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 spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, speaking at a public meeting organised by the Limerick Parents and Friends of the Mentally Handicapped has pledged Sinn Féin's support to the scrapping of the current Disability Bill and for the introduction of rights-based legislation.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "Sinn Féin is attending this meeting tonight to offer our unwavering support to all those who have been campaigning and continue to fight for rights-based disability legislation. We strongly opposed the recent Disability Bill before the Dáil and we are here tonight to make a commitment to people with disabilities and to their family, friends and supporters that if we are a party in Government after the next election that we will seek to have the current Bill scrapped and have rights-based legislation introduced in its place.

"As part of our campaign work in highlighting the deficiencies of the Government's flawed Disability Bill and detailing our opposition to it we are currently in the process of printing and delivering over 100,000 newsletters across the 26 Counties." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has this morning reacted to the delay in the announcement of the smoking ban by expressing her disappointment.

However, Ms de Brún said that it was "a small first step in the right direction". Ms de Brún made her comments after Shaun Woodward announced that he would be delaying the decision on a smoking ban in the 6 Counties to assess whether to introduce a full or partial ban.

Speaking today the former Assembly Health Minister said:

"Today's announcement on the introduction of a smoking ban is only a small first step, but should be welcomed as a move towards a health conscious society. The British Government initiated a consultation period a number of months ago and received 70,000 responses. A resounding 91% of those who responded were in favour of a total smoking ban on public places. Such an overwhelming response should be enough to ensure a full ban, rather than a partial ban.

"I fail to understand why Mr Woodward has taken the opportunity to make a key note speech concerning a smoking ban, if he is delaying the decision until he receives further information. This research should have been conducted and fully concluded before this announcement.

"Following the success of the smoking ban in the 26 Counties and the recent decision by the Scottish Executive to introduce a similar ban, there is a growing realization in the 6 Counties that such legislation would be practical and extremely beneficial to the health of all workers. The health and well being of all our citizens should be of paramount importance to those who make decisions on their behalf.

"Health professionals are calling for a ban and the general public is overwhelmingly calling for a ban. There is no conceivable reason why a full ban should not be implemented immediately." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Dublin City Councillor Tony Smithers today received a commitment from Assistant Dublin City Manger Brendan Kenny that any lands owned by Dublin City Council must include provision for social housing if approval is to be granted for such lands to be developed for housing.

The concession is extremely significant in light of the government's recently announced and controversial plans to sell off publicly owned sites to property developers in return for allegedly 'affordable' housing units elsewhere.

Councillor Smithers had previously campaigned successfully over a protracted period for social housing to be included in a large planned housing development in Cherry Orchard in West Dublin. Smithers today said that his victory in relation to the inclusion of a social housing provision for Cherry Orchard was a significant milestone in mainstreaming the principle of social housing in all developments relating to publicly owned lands.

The latest advance in the cause of social housing was made at today's meeting of the City Council's Housing Strategic Policy Committee (SPC). Speaking afterwards Councillor Smithers said:

"This city is still in the midst of a housing crisis which is causing real hardship for thousands of families. The housing crisis should be the key political issue for Dublin City and County and indeed a key issue at government level. Instead we have got inaction, prevarication and gimmicks such as that announced by Minister for State Noel Ahern last week where wealthy developers are being handed publicly owned sites in the centre of Dublin in exchange for so-called 'affordable' housing units to be built in far flung suburbs or commuter belts." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has welcomed the vote by The Environment Council today against all 8 proposals from the EU Commission on genetically modified organisms. She said this is a green light for the campaign to ensure that Ireland is declared a GM free zone.

Ms Gildernew said:

"Sinn Féin have consistently argued that farmers and consumers have much to lose from the introduction of GM crops and organisms into our environment. It is a position that is consistently supported by scientific evidence. By the same token there is much to gain in declaring Ireland a GM free zone, particularly in developing and building upon the internationally recognisable clean green image of Irish produce.

"Sinn Féin have also consistently argued that GM free status should be taken forward on an all-Ireland basis because the introduction of any GM organism within any part of the island would fundamentally impact on the existing environment and biodiversity of the natural habitat.

"The vote of The Environment Council today to reject all 8 of the proposals from the EU Commission on genetically modified organisms and in essence to support the right of member states to ban GM organisms and crops is a green light for the campaign to ensure that Ireland is declared a GM free zone." ENDS

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Sinn Féin today held a conference at Parliament Buildings Stormont to highlight the need for a suicide prevention strategy for the north, as well as one which will encompass the entire island.

Among those attending were relatives and friends of victims of suicide and self-harm, as well as community groups and activists specialising in this area of work.

Speaking at the conference the Sinn Féin President and West Belfast MP Gerry Adams said:

"Ireland has the second highest rate of suicide in Europe. There were 577 reported deaths by suicide in Ireland in the year 2003-2004. That death toll is greater than the number of people killed in traffic accidents over the same period. And suicide is the biggest killer of our young people in Ireland.

West and North Belfast have been particularly badly affected. Since the beginning of this year, it is reported that about 60 people have taken their own lives in the six counties. Reports would indicate that perhaps as many as one third of those deaths were in north and west Belfast. The rate of suicide is 50% higher than average in west and north Belfast.

This puts into perspective the scale of the suicide problem we face today.

The governments in Dublin and Belfast, must move quickly catch up. There is a consensus that we need a suicide prevention strategy which encompasses the north and the whole island.

What does this entail?

In the short term gaps of funding and resources must be filled, for example, north and west Belfast should have a 'Crisis Response Unit'. Longer term and by that I mean in the next few months, we need to see the:

  • The formulation, funding and implementation of a suicide prevention strategy for the six counties, which can be integrated into an all-Ireland approach;
  • The creation of a task force to lead the development and implementation of the new strategy for suicide prevention and that this ensures effective inter-departmental co-ordination and action;
  • That the budget allocation for mental health services is substantially increased;
  • That suicide prevention is explicitly identified in the draft Priorities for Action of the Department of Health for 2006;
  • That the under-funding of mental health and the lack of mainstream funding for community-led services in west and north Belfast is urgently rectified;
  • That a proposal is developed for 24/7 crisis intervention, involving statutory provision with community-based and community-led care and treatment, and accessible facilities;
  • That suicide prevention is made a priority Area for Co-operation between the Health Departments in Belfast and Dublin under the auspices of the North South Ministerial Council;

Families and communities want a voice on the problem of suicide. They want their voice to be heard. Families are not receiving the support they need to cope with someone who is feeling suicidal, or with the aftermath of someone who takes his or her own life."

Concluding Mr. Adams said:

"Today's conference is a small but I believe important contribution to raising awareness around this tragic issue, as well as making progress. The Minister has said that he too will host a conference in August. All well and good. But what we here today, and the many others beyond this building effected by this issue want to see is delivery; delivery on promises; delivery on commitments; delivery on resources; delivery on funding; delivery on the strategies and policies which will finally begin the difficult work of tackling the growing and serious issue of suicide and self-harm." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson and MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald, will this evening deliver the keynote speech at a public meeting in Portlaoise on Irish unity. In advance of the event Ms McDonald called for "a broad coalition of politicians, NGO's and the general public to embrace the politics of Irish unity" and to "begin practical planning for the re-unification of Ireland".

This evening's public meeting is entitled "Building for a United Ireland" and will take place at the Heritage Hotel in Portlaoise at 8.30pm.

Speaking in advance of the meeting Ms McDonald said:

"In this the one hundredth anniversary of Sinn Féin, our message and radical agenda is more important and popular than ever before. Tonight's event represents an important engagement with local communities on how we practically build for Irish unity.

"Sinn Féin has 2 MEPs, 5 TDs, 5 MPs and 234 Councillors across Ireland making us the third largest party on the island. We are ideally placed to continue to positively impact upon local, national and international politics. We are calling upon other Republican minded people to help build a broad coalition of politicians, NGO's and the general public to embrace the politics of Irish unity.

"All of us have a stake in this. The politics of partition have failed this island politically, socially and economically. The Irish Government has a responsibility to be advocates for Irish reunification and the practical planning for re-unification should begin now. The Taoiseach should commission a Green Paper on Irish unity. It is necessary and indeed prudent for the Irish people to engage in dialogue on the shape and form such a re-united Ireland would take.

"Sinn Féin has also been campaigning vigorously for Westminster MPs elected in the north, to be accorded membership of the Dail with consultative and speaking rights. Northern representatives should be able to play a full and constructive role in all-Ireland politics." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Human Rights and Equality Caitríona Ruane has welcomed the publication of research today on the consequences of ID cards by researchers at the London School of Economics that suggest that ID cards will cost over £19 billion and that they may compromise Article 8 (privacy) and Article 14 (discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ms Ruane said:

"Sinn Féin are fundamentally opposed to the introduction of any voluntary or compulsory British ID card. The 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 the right of people living in the north to their Irish identity.

"This latest research I believe undermines the case for ID cards.

"Researchers at the London School of Economics estimate that the cost could be as much as £19 billion. To commit such resources to a scheme that undermines essential rights, at a times when our education system and health system require real and significant investment is not just foolhardy it is criminal.

"Research also suggests that ID cards will only make a negligible impact on fraud (identity fraud crimes estimated at £1.3 billion a year, but only £35 million of this can be addressed by an ID card). They also question whether the technology will work. No scheme on this scale has been undertaken anywhere in the world. Smaller and less ambitious schemes have encountered substantial technological and operational problems that are likely to be amplified in a large-scale national system. The use of biometrics creates particular concerns, because this technology has never been used at such a scale.

"Sinn Féin are greatly concerned at the legal and human rights implications. This research has questioned legality of the Identity Cards Bill in its current form. A number of elements potentially compromise Article 8 (privacy) and Article 14 (discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

"The report also raises concerns about the creation of a Data Register with a very large data pool in one place that could mean an enhanced risk in case of unauthorized accesses, hacking or malfunctions. Within a 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.

"This research estimates possible personal cost of £230 per person and business costs of a similar amount that would be unwelcome for struggling small businesses here. While LSE researchers suggest alternatives it is clear that there is no demand for ID cards, that the costs will be enormous, that there is a huge threat to civil liberties and no real quantifiable benefits." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey expressed his concerns that the threat placed over the residents of the Springfield Road by the Orange Order by insisting it will march along the nationalist part of the road before the autumn is exacerbating an already tense situation.

Mr Maskey said:

"Nationalist residents on the Springfield Road were relieved for themselves and their property that Saturday passed off without major incident around their homes. In contrast the Orange Order march which went ahead on the Shankill Road was clearly welcome to the people of that area. The Orange Order should recognise this reality.

"Unfortunately the Order does not yet see that to avail of the generous compromise route through the Mackies site out onto the Springfield Road which was put forward by the local community is the sensible way forward and instead continue with their demand to march along the Springfield Road through the closed gates at Workmans before the autumn.

"The ongoing tension and stress this imposes upon the nationalist community on the Springfield Road and the stress it imposes on community relations is unacceptable and should be removed.

"If the Orange Order want to march through areas where the local community does not want them then at the very least they have an obligation to enter into real and meaningful dialogue. Threatening host communities and raising tensions in interface areas is not the way forward. The Parades Commission have an obligation not to capitulate to the campaign of threats and intimidation which the Orange Order has mapped out for the coming weeks." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún is today taking part in a conference at the Regional Assembly of Sicily in Palermo, Italy, on the subject of "Europe and its Migrants".

Conference participants include Italian legal, political and academic figures, representatives of Amnesty International and other NGO‚s. MEPs from Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Greece, Denmark, Germany, Portugal and Cyprus are also in attendance.

Speaking at the conference Ms de Brún said:

"On this the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, we have a duty to seek adequate responses to the challenge of migration that are based on dealing with the underlying factors of extreme poverty and conflict in the world. We must also understand that the number of immigrants in Europe is tiny compared to those elsewhere in the world and that the vast majority of those who flee to save their lives are still in the poor regions of the world. None of this warrants the security of the 'Fortress Europe' approach we see at present."

This evening Ms de Brún will travel with a delegation of MEPs from her group in the European Parliament (GUE/NGL) to the island of Lampedusa. Tomorrow she will visit a detention centre which has been criticized by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) and Amnesty International. ENDS

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Following confirmation by the EU Community Reference Laboratory for Disease of Molluscs (CRL) of Bonamia Ostyreae in Lough Foyle oysters, Donegal Sinn Féin County Councillor, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn has slammed the Irish Government over the outbreak. Bonamia Ostyreae is a parasitic disease that permanently destroys the commercial potential of the natural oyster fisheries it infects. Lough Foyle oyster fishermen estimate up to 200 jobs will be permanently lost as a result of the outbreak.

The Donegal County Councillor said that the responsibility for the outbreak lies in the first instance with the Irish Government's Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (DCMNR), for consistently failing to put in place legislation that would have extended powers to the Loughs Agency to provide for the regulation of sea fisheries within Lough Foyle and the licensing of marine aquaculture.

Cllr Mac Lochlainn said:

"This is an absolutely devastating blow to the fishing community in the area. Essentially this outbreak has permanently wiped out one of the finest natural oyster fisheries in Europe. The natural oyster beds on Lough Foyle are one of only four healthy fisheries on the island of Ireland. The heartbreaking aspect of this outbreak is that it could so easily have been avoided if legislation had been in place permitting the Loughs Agency to control the licensing of aquaculture on Lough Foyle.

"For a long time now, the Foyle Oyster Sub-Committee, made up of oyster fishermen on Lough Foyle has pleaded with the Government to put in place the necessary measures to prevent this disaster. They have been continually ignored. For 13 months, they have sought a meeting with the Minister for Communications, Marine, and Natural Resources, Noel Dempsey. Those requests have gone unheard. Instead the Government allowed a policy of aggressive mussel seeding and dredging in and around a precious natural oyster fishery to go unhindered against established EU policy. It is almost certain that this practice has resulted in the Bonamia outbreak."

He concluded:

"I now call on the DCMNR in cooperation with the six-county Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to immediately initiate a full investigation to identify the cause of this Bonamia outbreak.

"I also call on Minister Dempsey to explain why his department consistently failed to heed the warnings from the Foyle Oyster Sub-Committee and why his Government has prevaricated for 11 years over the transferring of powers to the Loughs Agency.

"DCMNR and DARD must take immediate measures to protect the natural oyster fishery on Lough Swilly by freezing all aquaculture in that area until an investigation of the causes of the Bonamia outbreak on Lough Foyle have been completed and by engaging in immediate consultation with the Lough Swilly Wild Oystermen's Association to avert the decimation of that natural oyster fishery too, now one of only three on the island of Ireland." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Michael Ferguson met with Teachers from St Malachy's Primary School in Castlewhelan on Friday morning to discuss the impact of a different Reading Formula.

Michael had written to the previous Education Minister Barry Gardiner asking him to introduce the 'Synthetic Phonics' Reading Formula given the results of pilot schemes in Scotland where children in 19 Schools in Glackmananshire were completing Key Stage 2 three years above the chronological reading age.

The Reading Program has been monitored and evaluated by St Andrews and Hull Universities and is under review by Ruth Kelly Education Secretary for England.

The visit to the school according to Michael Ferguson was an inspiration. Synthetic Phonics Teacher, Anne McKeefry has been teaching since 1973 in both Primary and Secondary Schools and spent eight years in Reading Support. For the last 13 years Anne has taught P1 & 2 and is co-ordinator of Foundation/Key Stage 1 in St Malachy's Primary School Castlewhelan.Under the direction of Anne and with the support of the School Principal the school has introduced Synthetic or 'Jolly Phonics'.

Independent research consistently show that children following this program will be on average 12 months ahead in reading and 14 months ahead in spelling by the end of Primary 1 and nearly 100% will achieve Level 2 or above by the end of Key Stage 1. Indeed a number of children in Anne's class reached Stage 2 in less than 2 years.

The Program involves the learning of 42 sounds over 9 weeks instead of 3-4 years, which would be the norm. As a result of this new technique some children are able to read and spell more than 30 words in less than two weeks and by the end of Primary 1 most children recognise more than 1.000 words. June tests have shown all (accept two that were statemented) children reading and spelling above their chronological age (6months - 30months).

Commenting upon the School visit Michael Ferguson said,

"St Malachy's Principle and Anne Mc Keefry are demonstrating that we can effectively address the scandalous level of illiteracy by starting early and employing this tested reading and learning formula.

"It is clear that Synthetic Phonics works and common sense should dictate that we include this program in all early years learning programs and ensure that it complements the current enrichment curriculum.

"This school management team has demonstrated excellent professional judgement in the interests of the children in their care, none of whom will transfer with a reading and spelling problem.

"I had recommended the introduction of the Synthetic Phonics Program of reading to the previous Minister given its successes in Scotland and I have now asked Minister Angela Smith to support the program in St Malachy's and implement a pupil profiling and pupil tracking exercise so that we can mainstream the good practice as best practice.

"I have also contacted the Auditor General‚s Office who have been examining the public investment in Literacy in light of the high number of school leavers unable to read.

"At present 1 in 5 adults are unable to read this program can make the difference and this school and management team will have my support for their endeavours." ENDS

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Speaking ahead of NIO health minister's, Shaun Woodward MP, much heralded speech on the future of health provision in the North, Sinn Féin's health spokesperson John O'Dowd MLA, has said that nothing less than a total commitment to provide proper levels of funding for the health service in the North would be acceptable.

The Upper Bann MLA said, "It is worth recalling that the former NIO Health Minister, Angela Smith, admitted in 2004 that the health service in the Six Counties has been funded largely to attempt to maintain existing levels of service, with little or no money for developing new services.

"The North's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Henrietta Campbell, last November last, made it clear that direct rule ministers had abjectly failed to adequately to resource our health service when she warned then that the health service in the North was facing a bleak future in which there would be 'a famine of resources'.

Mr O'Dowd said, "Three years ago in 2002, the Department of Health published a report on the needs and effectiveness within health and social care (Needs and Effectiveness Evaluation: Health and Social Care, DHSSPS). While accepting that, at £2.5bn, the health allocation represents some 40% of total public expenditure in the North, the report consistently stressed that despite year on year increases that figure is not sufficient to meet the health and social care needs of the Six Counties. Indeed, this was underlined by the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, Clive Gowdy, last year when he said in a newspaper article that the health service in the Six Counties would need an additional annual investment in services and capital funding of between £400m to £500 million. This is an indictment of the failed policies of successive British Governments under direct-rule.

"Shaun Woodward should use the opportunity provided by Tuesday's speech to announce a personal commitment to ensuring the achievement of those priority objectives under the original Investing for Health strategy which were agreed by all of the North‚s political parties and clearly set out in the Executive's agreed Programme for Government. Those five health priority areas identified at that time were:

  • reducing preventable disease, ill-health and health inequalities;
  • ensuring that the environment supports healthy living and that recreational facilities are improved;
  • modernising and improving hospital and primary care services to ensure more timely and effective care and treatment for patients;
  • enabling those with disability, mental health difficulties, chronic illness or terminal illness to achieve the highest standard of living and to be fully integrated within society; and
  • promoting the health and social development of children.

"That these objectives have not been met by any of Shaun Woodward's direct rule predecessors with responsibility for health was clearly demonstrated in the recent Priorities and Budget 2005 - 2008 which acknowledged that:

  • The standard of health in the North remains lower than that in England
  • Age standard mortality rates remain to be above that of England and Wales reflecting greater problems with coronary and respiratory disease
  • Waiting lists still remain longer
  • Numbers dying from heart disease are the highest in Europe
  • Cancer rates are unacceptably high
  • DLA claimant rate is twice that in England, Scotland and Wales
  • One in ten people of working age is claiming Incapacity Benefit

Mr O'Dowd added, "The NIO minister must also recognise that the linkage between levels of deprivation, ill-health and morbidity, including mental health problems, is also impacting upon the North's weakened position in respect of relative health spending. The position relative to England illustrates this with proportionately more children requiring social services in the North than in England but relative spending in England on children's social services is some 35% higher than here.

"Overall, given the significant differential need in the North, it is estimated that spending here should be some 17% higher than those levels in England to achieve parity in meeting health and social care needs. Giving a full commitment to creating that level of parity would entail additional finance being made available to the current DHSSPS budget. Currently, it is estimated that the Health Service in the Six Counties would need to receive a minimum of £250 million additional funding in order to receive the same uplift that the British Government is giving the health service in England.

"The British Government can, if it so wishes, make these resources available immediately to fulfil these unmet health and social needs by delivering the promised peace dividend.

"If this is not done, then there will a further increase in unmet health and social need, which in turn will lead to a greater backlog that will eat into any future investment.

"Mr Woodward should also use Tuesday to announce the introduction of a complete ban on smoking in all enclosed public spaces. If he is serious about creating an effective health service, he must also demonstrate that serious commitment by effectively tackling those issues which cause ill-health. Smoking is widely recognised to be the single biggest cause of preventable illnesses in the Six Counties. Shaun Woodward should accept the fact that only an outright ban is the most effective way of combating this." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor David Cullinane has cautiously welcomed comments from Minister for Health Mary Harney regarding the provision of local radiotherapy services. He said the apparent shift in government policy is a tribute to all those who played a part in the radiotherapy campaign over many years. He reminded people that we have had verbal commitments in the past and what was really necessary was decisive action.

Cllr Cullinane said

"I warmly welcome the meeting that took place between the Mayor of Waterford City, the chairperson of the community campaign and the Minister for Health. I congratulate all those who took part in the many protests, demonstrations and meetings held to advance the case for public radiotherapy services for the Southeast region. I also welcome positive comments from Minister Harney that she recognizes the need for equality of access for public patients in any proposed radiotherapy facility.

"The Minister now needs to move beyond rhetoric. She needs to spell out to the people of the Southeast what type of radiotherapy facilities will be provided. She needs to spell out exactly how public patients will be treated in any new facility. She needs to progress the building of a dedicated oncology unit at W.R.H. with sufficient resources and staff. While the proposed building of a private facility on the grounds of the public hospital is a step forward in terms of service delivery there are still question marks about public management and equality of access for public patients. Sinn Fein will continue to make the argument for public radiotherapy and increased resources for our public hospital.

"Finally it was disappointing that the Minister did not comment on the need for a fully staffed and resourced Neurology Unit at W.R.H. There is a pressing need for the appointment of a Senior Neurologist for Waterford Regional Hospital. This is an issue that I have highlighted at council level in the past and I will continue to campaign for such an appointment." ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Belfast MP Gerry Adams has said that the development of a suicide prevention strategy across Ireland must be made a priority by both governments. Speaking ahead of an event hosted by Sinn Fein to launch the campaign for a suicide prevention strategy tomorrow in the Long Gallery in Stormont, Mr Adams said:

"There is a lot of anger within the community at the failure of the Health system to respond to the in a coherent and holistic fashion.

"Last autumn we met the then Minister for Health and pressed her for action on suicide prevention. Last week, we met with the new direct rule Minister for Health to reiterate that suicide prevention must be made a priority. We are still awaiting a meeting with the Tanaiste and Minister for Health in Dublin to make the same submissions to her.

"Last week, the new direct rule Minister for Health told us that he accepts that this issue must be a priority issue for the Health Service. He has planned a conference for August. He has also committed to coming back to us at a further meeting in November with a strategy on suicide prevention. We have heard this before.

"This time must be different. This time we want delivery. Delivery on past promises made and delivery on the strategies, policies, resources, funding and campaigns to confront the growing and serious issue suicide and self-harm.

"In the short term we need the obvious gaps in the system filled and the budget allocation to mental health services must be substantially increased. Community groups are in the front line of dealing with those at risk and providing support for families. These groups need the resources to allow them to fulfil this crucial role. And in the next few months we need to see the production and implementation of a suicide prevention strategy, on an all-Ireland basis, which begins the urgent work of getting to grips with this issue." ENDS

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Statement from Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, MP, MLA on the conservation of Divis and Black Mountains.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, MP MLA for West Belfast, welcomed the designation of Divis and Black Mountains as a conservation area under the ownership of the National Trust. Tomorrow sees the official opening of Divis and Black Mountain to visitors. Speaking ahead of the public event to mark the occasion, the Sinn Fein President said:

"Along with local community organisations and environmental campaigners Sinn Féin has worked for many years for the conservation of the Belfast Hills, including Divis Mountain and Black Mountain. Because of the British Army's use of large parts of this land I raised this matter some years ago directly with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and I supported the efforts by the National Trust to secure funding for the Lottery Fund to purchase the land."

Mr Adams said:

"There is more work to be done to secure the conservation of the rest of Divis Mountain, Black Mountain and the Belfast Hills. Sinn Fein has proposed that this area should be developed into a regional park. However, the quarry on Black Mountain and the retention of military surveillance camps on top of the mountains is an obstacle to the development and conservation of the area. The campaign to achieve this and to protect this valuable environmental asset for this and future generations will continue." ENDS

Note to Editor:

Tomorrow will see the official opening by the National Trust of the Divis and Black Mountain project which will allow visitors to walk this part of the Belfast Hills and provide them with a tremendous view of Belfast Lough and beyond.

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Sinn Féín Vice President Pat Doherty MP today addressed a commemoration in the Short Strand area of East Belfast to mark the 35th anniversery of the battle of St. Matthews, when the IRA along with local people defended the district from attack from unionist and state forces seeking to burn it to the ground.

Mr Doherty said:

" My advisers from this area told me to tread carefully when it comes to using the correct name to describe the district.

So let me at the outset stay safe with everyone. I will use, the rarely used, double-barrel name, Short Strand/Ballymacarret or Ballymacarret/Short Strand. I have been told the use of both names spans a few generations, those born in the twenties and those born in the fifties.

If I've got it right then those who use Ballymacarret are of an older vintage. I know the more popular name; on less formal occasions is the Strand or Short Strand. However this is an occasion for both names to be used.

Today we are marking the 35th anniversary of the siege of this district by unionist gunmen on the night of the 27th June 1970. To get a sense of what happened that night I have spoken to a number of republicans from the district.

In the re-telling of the story what struck me was that you people shouldn't really be here. That this district should not be here. That this gathering should not be happening.

Listening to the stories from people who were out on the streets that fateful night I‚m certainly convinced that those who were attacking this district intended driving you from your homes and then leveling the houses, street by street.

Or as loyalists have done on other occasions when they forced Catholics from their homes they took them over. The loyalist's plan was to do to this area what they did some months previously in Bombay Street on the Falls Road. Bombay Street was torched by loyalists, 'B' Specials and RUC men.

The legal and illegal forces of this state have always colluded and used violence to impose their will on the nationalist people of the six counties.

They did it here on the 27th June and continued doing it until this very day. The British Army and the RUC stood to one side for several hours and allowed the sustained gun and bomb attack to take place.

It's not that they were miles away or that the gun fire was too intense. They were here in large numbers but they sat it out and observed the assault.

They only moved in at dawn when it became obvious that the district was going to survive. Had it not been for the people of this area in the IRA and the local defense forces the loss of life on that night bad though it was would have been a lot worse.

From speaking to people, I picked up the attack did not come as a complete surprise but I think the ferocity of it was not expected. The defenders of this area had been on the streets from at least 1968 when unionist violence began to express itself in attacks on isolated Catholics throughout East Belfast and elsewhere.

As I understand it you've gone through a few generations of defenders since those days and people are still on the streets today alert to the ever present threat from loyalists.

The 'Battle of St. Matthews' as some historians have described it was of course heroic. The average age of those who stood armed at the corner of these streets was 17, just about youths. There was of course an older experienced hand provided by a small group of republicans. And this was very much appreciated.

Of course all these defenders knew at the time was they were protecting the men, women and children of this area from certain harm if not death. That of course was more than enough and the people of this area are grateful for their actions. We are all grateful.

But those young rebels did much more than defend this area. They gave birth to the modern IRA. They re-established the IRA's reputation which had taken a knock over the sacking of Bombay Street.

After Bombay Street, 'never again' was the IRA's battle cry. And 'never again' rang out around these streets for over six hours during the intense gun battles.

It must have been a frightening night for those on the streets and for those in their homes fearful of what day light would bring. Fearful yes but brave also. That night changed the circumstances that all of us were to live in.

Across this country republicans said to themselves: they did it in Short Strand/Ballymacarret, we can do it. And I'm not just talking about what the IRA and the defense grouping did important though that is. A new mentality was born here among the people, all the people.

This small district gave us the confidence to stand up for ourselves to fight for our rights. That was a lot in those days. It might not seem like much now, today, but back then we were on our knees.

Fifty years of oppression by the RUC and 'B' Specials had forced all but a small group of republicans to keep their heads down.

But after the 27th June we were off our knees, standing upright, proud people, proud fighters. When dawn broke over this district that morning it was a new dawn for republican Ireland.

The years in between have been difficult years for the district. Over forty families are grieving for loved ones who lost their lives in the conflict. Dozens of men and women spent years behind bars. Others lived on the run in exile watching their extended families grow up from a distance.

All of us carry a burden from the weight of the conflict. For some it is heavier because of what they went through because of the price they have paid.

The people of Ballymacarret/Short Strand have paid dearly for the part they played in this freedom struggle.

We didn't chose the path we followed. It was forced upon us just as it was forced upon the young defenders 35 years ago. We had a choice, which was really no choice: fight or live in our own country 'tipping the cap' living as second class citizens.

You chose to fight, we chose to fight. And what fighters we are. 35 years ago these street corners were lonely isolated places. They aren't any longer.

You are part of national movement for freedom which is stronger today than it has been in over a century.

Those who took to the streets here 35 years ago changed the face of this state.

And today republicans continue to change the face of politics across this island. The struggle has changed beyond recognition in recent years. In the war years we fought hard. In the peace years we are still fighting hard. Our objective hasn't changed.

We started out seeking a united Ireland and we are still seeking it. And we will carry on seeking it until it is achieved.

I know you will carry on as you started out. To those in the first flush of youth in 1970 and now in the first flush of middle age who put this district on the political map 35 years ago let me thank you for taking the stance you did. Had you not we would not be where are today." ENDS

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Crossmaglen Sinn Féin Councillor Terry Hearty said that it is only a matter of time before the British Army murder someone at a checkpoint in the area. Cllr. Hearty's comments come after the British Army opened fire on a car in the area on Friday night, alleging that it drove through a checkpoint, a claim which many local people are dismissing.

Cllr. Hearty said:

"Since the arrival of the paratroop regiment in the Crossmaglen area there has been a marked increase in checkpoints, patrols and harassment of local nationalists and particularly young people. I am convinced that they are trying to provoke confrontation with local people in order to destabilise further the already difficult political situation.

"People in Crossmaglen are hugely sceptical of the claims that a car drove through a checkpoint in the town on Friday night. In the recent past we have documented cases of people being waved through these checkpoints only for British soldiers to take pot shots at them as they moved away.

"This sort of wild west approach to policing by the PSNI and British Army in South Armagh is unacceptable. This regiment should not be in South Armagh and it should not be in Ireland. I am calling for the British Army to be removed from this area immediately before they fatally injure a local resident through their trigger happy approach.

"My colleague Conor Murphy MP will be raising this latest incident with the British government and we will continue to demand the end of the British militarised zone in South Armagh." ENDS

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Commenting after the election of Reg Empey as the new leader of the UUP, Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel Mc Laughlin urged the new leader to recommit the UUP to the Good Friday Agreement and the principle of a shared future for all of the people.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"In the past the UUP has fluctuated between the pro and anti-Agreement camps. I would urge the new leader of that party Reg Empey to commit the UUP to a future based upon that power sharing through the all-Ireland architecture laid out the in Good Friday Agreement.

"Unionism has to send a signal to the nationalist and republican community that it has moved on from the politics of domination and is willing to accept that the days of second class citizenship are over.

"Unionism needs to display to the rest of us that it can do business on the basis of equality and respect for others political mandates. That can be the only basis upon which we can secure forward movement in the time ahead." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Equality spokespersons Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD and Catríona Ruane MLA called have for an island wide strategy to combat homophobia. They also offered their best wishes to Ireland's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities for Pride Day 2005.

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "I would like to give my best wishes to Ireland's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities for Pride Day 2005. Sinn Fein activists will be joining in the celebrations in Belfast and Dublin.

"While being a lesbian, gay or bisexual person is no longer a crime in itself, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are still treated as second-class citizens in that they do not enjoy the same rights to marry, to form partnerships, and to have families as their heterosexual counterparts. That is wrong.

"Homophobic hate crime has a devastating impact, as does homophobic bullying in schools and in the workplace, which is a contributing factor to the high rate of suicide among Ireland's young men."

Catríona Ruane said, "Political leaders on this island have a responsibility to speak out for equality. We are calling for an island-wide strategy to combat homophobia. This will require strengthening and harmonising the hate crime legislation and ending all remaining discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in law.

This will also require harmonising civil partnership rights on this island. If we fail to do so, then as of December 2005 we will have a crazy situation where lesbian and gay partnerships will be recognised in law in the Six Counties but not in the 26 Counties." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaking in Cork this morning expressed concern at the Orange Order decision to heighten tensions by refusing to adhere to the determination of the Parades Commission over today's planned march in Whiterock. Mr. Adams is in Cork to address a party event to celebrate Cead Bliain Sinn Féin.

Mr Adams said:

"Sinn Féin TDs, MPs and MEPs met in Dublin yesterday, our first meeting since last month's Westminster elections, to begin preparations for the next General Elections, to discuss efforts to re-build the peace process and our concerns over attempts by the Orange Order to increase tensions around a number of marches.

"More than 3000 Loyal Order parades will take place this year in the Six counties. Only a small number are deemed contentious. Others are welcomed by unionist communities and many are simply tolerated by nationalists.

"The most effective way in which contentious parades can be resolved is through a meaningful and direct engagement between the Loyal orders and the nationalist communities which they are seeking to march through.

"The Orange Order must realise however that it is not simply a case of entering into dialogue and being rewarded by a parade. The Orange Order must accept any discussions have to be open to resolutions, which may involve compromises.

"In this context the decision of the Parades Commission to re-route today's Whiterock parade is the correct one. However the Orange Order have in recent days embarked upon a dangerous strategy of heightening tensions and threatening violence. This atmosphere has not been helped by the decision of the British Secretary of State Peter Hain to intern Sean Kelly.

"Republicans and particularly republican ex-prisoners have provided a leadership role in these types of situations in the past. Many are now questioning whether they should provide this role in the future given the experience of Sean Kelly's arrest.

"However Republicans want to see a peaceful summer, the Sinn Féin leadership want to see a peaceful summer and we will continue to do all in our power to allow communities to live peacefully free from sectarian harassment and violence. But others including the Orange Order, the Parades Commission and the British government have a major role to play also." ENDS

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