenda has three main planks: economic, environmental and social development.

"Sinn Féin is calling for a complete overhaul of the strategy - it has clearly failed and I believe that the time is right for a refocusing on the social aspects of the Lisbon Agenda. The social inclusion aspects have been undermined and largely ignored in favour of a privatisation agenda and an approach that sees competitiveness only being achieved at the expense of workers' rights.

"In a European Union where 68 million people live in systematic poverty, people are demanding a shift in emphasis to one which will impact positively on citizen's lives. Sinn Féin is in support of the Social Platform Tests for the Luxembourg Presidency of the European Union. We are calling upon Luxembourg to lead the way in overhauling the strategy to reverse the trend toward increasing privatisation and move to secure the future of quality public services, particularly in relation to health and education services." ENDS

Note to editors: The Social Platform tests for the Luxembourg Presidency are produced by pan European platform of social NGOs. The tests can be found at www.socialplatform.org.

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Sinn Féin national chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin commenting on the remarks of Tony Blair today has said that unionists have not demonstrated their commitment to power sharing.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"There is nothing new in what Tony Blair is saying today.

"But the events of last December when the DUP walked away from power sharing deal that would have seen the political institutions established show us that unionism has not accepted power sharing as Mr Blair alleged today.

"Mr Blair is well aware of Sinn Féin‚s commitment to peaceful and democratic means.

"Sinn Féin has been the engine driving the peace Process for the last decade. Sinn Féin's commitment is to make this process work. But as the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister know we cannot do this on our own." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP will lead a party delegation including Cllr. Joe Reilly, Pat Doherty MP and Caitriona Ruane MLA to meet with the British Secretary Of State at 11.30am tomorrow morning (Wednesday 2nd February) at Hillsborough Castle.

The delegation will be available to speak to the media.

Speaking today before the meeting South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane said:

"Tomorrow we will be confronting the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy about recent comments he made in the USA concerning our electoral mandate. We will also be seeking answers from him about a briefing given late last year by the leading securocrat Joe Piling when it stated very clearly that the objective of the NIO was to stop the growth of Sinn Fein in the time ahead.

" Joe Piling is supposed to be under the control of Paul Murphy. Either his comments about NIO strategy are the position of the British government or else Mr Murphy has to get a grip of the securocrats running his own department.

" We will also take the oppourtunity to tell Mr Murphy in very clear terms that in our view as a British politician with no mandate either to be in Ireland or from the Irish people he is in no position to discriminate against the majority of nationalists in the six counties through sanctions against Sinn Fein." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Human Rights, Equality and Women's spokesperson Caitríona Ruane MLA commenting on the Human Rights Commission decision to take the British government to court today over its refusal to allow access to Rathgael Juvenile Justice Centre has said that the decision to block access demonstrates the failure of the NIO to live up to international standards and also the need for urgent movement to increase the powers, particularly on access, of the Human Rights Commission.

Ms Ruane said:

"The British government have already made the decision that the Human Rights Commission should have the power to access places of detention and the power to compel evidence and witnesses.

"This was a was a key Sinn Féin demand during negotiations before Christmas and the British government's made it clear that current situation would be rectified.

"The Commission raised a number of very serious concerns about the treatment of juveniles in this centre in 2002. It is unacceptable that the NIO is refusing access to Rathgael to allow the current situation to be monitored and to see if recommendation arising from the 'In Our Care: Promoting the Rights of Children in Custody' report are being effectively implemented.

"The decision of the NIO to refuse access despite a clear commitment from the British government demonstrates a serious problem within the NIO when it comes to promoting and defending international human rights standards." ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, has come out in support of a protest to be held this afternoon at the Teagasc dairy research facility at Ballinamore, County Leitrim. The protest is against plans to remove the valuable dairy cattle there to be sold for slaughter and is part of the closing down of the facility. Former employees and local farmers have received information that the cattle are to be removed this afternoon.

Deputy Ferris said: "I fully support the action group in Leitrim which is calling for the Teagasc dairy farm to be kept open. It would appear that Teagasc are planning to remove the valuable dairy herd there to be sold for slaughter at only a fraction of their value. I reiterate my call for the Ballinamore farm to be kept as a working research facility and will be raising the issue in the Dáil tomorrow". ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin MLA has given a guarded welcome to the news that the British Government is to rush legislation through to attempt to address the deficit in the electoral register.

Mr McLaughlin stated:

"Over the past few years Sinn Féin has voiced major concerns that the new legislation brought in at the behest of the other parties here would lead to a disenfranchisement of the electorate. This was proven right with over 250,000 people falling off the electoral register over the past couple of years".

"The announcement that legislation is to be brought forward to have those who were eligible to vote on last years register but have not re-registered this year put back on the electoral register is welcome. However this does not reverse the legislation that still leaves so many people disenfranchised and Sinn Féin will continue to campaign to have the right to vote brought to as many as possible."

"I would urge everyone to check if they are registered to vote and if not to do so before the deadline in early March and that they have the correct identification needed to vote." ENDS

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Sinn Féin health spokesperson Cllr John O'Dowd MLA has called on the NIO health minister Angela Smith to clarify the situation in the North over the prescription and use of Cox-2 inhibitor drugs which are used for the treatment of arthritis.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"I have written to the NIO health minister asking that she review the prescription and use of these drugs following yet another major health scare involving this type of drug. Towards the end of last year, the pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck and Co announced a world wide recall of Vioxx and VioxxAcute, which were also Cox-2 inhibitors, after it was discovered that there was an increased relative risk to users of the drug for confirmed cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke.

"It has now emerged that the largest Health Maintenance Organisation (HMO) i n the US has prohibited the distribution of the arthritis treatment Bextra, amid ongoing and growing concerns about the Cox-2 inhibitor class of drugs to which Bextra belongs. In particular, it appears that these concerns also relate to cardiovascular side-effects.The European Medicines Agency is also currently investigating the risks associated with all Cox-2 inhibitor drugs.

"Rather await the outcome of those investigations, I have asked that Angela Smith instructs the Chief Medical Officer to issue an immediate alert to all doctors over the usage of these Cox-2 inhibitor drugs, and to replace them with suitable and effective alternatives. It is vitally important that patients are prescribed with medically approved drugs which do not pose them any major health risk. " ENDS

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Sinn Féin candidate for the Meath by-election Councillor Joe Reilly has described the decision to build a new 'super prison' on the Dublin/Meath border as an "attack on local democracy".

Speaking today Cllr Reilly said:

"The decision to locate the new 'super prison' on the Dublin/Meath border was taken by the Minister for Justice without any consultation with the local community, local council or even the Dáil Justice committee. The decision flys in the face of the local County Development Plan and is an attack on local democracy.

"There is speculation in the community that the Office of Public Works is preparing compulsory purchase orders for up to thirty houses in order to make way for this new prison. Compulsory purchase orders will be met with strong opposition if the Minister tries to enforce them and Sinn Féin will stand with the community in their protests.

"The Minister has already shown complete arrogance for the local community so I would call on him now to show some compassion for the community and clarify this matter urgently so people can put their minds at ease." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has said that he is not convinced by the Irish government's protestations that it is opposed to sanctions against Sinn Féin.

Mr Adams said:

"The British government is currently imposing sanctions against Sinn Féin. Is the Taoiseach demanding that this discrimination be ended? Not to my knowledge. The Irish government joined with the British government to form the so called Independent Monitoring Commission and agreed to the British Secretary of State be given powers outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

" I am unconvinced therefore about protestations of opposition to sanctions. Nationalists and republicans are understandably and increasingly sceptical of the attitude of the two governments.

" Sinn Féin's commitment is to make this process work. But as the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister know we cannot do this on our own." ENDS

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South Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has reacted furiously to an ongoing PSNI operation in the Markets area tonight.

Speaking from the Markets area Mr Maskey said:

" For the past number of hours the PSNI have been raiding homes in the Markets area. This is a heavy handed operation involving up to 20 PSNI land rovers. It appears that the PSNI is using last night's tragic stabbing incident as an excuse to disrupt life within this community and the scale and approach of their operation is completely unacceptable and unjustifiable.

" This sort of heavy handed policing belongs in the past. However in recent months it seems that the PSNI are increasingly adopting the tactics employed for decades by the RUC in their approach to republican and nationalist communities." ENDS

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Sinn Féin is to hold a major seminar to discus the issue of suicide in Ballynahinch next month, a town which within South Down has been identified as having a particular problem and statistics show that per head of capita has one of the highest suicide rates in Western Europe.

The seminar will be held in the Market House, Ballynahinch on the 23rd of February starting at 8pm to discus what support can be offered to families touched by suicide and how preventative measures can be put in place to tackle a crisis that has now reached epidemic levels

Speaking as plans were finalised for the meeting South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane said:

"The high suicide rate blighting urban and rural communities across the island of Ireland affects families regardless of class, religion or politics. It is an issue that is still a taboo subject but unless the causes are dealt with seriously the only guarantee will be that many more families have to face such a loss.

"Within South Down Ballynahinch has been identified as having a particular problem and statistics show that per head of capita it has one of the highest suicide rates in Western Europe.

"To be successful, it is important for this initiative top have cross party support and the meeting will be open to all political parties, churches, schools, statutory agencies and individual members of the community. Only by acting collectively can we hope to address this problem. The system is failing our young people and others at risk of self-harm. At what is a very difficult time for families it is essential that the community provides the necessary help and support for people to deal with the bereavement and loss that death by suicide brings.

"Suicide is currently the number one cause of death of males under 25 and although all age groups are affected young people seem particularly at risk. To change this, we need a community-led, strategic approach to mental health involving awareness-raising; suicide prevention; crisis intervention and family support.

"I welcome some of the initiatives that have taken placed in schools in the Ballynahinch area. This is very important work and deserves to be supported.

"Society seems unable to acknowledge the scale of the problem, and it is important that people start talking about it and treat it with the seriousness it deserves. Suicide must be addressed with the same vigour and determination given to reducing deaths on the roads and we must raise public awareness and seek to reduce the number of people who for many reasons have taken their own life. This is still very much a taboo subject and is a hidden tragedy for many families.

"Suicide is a subject that is rarely, if ever, discussed within the home or in school and as a consequence young people are ill equipped to cope with the emotional crisis that can provoke a suicide attempt. We need to learn from other areas with similar problems throughout Ireland and study what initiatives and support mechanisms they have taken to deal with this issue. Schools and youth groups must be given the funding to do more to raise awareness of the problem and government money must be allocated to prepare young people for life as adults." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson, Upper Bann MLA John O?Dowd has expressed serious concern over the provision of mental health and learning disability services.

Cllr John O'Dowd MLA said:

"Towards the end of last year, when NIO Ministers were preparing their Draft Budget, Sinn Féin warned that the British proposals in relation to health would lead to a deterioration in health service provision across the Six Counties. Indeed, in the party's formal submission to the British, Sinn Féin argued that unless there was a substantial increase in health service funding across all programmes of care, then services such as those provided for mental health and learning disabilities would be seriously curtailed.

"The announcement by the Chief Executive of the Northern Health Board, Stuart McDonnell, that strategies for developing services in mental health and learning disability provision within that board area will now be delayed due to a lack of funding is, I believe, a clear indication that those within the most vulnerable sections of the community are going to suffer most a result of Ian Pearson's proposals.

"The reality is that 29% of the North's households are defined as poor with a further 12.1% vulnerable to poverty owing to low income. Half of all of this household include at least one family member with a long-tern illness or disability. These are the people who will suffer most as a result of any cutbacks in mental health or learning disability provision.

"The NIO budget for health and its negative impact on mental health and learning disability provision will have a profound effect on the quality of life for this section of the community. There is a growing appreciation within the wider community of the need to facilitate and provide increased access to mainstream health, social services and education for people with a mental health or learning disability. However, it is clear that such an appreciation does not extend to those British ministers in charge of the Six Counties.

"I, and other party colleagues, will be due to meet with NIO health minister, Angela Smith MP, next week in relation to the impact of the budget and we will be very forcibly making the case for the urgent release of additional funding into the health service." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor Joe Reilly has backed calls for an immediate investigation into the selling of land opposite Trim Castle to a developer, which had been designated as a car park, and for which the County Council had received a grant of 63,000 from the Department of the Environment. The Department is now seeking the return of the grant.

Councillor Reilly said:

"Concerns have been raised by people, not just in Trim but across Meath, at revelations that land opposite Trim Castle, which had been designated as a car park and for which the County Council had received a grant for 63,000, was sold to a property developer.

"It is important that people have confidence in how planning and development are being dealt with across the county. This land deal raises many questions, which need to be answered immediately - we need to know the detail of this deal, when and how the land was sold, how the matter was dealt with by the Council and how we proceed from here.

"I want to back calls for an immediate, transparent investigation into the matter."ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel Mc Laughlin MLA has called on Irish Minister, Noel Dempsey and Direct Rule Minister Barry Gardiner to give urgent consideration to the establishment of a single all-Ireland mobile phone Regulator.

Mr Mc Laughlin said:

"I have consistently lobbied successive Ministers in both administrations concerning the problem of inadvertent roaming caused to mobile phone users in close proximity to the border. I have also met with both regulators and all are agreed that there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Barry Gardiner and Noel Dempsey concluded following their last meeting that "an all-Ireland tariff would be the simplest and most effective means" of addressing the problem. They also expressed disappointment that the Service Providers had not made more movement in that direction.

"This being the case it is incumbent on the Ministers to initiate the process by co-operating in the integration of both Regulators into a single all-Ireland Regulatory Body. It is intolerable that government having acknowledged the problem and a means to address it should be waiting for the Providers - who after all are making lucrative profits in the present circumstances - to voluntarily instigate an island wide tariff." ENDS

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