Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Nuacht

An Chéad Dáil

Here is the much celebrated video shown at Sinn Féin's An Chéad Dáil event in the Mansion House Round Room on January 12, 2019. Sinn Féin former Mayor of Dublin Mícheál Mac Donncha wrote and presents this historic and inspiring reflection of the events of 100 years ago.


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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson, Arthur Morgan TD has called for the abolition of ground rents. Deputy Morgan described ground rents a "an ongoing injustice" and "a hangover from the days of British colonial rule in Ireland".

Speaking in the Dáil today on the Landlord and Tenants (Ground Rents) Bill he said, "Sinn Féin has reiterated our demand for the abolition of ground rents on many occasions in this House and indeed set out our stall on this issue in our submission on property rights to the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution."

"Ground rents represent an ongoing injustice against the people of this state and are a feudal tax, a hangover from the days of British colonial rule in Ireland, and their abolition must be facilitated. Ground rent landlords do not need to be compensated in the event of their abolition. As a legacy of colonialism, ground rents have been unjust from the start. Therefore, to compensate would legitimise what is manifestly unjust. It is to the shame of consecutive governments that over 80 years of self-rule in the 26 counties has not seen this issue dealt with.

"Householders whose leases are about to expire are placed in an unacceptable position whereby they are forced to choose between buying a freehold on their house for one eighth of its value or signing a new lease for a drastically increased rent. With the value of houses going up, people whose leases are due to expire are justifiably angry and concerned. The alternative for those who cannot afford to buy out the expired lease is to sign a renewal of the lease for 35 years.

"The formula for the new ground rent per annum is computed on the basis of the open market rental value of the house. Many of those who find themselves in this invidious position are elderly and have no income other than their pension. They spend their remaining days in fear, yet the Government says there is nothing it can do.

"Various Government Minister have given the excuse of possible constitutional difficulties as a reason for long fingering this long overdue legislation. I would call on the Government to bring forward legislation now and allow it to be tested in the Supreme Court as was done with Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2002. If it is unconstitutional we can then proceed to a constitutional referendum to allow for such legislation. Sinn Féin will continue to hound the Government until the abolition of ground rents is realised and subjection of citizens of this state to unjust tyranny from ground rent landlords is at an end.‰"ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights has described the Disability Bill debate in the Dáil as a "sham" and accused the Government of "cynically drawing the Disability sector into a futile and pointless two year round of discussions".

He also said they had "betrayed" the trust of all those who had engaged in the process in good faith. Deputy Ó Snodaigh made his comments as the Dáil debate drew to a close and following the ruling out of order of a number of constructive amendments to the Bill made by Sinn Féin. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "It is with considerable regret that I feel it necessary to label the whole debate on the Disability Bill currently before the Dáil as a sham but unfortunately there is no other word to describe it.

While everybody else acted in good faith and engaged in a process on the basis of trying to achieve the best possible outcome for people with disabilities the Government has betrayed that trust. "Not only have they misled the Disability Legislation Consultation Group but they have cynically drawn the entire disability sector into a futile and pointless two year round of discussions. Not only is that outrageous it is entirely unforgivable. "

The archaic rules of the Dáil which have ensured that serious amendments to the Bill couldn't be taken has further compounded the matter as virtually no debate of substance can take place. The dismissal of a large number of Sinn Féin and other opposition party amendments, which would have had the effect of addressing many of the issues of concern to the Disability sector, on the grounds that they may "potentially‚ involve a cost to the Exchequer" is absurd when you look at some of the issues concerned. "

One of the over 30 Sinn Féin amendments ruled out of order was in regard to the ring-fencing of funds, something that this Government seems only to willing to do in relation to the horse and greyhound industry. Another amendment called for the Bill to adopt the same definition of disability that is already used in the Equal Status Act. And another amendment called for Disability Services to be provided in a manner consistent with Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which the Government is already bound by." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport, Seán Crowe TD, has welcomed the fact that the Government has stopped dithering on the issue of the second terminal and has given the go ahead for the Dublin Airport Authority to build it. However he accused the Government of an "act of sabotage" over its declared intention to sell off a majority stake in the national airline.

Deputy Crowe said, "First of all I would like to welcome the fact that the Government has finally stopped dithering on the issue of the second terminal and at long last made a decision. It is also to be welcomed that the building of the second terminal and its ownership will remain in the hands of those most experienced and capable of running it on behalf of and in the interests of the Irish people - namely the Dublin Airport Authority. I firmly believe that they should be allowed to get on with the process of running it as well without the need to engage in a wasteful and time consuming tendering process.

"However, I am more concerned about the issue, which the Government has slipped in to this announcement with little or no advance fanfare. That is the privatisation of Aer Lingus. The decision to sell off a majority stake in the company is nothing short of an act of sabotage against a vital piece of national and strategic infrastructure. I can‚t help thinking that this particular announcement today is the price the workers at Aer Lingus and their families as well as the Irish taxpayer is going to be forced to pay to save the embarrassed blushes of the PDs, who didn't get their way on the second terminal.

"You only have to look at the debacle surrounding the sale of Eircom to see that the privatisation agenda of this Government in the short, medium and long-term only favours the speculative vultures who are only too ready to pounce on attractive state assets, which were built up over the years by the hard pressed taxpayer." ENDS

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Supporting the Labour Party Private Members Motion on cost overruns of major infrastructural projects, in the Dáil this evening, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said, the real disgrace around the issue was that the "astronomical" sums squandered "could and should have been spent on providing the services so desperately needed by the most vulnerable in our society including disabled people, children with special needs and the elderly." Deputy Ó Caoláin accused developers of exploiting publicly funded projects and said it was Government policies and practices that facilitated it. The Government he said, "should hang their heads in shame."

Full text of contribution to Labour Party Private Members Business motion on Cost over-runs

The Sinn Féin Deputies fully support this motion.

The massive profiteering by developers who exploit publicly funded projects is something I have raised repeatedly as my party's spokesperson on finance. I have raised it here in the Dáil chamber and in the Finance and Public Service Committee.

Today at Taoiseach's Questions we heard once again the astronomical cost to the State of sitting tribunals -- some €200 million to date, and the metre is still running. We also heard the Taoiseach outline the deals done between the Government and the various tribunals in an effort to cut down on the legal costs. That was something I and other Deputies repeatedly raised. Finally the Government took action, but how much of that €200 million would have been saved if the Government had listened to Deputies here and acted much earlier to modify the massive fees being paid to tribunal lawyers?

Astronomical as the costs of the tribunals are they pale beside the monumental cost over-runs identified in this motion. And in many ways what has been happening under the so-called Celtic Tiger far exceeds the abuses that the planning and payments-to-politicians tribunals are investigating. The scandal is compounded by the fact that most of this is perfectly legal and has been facilitated by the policies and practices of the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government.

The Government's response, both in the amendment and in the contributions in the chamber, has been totally disingenuous. They are trying to paint the supporters of the motion in the wrong by claiming that we oppose development and oppose new and improved infrastructure. But nobody is arguing that our transport infrastructure and every other aspect of infrastructure should not be developed. On the contrary, we want to see this being done in a timely, efficient, equitable and properly planned manner. The issue here is about the cost and the mismanagement of projects.

The last paragraph of the Minister's amendment talks about his plans to introduce targeted reforms to the procurement of public construction contracts and reform and modernisation of the system for employing construction-related consultants. But, like the reform of tribunal lawyers fees, it is coming very late in the day and it is coming when the profiteers have made their money.

Perhaps the most shocking figure in the Prime Time programme was the estimation for the average cost over-run for National Roads Authority projects at 86%. An international expert in this field stated that globally the average over-run on such projects would be 20%. In this country the developers and consultants have been making profits undreamed of anywhere else in Europe and all at the taxpayers' expense. They have been facilitated by the neglect of this Government. And they have been facilitated by the creation of the biggest quango in this country -- the National Roads Authority. The NRA is funded by monies voted by this Dáil yet no Minister is accountable to the Dáil for the decisions of that body. It is about to drive a motorway through the historic Tara-Skryne Valley, a heartland of our national heritage, and no Minister will stand accountable for that decision in this Oireachtas.

The same Pontius Pilate exercise has been carried out in our health services. The Health Service Executive is the new quango designed to screen the Minister for Health and Children from her responsibility to this Dáil.

On a weekly basis scores of questions which we raise on behalf of our constituents are being kicked to touch and sent to the Health Service Executive to respond to in its own time and in its own way and as it sees fit. Every Deputy here could wallpaper their office with the stock two-sentence replies referring everything to the HSE.

If there was proper scrutiny and accountability in the Oireachtas many of the scandals referred to in this motion would not have happened. Massive sums of public money were lost due to private profiteering from public projects. The Government has also wasted public money directly on pet projects like Punchestown, on bungled efforts such as e-voting, and on sweetheart deals such concluded with the religious orders.

The real disgrace is that those squandered sums could and should have been spent on providing the services so desperately needed by the most vulnerable in our society including disabled people, children with special needs and the elderly. Last week before I was ejected from this chamber, the Taoiseach failed to answer my challenge on the Disability Bill. I pointed out that he was wrong to say that no legislation had ring-fenced funding for any sector. The Taoiseach was wrong. It was done for the Horse and Greyhound industry where revenue raised in that sector is guaranteed by law to be ploughed back into it by the Government. But in the economy of greed fostered by this Government what can be done for the betting industry cannot be done for the disabled men, women and children of Ireland. They should hang their heads in shame."

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Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald commended the Leader and the Seanad, Mary O'Rourke for holding a debate on the EU Constitution to which she had invited the MEPs from the 26 Counties to participate. However, Ms McDonald said, "On the next occasion that we meet, I hope each of the 16 MEPs elected in Ireland will have the opportunity to participate in this debate.

She went on to point out that Referenda on the constitutional treaty will take place North and South, which meant that for the first time, all voters in Ireland will be asked to give their verdict on European matters. In light of that, she said, "It is important that the debate and consideration is all-Ireland in nature."

Speaking to the main issue of the EU Constitution Ms McDonald said, "The debate is not about whether we are pro-European or anti-European it is about the nature of the EU as a political project. It is a project that must be closely attached and in line with popular wishes and demands. The constitution brings us to a fork in the road. I believe another Europe is possible.

"A desire exists among sections of the political elite to establish a de facto federal Europe. I do not express the countervailing view with the intention of being awkward or irritating Members of this Chamber but because I do not believe that such a European Union would be in the best interests of people in Ireland or other jurisdictions.

"Earlier this week, Sinn Féin outlined its position and expressed its determination to campaign for a "No" vote in this referendum. The reasons for this relate to democracy, the militarisation of the EU and matters of economic policy.

"The Laeken declaration told us that the Convention would consider how to address the democratic deficit. It is accepted that a democratic malaise lies at the heart of the European Union. The Convention was to solve this problem but has failed to do so.

"The Commission is not bound to withdraw or amend a proposal should national parliaments exercise a yellow card. The constitution has chosen to overlook solutions to the democratic deficit. If it is passed, it will do nothing to remedy the democratic malaise at the heart of the European Union.

"I have been criticised for scaremongering on the issue of militarisation but have done nothing of the sort. The constitution includes a special place for NATO. A UN mandate is not required for European operations. A provision exists for a European armaments agency. A requirement is placed on member states to increase military capabilities. This, to my logic, suggests an increase in military spending.

"I reject the suggestion that the economic dogma which is currently at the heart of the EU project should be set in a constitutional text. I think this is unprecedented and inappropriate."

Ms McDonald concluded by calling on "the Government to bring forward, as speedily as possible, the referendum Bill and ask for the early announcement of a date for the referendum." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality, Human Rights and Women, South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane has challenged British direct rule Minster Shaun Woodward to address the deplorable conditions of women prisoners housed in Ash House and to bring in the new powers for the Human Rights Commission that would allow it to follow up on its damming report into the conditions of women prisoners.

Ms Ruane said:

"After visiting women in Hydebank to inspect conditions for women prisoners last month it was clear that the conditions that women prisoners are being kept in is very serious.

"Sinn Féin have serious concerns that the Human Rights Commission has still not been given unrestricted access to Hydebank to allow it to follow-through on its' very critical report into conditions for women last year in Maghaberry that raised very serious concerns about the treatment of women prisoners.

"Women prisoners were moved from Maghaberry, where they had their own discrete facility with in-cell sanitation, to Hydebank Wood Male Young Offenders Centre last June. In Hydebank there is no in-cell sanitation and women must rely on prison staff to unlock them during night time to use toilet/washing facilities.

The situation now is that women prisoners:

  • Do not have their own discrete unit but are in close proximity to male prisoners
  • Do not have the same educational and training facilities as the male prisoners
  • Do not have adequate facilities for women with babies or separate/appropriate health care facilities
  • Are Being subjected to strip-searches more frequently than when they were held in Maghaberry prison
  • The punishment wing and the wing housing women at risk from self-harm are on the same wing and landing.
  • Transport to court along with male prisoners and being subjected to verbal sexual assault

"The mantle of secrecy needs to be lifted and the British government need to move immediately to provide the commission with statutory power to access that it agreed to in December.

"I am very disturbed at the conditions that women prisoners are being housed in. It is clear that the mental health and well being of women is not being adequately catered for. I am also very angry at what appears to be a total breakdown in the prison regime regarding women at risk from self-harm. The Human Rights Commission raised all of these issues. Yet, still there appears to be no action.

"Sinn Féin has campaigned consistently and raised in every negotiation that the commission be given the power of access to places of detention, including prisons, juvenile justice centres and mental healthcare facilities. In December, following the most recent negotiations, Sinn Féin received confirmation from British Minister John Spellar that legislation would be brought forward to provide the commission with the power of access to places of detention.

"There should be no further delay in allowing the commission to exercise this power and there should be no further delay in the British Government responding comprehensively to the gambit of outstanding powers required by the Human Rights Commission which we have consistently raised for the past five years.

"This is the challenge to Shaun Woodward.

"Sinn Féin believes that a new facility for women prisoners, as supported by the United Nations recently, should be provided to cater for the specific needs of women." ENDS

Note to Editors

The Human Rights Commission's research and investigations officers Dr Phil Scraton and Dr Linda Moore produced a damning report in October last year entitled 'The Hurt Inside' regarding the conditions under which women in Maghaberry Prison had been held.

The researchers have been denied access by the Prison Regime to Hydebank Wood since the women were moved last June in order that they can follow-up their work and assess the circumstances under which women are now being detained. The Human Rights Commission again confirmed to Sinn Fein that it was being denied access as recently as March 16th.

Sinn Féin, via letter to British government minister Ian Pearson called on him to allow the Human Rights Commission, in its own right as a Human Rights

Commission, full access to Hydebank. His response was complacent and he denied that the POA was refusing the researchers access.

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Sinn Féin has put forward a number of significant amendments to the Disability Bill, which will have the effect of making it rights-based legislation, consistent with the recommendations of the Disability Legislation Consultation Group and the 1996 report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said

"Since the Government has made an atrocious mess of this Bill yet again, having refused to heed the just demands of people with disabilities, their families and their representative groups, the aim of our amendments is to correct for the ten fundamental flaws identified by the Disability Legislation Consultation Group, and to bring the legislation into line with their considered recommendations and those of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities.

"While there is consensus between the opposition parties on a number of key issues, Sinn Féin is the only party to propose amendments adopting the recommendations to establish an independent Disability Support Service and to impose a statutory duty on all bodies providing public services and operating public buildings to promote equality for people with disabilities, in addition to their obligation not to discriminate against them.

"In the latter case, we will argue that it is incumbent on the Government, who has an obligation under the Good Friday Agreement to introduce legislation equivalent to Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 which imposes a statutory duty.

"The Sinn Féin amendments reflect our commitment to introduce rights-based disability legislation consistent with our amendments at a future date in Government." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin Sinn Féin Representative, Councillor Daithí Doolan, has today welcomed, "the latest developments in the battle to get mobile phone companies to engage with communities."

Cllr. Doolan outlined:

"Following a major public meeting last night, it was agreed to launch a citywide campaign to ensure that mobile phone companies consult with local communities before any masts are installed. For too long residents are the last to find out and their concerns go unaddressed. Last night's meeting heard residents from across Dublin demand that the government amend legislation to ensure companies can no longer simply move in and erect a mast with out notifying anyone. We are very worried about the side effects of these masts, yet no one even bothers to address these genuine concerns. Evidence has been presented which seriously challenges the safety of these masts, yet no one has to answer these allegations.

"We intend to take this campaign all the way to the government, Ministers can no longer ride rough shod over people's rights and feel they are immune from residents anger. The campaign will be coordinated across Dublin and then we hope build a national alliance. The days of excluding residents are over''

In conclusion Cllr. Doolan, demanded the government, "to review the legislation that makes public and commercial buildings exempt from planning permission when installing mobile phone masts." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. today raised the issue of legislative deficiencies in respect of the management of apartment complexes with the Minister of State responsible for Housing Noel Ahern.

Deputy Morgan asked the Minister if he accepted that inadequate legislation in respect of the management of apartment complexes in the private sector (including in the community and voluntary sector) is a serious matter, which must be addressed as a matter of urgency given the growing number of such developments particularly in the Dublin region.

Deputy Morgan said, "There is the same necessity to regulate the management of apartment complexes as there is for regulating the private rented sector.

"If apartment living is to become a viable option for the future, people need to be assured that the management companies of such complexes will be accountable and that they will be protected against extortionate management fees.

"Will the Minister and his Department commit to carrying out an assessment of the problems related to the management of apartment complexes? Will the Government commit to acting on any recommendations for the Law Reform Commission?

In reply to Deputy Morgan‚s question the Minister of State with responsibility for Housing Noel Ahern T.D. said that a Law Reform Commission Working Group was currently examining the law in relation to management of apartment complexes and other multi-unit developments and that the Law Reform Commission has suggested to the Company Law Review Group certain modifications in the application of general company law requirements to management companies for multi-unit developments

Following his questioning of the Minister, Deputy Morgan said, "There are serious problems in relation to the management of apartment complexes that need to be nipped in the bud. It is disappointing that the Minister in his reply would not commit to carrying out the neccessary assessment of the problems related to the management of apartment complexes." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP along with senior negotiator Martin McGuinness MP, party Vice President Pat Doherty MP, Michelle Gildernew MP, Conor Murphy MP and Mary Lou McDonald MEP will meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair tomorrow, Thursday 19th May, in Downing Street.

Sinn Fein will hold a Press Conference tomorrow at 12 noon in the Jubilee Rooms at the British House of Commons.

There will a briefing for the Foreign Press Association at 2.30pm at 11 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1 given by Gerry Adams, Conor Murphy and Mary Lou McDonald

There will be a briefing for US correspondents at 3pm in Room W 2 at the British House of Commons given by Martin McGuinness, Michelle Gildernew and Pat Doherty.

The Sinn Féin delegation will meet the British Prime Minster at 4.30pm in Downing Street.

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Sinn Féin Dáil Group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has welcomed today's debate in the Seanad on the proposed EU Constitution but said that the decision not to invite MEPs from the Six Counties was short-sighted particularly given the fact that all of Ireland will be voting on this issue in referenda, north and south.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "The proposed EU Constitution will have profound consequences for all of Ireland and it is vital that people across the island are included in the debate. Today's debate in the Seanad is very welcome but the decision not to include MEPs from the Six Counties was short-sighted particularly given the fact that all of Ireland will be voting on this issue in referenda, north and south.

"Sinn Féin believes that the potential benefits of an all-Ireland approach to the EU are immense particularly in terms of agriculture, economic development, infrastructure and structural funding. It makes sense that all 16 MEPs on the island debate the way forward together.

"It is also time for the Irish government to move ahead with their commitment to facilitiate Northern representation in the Oireachtas, something advocated by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution." ENDS

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Speaking in response to the derogatory comments of Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Conor Lenihan regarding Turkish migrant workers in the Dail today, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on International Affairs Aengus O Snodaigh TD said:

"The Minister of State's comments were disgraceful, and it is only right if he subsequently withdrew them. I should also expect him to issue a public apology to Turkish people and others of Middle Eastern origin living and working and paying taxes in Ireland, as well as a formal apology to the Turkish Ambassador.

"Of course, racist jokes are not funny, and racist comments are never acceptable on the part of public representatives. Yet this kind of behaviour continues - largely without sanction from party leadership. What we need is for all the political parties to educate their membership from top to bottom about the obligations we are all under having signed up to the Anti-Racism Protocol for Political Parties, and also to enforce the obligations through disciplinary procedure. I urge the Taoiseach to respond with his view of this.

"I wish I could express surprise, but this is not the first such serious lapse of judgment from this Minister of State, who I earlier criticised when he disparaged Ireland's development organisations for advocating on behalf of the world's poor.

"What else can we expect from a Government whose Minister for Justice and Equality not only doesn't believe in equality, but actually believes that inequality is good." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has welcomed this mornings publication by Trócaire of its research into the impact of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). And the Sinn Féin leader has urged the Irish and British governments to lead by example and move quickly to honour the commitments they made five years ago at the Millennium summit on issues around debt, aid and trade.

The Trócaire report, 'More than a Numbers Game? - Ensuring that the Millennium Development Goals address Structural Injustice', confirms that what is urgently needed is for all of the 189 governments, but especially the developed nations, who signed up to the Millennium Declaration five years ago to keep to the commitments they made then.

At that time world leaders agreed achievable goals for development and poverty eradication to be achieved by 2015. These also included halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, increasing the availability of safe drinking water and improved education provision for children.

However, Trócire's report, as well as others by the United Nations, show that most countries are falling behind these targets.

Urgent action is needed to reverse this trend. This means in particular the cancellation of the enormous burden of debt suffered by developing nations.

It also means ensuring the provision of more aid, better targeted and sustained. In addition the world trading system has to be reformed. It places poorer nations at a distinct disadvantage to the larger nations, as well as to the huge multi-national corporations. Globalisation prioritises profit over human need and sacrifices the poor and vulnerable on the altar of the marketplace.

If money used to pay off foreign debt were diverted back into health and education, and the other goals set by the Millennium Summit were implemented, the lives of seven million children could be saved each year. That is the lives of 1000 children every hour, of every day, of every week could be saved.

Trócaire's report is an important contribution to the necessary debate around efforts to end these injustices." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams this morning led a party delegation Michelle Gildernew and Gerry Kelly to meet with the US Special envoy Mitchell Reiss in Belfast.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Adams said:

"We welcomed the opportunity to meet with Mr. Reiss and brief him on the current situation. From our discussions I am confident that the US administration remains committed to the peace process and to playing a constructive role in support for efforts to rebuild it.

"Tomorrow we will be in London to meet Mr. Blair. Sinn Féin is intent on achieving the re-establishment of the power sharing Executive, the political institutions and the all-Ireland Bodies. I told Mr. Reiss that while we all await the outcome of the IRA's internal discussion, others have responsibilities also - not least the British and Irish governments and the DUP. Sinn Féin is determined to rebuild the peace process.

"We want to resolve all of the outstanding issues. This will require a collective effort to move it forward. It will particularly require the British government to demonstrate to the DUP a determination to push ahead with the implementation of those aspects of the Agreement, demilitarisation, equality, human rights, collusion, Irish language policing and justice, irrespective of that party's attitude to the political institutions."

The Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams also took the opportunity to brief Mr. Reiss on the situation in the Basque country. Mr. Adams was there several months ago and met the President of the Basque region Mr. Juan Jose Ibarretxe and the leader of Batasuna, Arnaldo Otegi.

" It is our view that an opportunity exists to make progress in that situation and yesterdays vote in the Spanish Parliament, and the outcome of the recent elections in the Basque country, are further evidence of that." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson and MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today said that 'the need for reform of the welfare system reopens the debate about the role of women within society in general'. Ms McDonald made her comments after attending a protest organized by the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) calling for reform of the Social Welfare system.

Those calling for reform of the system delivered letters to the Minister for Finance outlining their concerns.

Speaking after the protest today Ms McDonald said:

"Women continue to suffer discrimination and inequality with Irish society. Women suffer disproportionately in the workplace through unequal pay with their male counterparts, are more likely to fall into the poverty trap, suffer as a result of physical, sexual and psychological abuse and many rural women continue to be disadvantaged resulting from a lack of services and a sense of isolation.

"Today's protest by the NWCI sought to highlight the inherently unequal social welfare system in this state, and in particular the need for women to have an independent entitlement to income. Reform of the welfare system is necessary if we are to adequately address poverty and inequality, which disproportionately affect women.

"The need for reform of the welfare system reopens the debate about the role of women within society in general. Last month Sinn Féin launched a Women's Document designed to address many of these core issues." ENDS

Sinn Féin will campaign for:

. Introduction of a system of paid parental leave

. Unpaid caring work to be legally acknowledged, measured and paid for in economic terms

. A renewed focus on preventative healthcare and significant increase in resources for health and social services

. Government funded childcare facilities and government subsidies for employers wishing to provide facilities on site

. Mainstream funding for all frontline and community services which support women and children affected by violence

. All-Ireland initiatives to eliminate gender differentiation and promote the development of a wider range of educational and career choices for girls and young women

. Rights based guidelines for pension policy to reflect the differential labour market position of women

. The development of a local services and information infrastructure to cater for the health, welfare and social needs of rural communities

. Targets and timescales to be set for achieving equality of representation for women in all aspects of public and political life

. Equality of outcome in employment, education and training

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD today welcomed the fact that missing correspondence between the Irish and British Governments in relation to the review of the investigation into the 1991 assassination of Donegal County Councillor Eddie Fullerton by Loyalists had resurfaced after queries from Sinn Féin.

However Deputy Ó Snodaigh was also critical of the Minister for Justice for refusing to answer his other direct questions in relation to the case in the Dáil today.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "I welcome the news that a request for information and cooperation from the Irish to the British Government in relation to the assassination of Eddie Fullerton has now resurfaced following my having raised the matter with the Minister last month.

"However I am sure the Fullerton family will share my disappointment that the Minister for Justice refused to answer my other questions as to when the request was originally forwarded by the Irish Government and, now that it has been officially received, when we can expect a response from the British authorities.

"Eddie Fullerton was an elected representative of the Irish people. He was a well-known and well-respected County Councillor in Donegal. There are serious questions that need to be answered surrounding the circumstances of his assassination - not least the role British agents may have had in it and the manner in which the original investigation was carried out.

"It is therefore all the more unacceptable that the Minister for Justice today refused point blank to release the contents of the interim Garda report into that investigation, categorically stated that he will not publish the final report, and moreover that he refused to give a reason for this decision following a direct question from me. Such an attitude can only fuel public concern and suspicions about what the Irish and British authorities might have to hide in relation to this case."ENDS

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Speaking during Leaders Questions in the Dáil this afternoon Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD, described as "provocative" the threat by the Health Service Executive to withhold payments due to nurses and midwives under the Sustaining Progress agreement. He called on the Government to instruct the Executive to withdraw the threat and to resume engagement with the Irish Nurses Organisation immediately.

Questioning the Minister for Finance, who was standing in for the Taoiseach today during Leaders Questions, Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "The Health Service Executive is to withhold payments due to nurses and midwives under the Sustaining Progress agreement and under benchmarking which fall due on 1 June 2005." And asked, "What is the Minister's view of this provocative action? Is he aware that this decision has led to the threat of industrial action by nurses and midwives?"

He went on to call on the Government to „instruct the Health Service Executive to immediately withdraw this threat and instruct them to resume engagement with the Irish Nurses Organisation on the healthcare assistant training programme and to provide for further discussion, involving the relevant regulatory bodies and stakeholders, to resolve the remaining issues as quickly as possible."

Pointing out that 181 people were on trolleys in A&E departments yesterday, Deputy Ó Caoláin commended the nurses and midwives for their "Enough is Enough' campaign which he said „has won widespread public support and which has highlighted the dire situation in Accident and Emergency units, an ongoing crisis which persists despite commitments from the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to ensure substantial improvements." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Environment Spokesperson, South Down MLA Willie Clarke has said that the increases in the cost of processing planning applications will particularly damage rural communities.

Mr Clarke said:

"The way that the planning service is operating at the moment is creating huge difficulties. They are long delays and particularly in rural areas there is widespread concern at the impact of current policy of maintaining viable rural communities.

"Sinn Féin these increases will make it even more difficult for rural communities to survive and thrive.

"Sinn Féin have repeatedly called for rural families to be treated more sympathetically by planners and have voiced concerns at the impact of the draft area plans will have in holding back rural development.

"At present rural communities are being decimated, the populace is no longer being allowed to live on the land due to the restrictions that have been placed on single dwellings in the countryside. Genuine families are being punished because of multi applications of greedy property speculators. Provision must be made for people who want to live in the countryside.

"Rural community plans have to be put in place where the community decides what it requires and needs developed in partnership with all the statuary agencies. If single dwellings are to be restricted, then we must provide the development of sympathetic hamlets, along with all the necessary services. The people's voices must be heard if we are to halt the demise of sustainable rural communities.

"These inflation busting increases will further damage rural communities in particular." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Human Rights and Equality Spokesperson, South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane has said that Sinn Féin are fundamentally opposed to the introduction of British ID cards. Ms Ruane said:

"Sinn Féin are fundamentally opposed to the introduction of any voluntary or compulsory British ID card. Proposed Westminster legislation would involve creating a UK-wide database holding information on individuals such as names, addresses, and biometric information like fingerprints, facial scans and iris scans by 2008.

"Under the Good Friday Agreement people in the North have the right to Irish or British identity (or both). Far from being an effective tool for anything, these cards would undermine not just civil liberties but also fundamentally the right of people living in the north to their Irish identity. Should Irish citizens in the North have to carry such a British ID card or there is there any basis for the British government have the right to hold biometric and other information on Irish citizens?

"The costs would also be considerable, individually and possibly to our overstretched local budget.

"The track record of the British government on delivering any similar computerised scheme, for example such as the Tax Credits system, has already proven to be deeply flawed. I wouldn't trust the government to introduce this measure in a sensible confidential manner. Any system the government has introduced involving technology in the past few years has been shambolic.

"Also within the context of a deeply divided and sectarian society the opportunity for authorities here to abuse a database of this nature and the ability of agencies such as the PSNI to use such information or ID cards to discriminate against nationalist is huge.

"The argument that this will tackle fraud is bogus. We heard these arguments when the British government introduced new electoral legislation that resulted in thousands of nationalists and young people being disenfranchised. People who fall through the system will become truly excluded and marginalised from society." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Butler has today said that his party will "call on the British government to appoint an administrator to run Lisburn council if there is no change in council practices after this week's council AGM".

Speaking today Councillor Butler said:

"Sinn Féin will call on the British government to appoint an administrator to run Lisburn council if there is no change after this week's council AGM. The Irish government will also be asked to back our proposals and to push the British on this issue.

"I am calling upon the other political parties on Lisburn council, the SDLP, Alliance and UUP to join with Sinn Fein to block the DUP's politics of exclusion. Jeffrey Donaldson will lead the DUP into Lisburn council with the sole intention of turning the council into a unionist fiefdom dominated by the DUP. The other parties on the council should not breach the principle of inclusivity or be involved in any sordid side deals with the DUP which will exclude the largest nationalist party on the council - Sinn Féin.

"Tomorrow's AGM will test whether or not the DUP is really committed to sharing power with nationalists. At present there is no evidence that the DUP is willing to share power. Sinn Féin will step up its campaign against Lisburn Council if it is once again excluded from council positions.

"We are calling upon the British government to appoint an administrator to run the council until they bring in legislation that makes it binding on councils like Lisburn to have in place power sharing arrangements and other checks and balances to curb discrimination in relation to council services and facilities. The Irish government should also raise this with the British government and call for legislation to bring about power sharing in local government.

"Lisburn council has been a bastion of unionist discrimination in the North. Nationalists living in this borough have experienced at first hand this systematic practice of discrimination." ENDS

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