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


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Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh today announced details of the party's Ard Fheis which is taking place at the RDS in Dublin from Friday 27th - Sunday 29th February. He said that it will be one of the biggest Ard Fheis in recent years with more than 2,000 Sinn Féin members expected to attend over the weekend and 306 motions on the agenda. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said "The central message coming out of this Ard Fheis will be Sinn Féin's commitment to seeing the peace process advanced and to preparing for Irish unity and our campaign for radical social and economic change."

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"Today marks the 10th Anniversary of a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis which took place in the Killinarden Community Centre in Tallaght. Centre stage at that Ard Fheis was Sinn Féin‚s peace strategy and our document 'Towards a lasting peace in Ireland' but also dominating daily life was the relentless campaign of unionist paramilitaries and the issue of collusion.

"Ten years on there have been huge advances and the society we live in is, in many ways, very different. But the spectre of the unionist paramilitaries and the attempts by the British establishment to prevent the truth, on years of state sponsored murder, from coming out hangs over a peace process in serious difficulty.

"The theme of the Ard Fheis is 'Building an Ireland of Equals' and the motions on the Clár reflect the parties three main priorities - advancing the peace process, preparing for Irish unity and delivering radical social and economic change. Many motions also reflect anger at the succession of broken promises from the Irish government - the cutbacks, the tax hikes, the erosion of human rights and the creeping privatisation agenda of the coalition government. Delegates will also reflect the anger at the suspension of the institutions in the Six Counties and the need for advances on policing, demilitarisation, human rights and equality.

"The motions also reflect the vibrancy of the party in local communities and the increase in our representation in elected chambers across the country and the alternative that we are putting forward to failed establishment parties. The past year saw significant electoral and political gains for the party in the Assembly elections and Sinn Féin is now the largest pro Agreement party in the Six Counties. This growing support will see us facing into European and Local Government elections ready to build on these advances.

"People are ready for change, they are looking for alternatives anwe need to convince them that there is only one radical alternative, and it is Sinn Féin. That is the message which we will be sending out this weekend."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP today was joined by party colleagues Bairbre de Brún, Mary Lou McDonald and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD in a meeting with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Dublin. Speaking after the meeting Mr McGuinness said 'that the Irish government in particular should not be lining up with anti-Sinn Féin and anti-Peace process elements'.

Mr McGuinness said:

"The anti-peace process and anti-Sinn Fein agenda at work within the PSNI was again evident in the their response to the incident in Belfast on Friday night. The PSNI handling of this incident echoed the orchestrated raids on Sinn Fein offices at Stormont in October 2001, which led to the collapse of the political institutions. Those allegations are now proven to have been without substance.

"Over the weekend, four men arrested on Friday were charged with IRA membership. On the basis of this Hugh Orde alleged IRA involvement. Those charges did not even make it through the first court appearance. They were dropped on Monday morning. The sole purpose of these charges was to allow the PSNI to write the newspaper headlines over the weekend and to manufacture a bogus crisis. Opponents of Sinn Fein and the peace process seized upon this.

" These elements in the PSNI and the British system must be brought to account. The Irish government in particular should not be lining up with anti-Sinn Féin and anti-Peace Process elements. " ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called on the Government to reconsider its decision to restrict the access of migrant workers from EU accession states to the benefits of social protections in view of the EU Commission's concerns that such measures may be illegal.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"The EU Commission has stated that the Government's plan may not be compatible with EU law, as it may contravene EU rules on non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality because the restrictions will only apply to citizens of new member states. If so, and certainly if the Government decision violates Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, it should be reversed. The Government should show more leadership in the EU at this crucial time.

"The Government's plan is unjust. It is hypocritical when you consider the standards by which it expects other countries to abide in their treatment of Irish migrants. It is a betrayal of the hopes for welcome and for equal treatment of the accession states. It goes totally against the idea of a Europe of Equals. It will sour the whole atmosphere of the May enlargement.

"It also represents a politically opportunist and irresponsible U-turn on the position they promoted when they were trying to sell Nice back to the people in the 2002 referendum re-run. At that time the Government rightly argued that we would not be swamped by migrants following enlargement, citing the experience of the 1986 accession which instead prompted a net return of migrant workers to Spain and Portugal as a result of economic improvements. Now, in a pre-election period, the Government is pandering to an accelerating unfounded xenophobic panic about so-called benefit tourism being whipped up to gain votes and sell news. I urge the Cabinet to come to its senses and show some proper leadership in the EU ? if they are capable of this." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy, who is heading the party's campaign to oppose the imposition of water charges has urged people from every walk of life to join the campaign against water charges.

Speaking after attending a Belfast City Hall conference on Water Charges Mr Molloy said:

"Sinn Féin is totally opposed to the introduction of the water charge. We are not alone. Opposition to water charges comes from across the political spectrum, from the voluntary and community sectors and the trade unions. Men and women from all sections of our society oppose the imposition of this form of taxation. It is unfair. The British government have failed to make the case for the water charge.

"British direct rule Ministers say there is no alternative. I disagree. We need to secure the levels of investment comparable to the money they have spent on water services elsewhere and we need to ask what was wrong with the system where payment was incorporated within the rates system with its inbuilt mechanism to protect people on low incomes.

"The British government is attempting to force the people of the Six Counties — who are already saddled with high energy costs, high living costs, high levels of low income and deprivation — to pay for the investment that the British government have refused to put into our water services to bring them up to international and European standards.

"The British government is misleading the public on this issue. They need to come clean and deliver the investment that they have delivered elsewhere to bring water services up to standard. In comparison with Scotland, England and Wales there is a deficit in direct money coming from the British Treasury of some £350 million. Instead we are forced to find £10 million here or £20 million there from within our own hard-pressed budget. It is time for the British government to pay up.

"Direct rule Ministers must listen to the people of the Six Counties, to their elected representatives and the trade unions. I urge people from every walk of life to join the campaign against water charges." ENDS

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Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP MLA has said that the deficit in acute hospital services provision in County Tyrone and South Derry must be addressed.

Speaking after of a meeting between a delegation of Sinn Féin MP's including Gerry Adams, Pat Doherty (West Tyrone) and Michelle Gildernew (Fermanagh South Tyrone) with NIO Health Minister Angela Smith, Mr Adams said:

"The decisions made by British Minister Des Browne stripped acute service provision from county Tyrone. This is not acceptable.

"Sinn Féin has published proposals which we consider would rebalance services available in both Tyrone and South Derry. The primary proposal concerns the location of acute services in a hospital in the area. Our particular preference is for a new build acute service hospital in the area. But we think also that consideration should be given, as an alternative, to the provision of Acute Services in County Tyrone or South Derry in an existing hospital or in a combination of existing hospitals there."

Sinn Féin have also identified what we consider as the absolute minimum level of services which should be available and located in the area. These include:

· 24 hour A & E services

· Maternity services

· Acute medical specialities, including cardiology

· Acute services specialities.

"We told the Minister today that in the interim existing services should be maintained and developed." ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has said that NIO Minster Ian Pearson must produce concrete proposals to address the job loses in Strabane and the long-term problem of unemployment.

Mr Doherty said:

"Strabane has the highest level of unemployment in the Six Counties. The job loses announced at Herdmans comes as a huge blow to the area.

"Ian Pearson must come forward with concrete proposals to address these problems. This requires commitment and it requires resources. Paper commitments are not good enough. People here in Strabane do not want to see a direct rule minister simply go through the motions they want to see concrete commitments to deal with these problems.

"A Taskforce should be established at the earliest opportunity that examines the wider issues of investment in infrastructure, on how we bring investment and jobs into the area and on who we tackle the twin problems of high unemployment and the need to develop the skills base of the local workforce." ENDS

Note to Editors

Pat Doherty led a delegation including members of Strabane District Council and local MLAs to meet Ian Pearson today at the Headquarters of DETI.

Pat Doherty will meet Invest NI tomorrow at 11.30 am in their Belfast City Centre Headquarters to discuss a strategy to bring jobs to the North West.

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Human Rights Issues Caitriona Ruane has accused the SDLP of 'arming the PSNI with weapons of repression'. Ms Ruane's comments come after the SDLP supported the issuing of CS gas to the PSNI.

Ms Ruane said:

"Anybody with a passing knowledge of human rights and civil liberties will well know that arming the PSNI with yet another means of repression is a recipe for disaster.

"Since the SDLP joined the Policing Board the PSNI have began using an even more lethal plastic bullet, they continue to operate under repressive legislation and now they are being issued with CS gas canisters.

" The defence of CS gas by the former SDLP Assembly member and current Policing Board incumbent Joe Byrne was a disgrace. Nationalists across the six counties know only too well the results of the use of this lethel weapon in the past by the RUC and will be angered by the SDLP endorsement of it as an acceptable part of current policing arrangements." ENDS

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Sinn Féín Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy has hit out at remarks by British Secretary of state Paul Murphy concerning last Friday's incident in Belfast.

Mr Murphy said:

"It is not lost on nationalists that Mr Murphy is very quick to deem these events a breach of the Joint Declaration when his government have failed to either implement it or the subsequent sequence agreed last October.

"It is also not lost on nationalists that Mr Murphy is quick to bring the IMC into play and to encourage them to report early to coincide with an election campaign. This confirms our view of the IMC. It is outside the terms of the Agreement and is as was predicted simply a British mechanism to try and dilute the Sinn Féin mandate. How many events involving the unionist paramilitaries or crown forces has Mr Murphy rushed to report to the IMC?

"Mr Murphy is attempting to provide further camouflage to cover the British Government's suspension of the institutions on bogus grounds and their failure to reinstate them. Paul Murphy like Hugh Orde now appears to be feeding into the anti-Sinn Féin and anti-peace process agenda." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport, Seán Crowe TD, has called on the Government to reconsider its decision to cut spending on Public Transport Safety following the tragic weekend events on Wellington Quay.

Deputy Crowe said, "While we await the outcome of the various investigations in to last weekends tragic Dublin Bus accident in which five people lost their lives I believe it is crucial that we put it into the context of over all public transport safety.

"The City of Dublin has undergone an enormous transformation in the last number of years. This has impacted massively on our public transport infrastructure. Increased numbers of buses on our streets and roads being closed off for LUAS construction has meant that logistically it has become more difficult to provide a safe environment for both pedestrians and motorists.

"It is in this context that I believe road safety is paramount as we work towards the developing a truly modern public transport network in the city and across the country. In this regard I would call on the Government to reverse its decision to cut spending on public transport safety by 28% that was announced in the 2004 Book of Estimates published last November."

Speaking about the tragic accident in the Dáil today during Private Notice Questions Deputy Crowe expressed his condolences for the dead and injured and their families. He paid tribute to the response of the emergency services and Dublin Bus. He went on to express concern about what action was taken in relation to reported complaints made to Dublin Bus, Dublin City Council and the Gardai about the safety of the bus stop at Wellington Quay.

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Sinn Féin North West EU candidate and Spokesperson Pearse Doherty, has today expressed deep concern after the European Commission indicated that there would be a significant reduction in Structural Funding for Ireland. The next phase of the funding scheme will run from 2007- 2013, and the border, Midlands and Western Regions will be most affected.

Speaking today, Mr Doherty said:

"Sinn Féin is concerned that from 2007, the European Commission has signaled that Structural Funds will be significantly reduced for the North West and border Regions. Such a reduction in funding will be detrimental to the border and North West regions, which still suffers from poor infrastructure, lower levels of inward investment and a lack of high speed internet access to name a few, in comparison to other regions.

"We are also concerned that some states, led by France and Germany want to cut the EU budget even further. This proposal would almost certainly see funding cease completely. Such a scenario could see a reversal of the effects of past funding, leading to a further decline in the

socio-economic conditions within the region" ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator, Mid Ulster MP Martin McGuinness MLA has said Sinn Fein put proposals on the expansion of the All Ireland Agenda to the Irish and British government today.

Speaking after meeting the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen and British Secretary of State Paul Murphy Mr McGuinness said:

"At the outset of the meeting I raised in the strongest terms my concerns about the political agenda being pursued by elements within the PSNI and the British system. There is an anti-Sinn Féin and anti-peace process agenda at work. These people need to be brought to account. I also raised with Brian Cowen the irresponsible comments made by Michael McDowell which will be seized on by anti-Agreement elements within Unionism.

Turning to the All Ireland Agenda Mr McGuinness said:

"There is good work being done both through the All Ireland bodies and in the agreed areas of co-operation and there is considerable scope for building on that work.

"Consequently, we put detailed proposals contained in a 72 page document to the two governments for the consolidation and expansion of All-Ireland activity. These proposals include developing areas of co-operation and the establishment of additional Implementation bodies covering All Ireland pollution control, Agriculture and Rural Development, Poverty and Energy. These can bring tangible benefits to people across the island of Ireland." ENDS

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Sinn Féin North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan and East Antrim representative Cllr Oliver McMullan have organised a public meeting in The Glens Hotel, Cusendall on Tuesday 24th of February at 7:30 pm to discuss the issues affecting rural communities.

This is part of a series of public meetings that have been organised by Sinn Féin throughout Ireland. Meetings have already taken place in Kerry, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh.

In an open invite to everyone from throughout North and East Antrim Philip McGuigan has said:

"This is a very important public meeting. Sinn Féin has been working hard on rural issues on behalf of farming families throughout the length of Ireland. It is our intention to debate the most pertinent issues that affect the lives of people in Ireland who earn a living from the land. Some of the issues to be raised will include:

  • Common Agricultural Policy and Decoupling.
  • The agricultural status for the North of Ireland
  • Rural Development and access to the countryside
  • Environmental Concerns, including water quality and the likely of the whole of the North being designated as a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone.
  • UK tagging and 'all Island' food promotion.
  • The failure of DARD in tackling major diseases like Tuberculosis and Brucellosis.
  • Fisheries - The right of Irish fishing communities to have access to and fish in the Irish box.

The Sinn Féin panel will include Pat Doherty MP MLA, head of Sinn Féin's national agricultural department, Martin Ferris TD and Cllr Gerry Mc Hugh, Sinn Féin's spokespersons on agriculture and Bairbre de Brún spokesperson on European Affairs.

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Commenting on the announcement by the UPRG of an open ended UDA cessation, Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP said that 'if this statement marks an end to sectarian violence by the UDA then I welcome this. Ultimately people will judge the UDA by their actions in the time ahead.'

Mr McGuinness said:

"Any process of conflict resolution requires collective responsibility and dialogue. Much work has been done by prominent Irish citizens in recent times with representatives of the UDA and I commend those involved.

"If this statement marks an end to sectarian violence by the UDA then I welcome this. Ultimately people will judge the UDA by their actions in the time ahead. The sectarian attacks which the UDA have been orchestrating must be brought to an immediate end." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councilor and EU Candidate for the East constituency, John Dwyer has reacted angrily to reports that the Irish Government is set to introduce restrictions to block eastern Europeans from claiming welfare benefits, when the accession states join the EU on May 1st 2004.

Speaking today, Sinn Féin Councilor and EU Candidate for the East constituency, John Dwyer said:

"The attitude of the Irish Government is deeply disappointing, yet not entirely unsurprising. The Government are quite content to allow migrant workers to come to this country and work, yet are refusing them access to welfare benefits - what if these workers were to be made redundant or are between jobs? What safety net is available to those helping to boost the Irish economy?

"Emigrant workers from the accession states should be entitled to avail of the same welfare and workers rights that exist within and between the current EU states. To deny theses conditions, is a fundamental breach of their human rights.

"The British Government have recently banned migrant workers from claiming benefits for two years, and now the Irish Government look set to replicate this. It seems that when the British lead, the Irish Government follow" ENDS.

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Sinn Féin North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan, who has written to the direct rule Minister asking for a meeting to discuss the Masterplan and other related Tourism matters, has welcomed the publication of the Causeway Coast and Glens plan.

Mr McGuigan said:

"Tourism is extremely important for the economic regeneration and prosperity of this region. In the Giant‚s Causeway we have the only World Heritage site on this island, and yet, to date the full potential for tourism has failed to be realised.

"There is a lot in this plan that is positive and must be welcomed. But it should not be allowed to become a paper exercise like many other consultation exercises.

"There must be commitments to put in place the financial resources required to take this project forward and to develop the infrastructure required to unleash the tourist potential of this area. If this is forthcoming and those within tourism sector work positively together then this can be a beginning to a brighter future for this region. It will benefit the whole of the North Antrim community."

The local MLA who is Sinn Féin‚s spokesperson on Tourism also went on to claim that further All Ireland integration is necessary to build on the momentum of increased visitors to the North.

"Recent figures show a rise in visitors to the North. The figures, however still fall short of what is achievable. Despite the formation of Tourism Ireland as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, All Ireland tourism remains underdeveloped. There needs to be greater integration between Bord Fáilte and the NITB.

"No sector has the potential to develop and enhance the economy on an All Ireland basis more than tourism. Unionist opposition to developing the potential of tourism, can only be dismissed as short sighted and politically driven." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice issues Gerry Kelly has said that last nights UTV Insight programme raised 'extremely serious questions which require immediate answers from the British government'.

Mr Kelly said:

"Last night UTV Insight revealed the exact details of the collapse of the cases against South Down men Martin Brogan and Mark Carroll and Tyrone man Noel Abernethy. The cases showed the PSNI Special Branch and British Army fabricating evidence and the DPP acting to conceal crucial evidence from defence teams.

"It was very clear from the programme and from statements made in court under oath that the PSNI and DPP have been interfering in the work of the Forensic Science Agency, a group which is supposed to be independent.

"Last week I met with Lord Filken, the British Minister with responsibility for the Criminal Justice and Court systems in the north and I raised with him the scandal of the Brogan/Carroll case.

"These cases cannot be taken in isolation and it is my belief that there are other cases where the independence of the forensic evidence presented in court is now under suspicion." ENDS

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Sinn Fein's Dublin EU Candidate, Mary Lou McDonald has reacted angrily to a meeting that took place between EU Justice Ministers in Brussels on Thursday 19th February 2004, which was called to discuss a European CIA (Central Intelligence Agency).

The Austrian Justice Minister, Ernst Strasser, proposed the meeting.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Fein understands that talks on the creation of a European style CIA are at an early stage, but we are extremely concerned that such meetings are taking place. The Austrian Justice Minister, Mr Ernst Strasser has said that such a body would be used to combat 'terrorist attacks'‚ yet Sinn Féin believes that a Euro style CIA would lead to a security super state designed to spy and collate information on citizens within the EU.

"Sinn Féin has tabled a question in the Dail to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, asking the Minister to state the Government‚s position on the matter.

"Sinn Féin is totally opposed to an EU style CIA, and will resist such a body at all opportunities. The EU would be better using its budget to help alleviate poverty and suffering, rather than helping create a culture of finger pointing, suspicion and paranoia." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East Daithí Doolan, speaking today from City Hall where City Council is hosting an information session on the proposed sale of Council flats demanded that consultation with residents and the overall need to tackle the housing crisis be brought centre stage. He said 'Residents must have a say in decisions that are being taken about their own homes not merely invited to information sessions.'

Mr. Doolan said:

"The sale of council flats is a major project and it must not happen without full consultation with tenants, Councillors and NGOs. Major mistakes were made in the sale of council property in England when Thatcher had her way in the 1980s. We must guard against similar mistakes being repeated in Dublin.

"City Council cannot commence the sale of peoples homes without prior consultation. Residents need to have a say in decisions that are being taken about their own homes not merely invited to information sessions. I will be contacting the City Manager about this matter and seeking immediate clarification.

"Sinn Féin will ensure that in any sale of Council property the needs of tenants and those on housing lists are the centre of any process.

In Dublin City housing lists are increasing daily as house prices and private rents continue to rise and homelessness is a growing reality, so we need to ensure that plans being brought forward are aimed at addressing this crisis. It is up to us to avoid any short term sell off which only contributes to this city's problems."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator, Mid Ulster MP Martin McGuinness MLA speaking after meeting the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy has said that Sinn Fein will defend the safeguards and protections in the Agreement.

Mr McGuinness said:

"The Good Friday Agreement is the culmination of an enormous effort by the two governments and the parties to tackle the causes of conflict. It continues to hold the promise of a new beginning for everyone. We should take encouragement from the fact that together through the Peace Process the situation is being transformed.

"The review as set out in the Good Friday Agreement is about improving the delivery of the Agreement. It is not about a renegotiation of the Agreement. It is about how we deliver what is in essence an All Ireland Agreement.

"Sinn Fein will defend the safeguards and protections in the Agreement. They are there to protect against any return to unionist majority rule.

"In today's meeting with Paul Murphy Sinn Fein put forward our views on a number of issues including the reconfiguration of the 10 departments, the creation of a Department of Equality, tax varying powers and the transfer of powers on Policing and Justice. We will share these views with Irish government officials when we meet with them later today." ENDS

Note to Editors

Martin McGuinness, Bairbre de Brún, Geraldine Dougan and Philip McGuigan met with British Secretary of State Paul Murphy and his officials at 11.15 today.

A Sinn Fein delegation will also meet with Irish government officials at 3.30pm today in Stormont.

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Sinn Fein Mid Ulster MP Martin McGuinness MLA has raised concerns about the murder of James McMahon outside Lisburn District Council Offices before Christmas in a meeting with British Secretary of State Paul Murphy.

Speaking after the meeting, requested by Paul Murphy, Mr McGuinness said:

"Officials in both the British and Irish governments know who killed James McMahon. The PSNI know that James was murdered by the UDA. Yet PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde remains silent on the issue.

"This contrasts with Hugh Orde's speedy response to the incident in Belfast on Friday.

"I would remind Hugh Orde that it is not his responsibility to pass judgement on these four men who are now waiting trial." ENDS

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