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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 Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew speaking at the 9th annual economic conference organised by the CBI has today said that there are huge structural economic problems in the north that demand a new approach.

Ms Gildernew said:

"There are huge structural economic problems in the north centring around poor productivity; the loss of the manufacturing base; over-dependence on the public sector and service industries; a lack of focus on R&D, training and skills and poor infrastructure.

"These problems are exacerbated by the British Treasury's unwillingness to give special consideration to the north, by the lack of political stability, and by higher operating costs, including the cost of energy. The privatisation agenda currently being pursued by the British government means that all of us, individuals and businesses alike, are facing even higher costs in the near future.

"Sinn Féin believes that the future of the economy in the north of Ireland must be set in the context of an island wide strategy for development and regeneration. A small island with a population of just over 5 million people cannot successfully develop economic strategies on the basis of division within the island.

"The development of an all-Ireland economy and spatial integration is well advanced. The Good Friday Agreement changed the framework for governance on the island of Ireland. The All-Ireland Ministerial Council with delineated areas for all-Ireland development and co-operation is well underway. This work needs to be built on and extended into other areas. On the basis of economies of scale and sharing best practice this makes sense.

"Business is, in many ways, ahead of political developments as it has long been recognised that it is only by adopting a unified approach to the development of an all Ireland economic strategy will the whole country achieve its full potential.

"In the short to medium term, Sinn Féin believes that current problems must be addressed by an economic development package that should include:

· Public expenditure commitments by the British government

· Job creation strategies which would see the creation of higher value jobs

· Support for indigenous industry

· Investment in R&D, training and skills

"An immediate area of concern, both to business and to political parties, is the infrastructure deficit. Investors will go where the infrastructure is and will avoid the areas where it is absent. The practical out-working of this is that while manufacturing loss in the north is 6%, in Derry it is 34%. Estimates vary but the figure needed is calculated to be just under £7 billion.

"Years of neglect and under-funding by successive British administrations need to be remedied immediately. An immediate cash injection is needed that will begin to remedy the infrastructure deficit. The strategy should specifically target west of the Bann. We need a fast, efficient and safe transport network that feeds into an all Ireland network. We need necessary upgrades to the water and sewage system. We need the rollout of gas and greater urgency given to an all Ireland energy strategy." ENDS

Full Text

It is clear there are huge structural economic problems in the north centring around:

· Poor productivity

· The loss of the manufacturing base

· Over-dependence on the public sector and service industries

· A lack of focus on R&D, training and skills

· Poor infrastructure.

These problems have all been exacerbated by the British Treasury's unwillingness to give special consideration to the north, by the lack of political stability, and by higher operating costs, including the cost of energy. The privatisation agenda currently being pursued by the British government means that all of us, individuals and businesses alike, are facing even higher costs in the near future.

Sinn Féin believes that the future of the economy in the north of Ireland must be set in the context of an island wide strategy for development and regeneration. A small island with a population of just over 5 million people cannot successfully develop economic strategies on the basis of division within the island.

The devastating economic consequences of partition can be seen most clearly in the poor economic and social development of the border counties. This is a problem clearly recognised by the European Union, which has targeted funds at this area.

The development of an all-Ireland economy and spatial integration is well advanced. The Good Friday Agreement changed the framework for governance on the island of Ireland. The All-Ireland Ministerial Council with delineated areas for all-Ireland development and co-operation is well underway. This work needs to be built on and extended into other areas. On the basis of economies of scale and sharing best practice this makes sense.

Business is, in many ways, ahead of political developments as it has long been recognised that it is only by adopting a unified approach to the development of an all Ireland economic strategy will the whole country achieve its full potential.

In the short to medium term, Sinn Féin believes that current problems must be addressed by an economic development package that should include:

· Public expenditure commitments by the British government

· Job creation strategies which would see the creation of higher value jobs

· Support for indigenous industry

· Investment in R&D, training and skills

An immediate area of concern, both to business and to political parties, is the infrastructure deficit. Investors will go where the infrastructure is and will avoid the areas where it is absent. The practical out-working of this is that while manufacturing loss in the north is 6%, in Derry it is 34%. Estimates vary but the figure needed is calculated to be just under £7 billion. Years of neglect and under-funding by successive British administrations need to be remedied immediately. An immediate cash injection is needed that will begin to remedy the infrastructure deficit.

The strategy should specifically target west of the Bann. We need a fast, efficient and safe transport network that feeds into an all Ireland network. We need necessary upgrades to the water and sewage system. We need the rollout of gas and greater urgency given to an all Ireland energy strategy.

In conjunction with this we need a strategy for social inclusion, one that will tackle inequality, poverty and unemployment. New Deal type job creation schemes are not the solution. We need investment in education especially higher and further education and quality training. The infrastructural build itself would create jobs. Contract compliance and the use of local labour clauses (e.g. percentage of labour must be local, percentage must be taken from the Long Term Unemployed) must be a central element.

In essence this is the peace dividend that we should have had and which has been lacking from the political process. The communities and people who suffered most during the conflict still suffer the most serious deprivation, disadvantage and unemployment. It is absolutely essential that they benefit from the peace. Economics as conflict resolution needs to seriously tackle poverty and inequality and lift up those communities that have suffered most from the conflict.

Ireland, north and south, is experiencing unprecedented levels of prosperity. In the north, latest figures from the labour market show that more people than ever are recorded as being employed. Unemployment has fallen to just over 5%. However, research has shown that not everyone is sharing in that prosperity. While many live in prosperity, there are a significant number of people living in poverty and the inequality gap is increasing. There is a huge swath of people who have yet to reap any kind of peace dividend, or share in the increased wealth.

We also know that poverty is a discriminator, it affects some groups in society more than others. For example, people with a disability are nearly twice as likely to be in poverty as those without a disability. Women are more likely to be poor than men. The level of poverty is 1.4 times higher in households where the household respondent is Catholic than where the household respondent is Protestant. Crucially, over a third of children are living in poverty.

Fair employment figures show that Catholic under-representation in employment continues. The data shows that there are still areas where Catholics, particularly males, are under represented, notably, in the security-related sector, district councils, and the private sector in general. There is evidence of Protestant under representation in the health and education segments of the public sector. In addition to differentials in employment, there is a continued gap in employment and economic activity rates between Catholics and Protestants. The 2001 Census showed that 73 per cent of Catholics were economically active as compared to 79 per cent of Protestants - and 44 per cent of Catholics were employed against 50 per cent of Protestants.

Unemployment rates are higher for those with no qualifications for all groups, but substantially higher for Catholics than Protestants. There is also a clear geographical element in relation to inequality, with the census showing that areas West of the Bann consistently score highly in relation to levels of unemployment and disadvantage.

What can be done to address this issue? Clearly, what is needed is an economy that serves the needs of all the people. Sinn Féin have a number of concerns.

We are not convinced that the use of Public Private Partnership (PPP) is always the most efficient, cost effective method and we have concerns that a privatisation agenda is being pushed through without any real thought being given to alternative methods. Areas of particular concern are those situations in which the contract will involve the transfer of employees to the private sector. It is imperative that all PPP projects be subject to rigorous equality impact assessment in order to determine whether the proposals are going to create further inequalities. This could be in terms of less favourable working conditions for employees, or less favourable service provision.

It is clear that one of the positive initiatives that has been brought forward over recent years has been the procurement review. It is clear that the pilot schemes introduced to encourage employers to recruit from the unemployed should be expanded further. Greater use of public procurement generally to further the promotion of equality should be developed as a matter of urgency.

There is a need for a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy that would see the actual targeting of resources to those most in need. Section 75 in particular offers the opportunity for public sector policy-making to actively work towards the promotion of greater equality. It is clear that there is much work to be done in relation to providing a comprehensive training and employment strategy that ensures that the least qualified members of society can be brought into the labour market. Clearly, the business community has a vested interest in ensuring that those entering the labour market have the necessary skills for the 21st Century. The economy in the north is also experiencing, for the first time, large numbers of

migrant workers. Language barriers are a serious problem for many of these

workers. Such workers are vulnerable, and open to exploitation, as a number

of studies have recently shown.

It is also clear that Single Equality Bill, and the Bill of Rights are crucial to the building of a society, and an economy that offers opportunity for all. Clearly, business will be concerned about 'red tape', and the need to remain competitive. It is worth noting however the concerns that were prevalent among business in the late 1980s regarding the introduction of compulsory workforce monitoring - since then the practice has become widely accepted as part of doing business in the north of Ireland. The Single Equality Bill, and the Bill of Rights are necessary tools for building a society in which there is genuine opportunity for all, and where the rights of all members of society are respected. Given our experience of conflict and discrimination this is a critical imperative for our society. If the future is not to mirror the past, then an economy must be developed which serves all the community, regardless of where they live, or their community background. The business community should look upon the Bill of Rights and the Single Equality Bill as tools for consolidating and furthering the peace and prosperity that has begun to develop.

As a politician it is immensely frustrating that we are not in a position to make these decisions in the Assembly. It is imperative that the institutions are up and running as a matter of urgency. This must be done in the context of preserving the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement. No dilution will be acceptable. The DUP are working with Sinn Féin at all levels, they make decisions with us in councils throughout the north and they worked with us in the Assembly committees. They need to sit down with us and speak face to face and work at resolving the many problems we have. A comprehensive and equality based economic strategy can only be developed as a result of open discussion and working together by all those involved. This requires input from the private sector, political parties, trade unions, community organisations, representatives of marginalised and excluded communities, all of whom collectively have a responsibility and an investment in developing a brighter and more prosperous future. ENDS

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Speaking during the course of the debate on the Water Services Bill last night, Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government, Arthur Morgan TD, said while welcoming the Bill he remained "skeptical" about the Government's stated position that they would not introduce Water Charges.

Deputy Morgan said, "I welcome the introduction of the water service legislation. I also welcome the measures included in the Bill which seeks to improve the regulation of the group water schemes.

"I am aware that the former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Marin Cullen stated in the Seanad that it was not the Government's intention to bring in water charges nor was the Water Services Bill intended to facilitate the privatisation of water services. However, given the governments record on promises we can be forgiven for being skeptical particularly given that the Bill contains measures specifically related to meters.

"Sinn Féin is opposed to the introduction of water charges. We view it as a regressive stealth tax. Given that we oppose direct charges for domestic rates, we cannot support proposals for metering of domestic water supplies. We are firmly of the view that everyone has the right to an adequate supply of safe, clean water as a basic entitlement. Ability to access safe clean water cannot be based on a person's ability to pay for it. We believe the provision of water services is a key responsibility of the state and are fundamentally opposed to the privatisation of water services. We would point to the disastrous record of privatisation of water services in other states."

In relation to group water schemes the County Louth TD said, "Water quality in this state remains a problem. I welcome the provision in Part 6 of the Bill that provides for the introduction of a system of licensing for group water schemes. This is particularly important in the light of the fact that the EPA reported in February of this year that the overall quality of drinking water supplied by group water schemes remained unsatisfactory. Worryingly that report also found that some public water supplies consistently breach standards such as aluminium and nitrates." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has said that she would welcome Turkish entry into the EU, but only when 'they have fulfilled the 'Copenhagen Criteria' on democracy and respect for human rights'.

Ms McDonald made her comments before the European Commission's expected announcement on opening EU accession talks with Turkey today.

Speaking from Brussels Ms McDonald:

"Sinn Féin looks forward to a time when Turkey can enter the EU as a full and equal member. Turkish membership can only enhance cultural diversity within the EU. However, Turkey has an appalling human rights record, it continues to militarily occupy Cyprus and has denied the Kurdish people their right to self-determination.

"If as expected, the European Commission recommends opening accession talks with Turkey, Sinn Féin believes that entry into the EU must be subject to their adherence to the 'Copenhagen Criteria' on democracy and respect for human rights. And let's not kid ourselves. This will require a massive leap on the part of the Turkish political and legal establishments to deliver the necessary convincing and durable change in conditions.

"Sinn Féin is also concerned with much of the xenophobic reaction to Turkey's possible entry into the EU. There has been irresponsible scaremongering about an influx of immigrants from Turkey into EU states after their accession. I would emphasise that Marrti Ahtisaari, former Finnish President and head of an independent commission investigating Turkish membership to the EU, has said that fears of an influx of immigrants to the EU are 'vastly exaggerated'.

"I would also remind people that these same concerns were raised before and during the recent accession process with respect to Eastern European migration, and there is no indication that anything of the sort occurred.

"Sinn Féin remains to be convinced that Turkey are up to the challenge of promoting a fully inclusive and human rights compliant society." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has said that DUP pronouncements that they want to see a deal done and the institutions restored would have much more credibility if they actually sat down and sought a resolution with Sinn Féin.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"The DUP currently sit on councils with Sinn Féin discussing local services. They sat on committees in Stormont discussing serious matters. They sit in studios debating peace process issues with Sinn Féin. Yet they continue to refuse to sit down around a negotiation table and try and find a resolution to the outstanding matters.

"Nationalists and republicans who are deeply sceptical of the DUP commitment to reaching a deal and seeing the political institutions restored would be somewhat reassured if the DUP for the first time began to recognise basic democratic mandates and standards.

"Their positive pronouncements about making progress and achieving sustainable and stable institutions would have much more credibility of the DUP stopped insulting the Sinn Féin electorate and actually sat down and discussed these big issues face to face with republicans." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing Gerry Kelly has said that the fact that the SDLP at Leeds Castle had decided to follow the lead given by Sinn Féin and once again raise with the British government key policing issues such as collusion, Special Branch, the Full Time Reserve and Plastic Bullets is an admission that their strategy of going onto the Policing Board to achieve change in these areas had failed.

Mr Kelly said:

"Three years ago the SDLP told us that the negotiation with the British government on Policing was concluded. They claimed that there could be no more legislative change and that the only place to achieve further policing change was on the Policing Board.

"Sinn Féin refused to accept this. We continued to engage with the British government to try and achieve that sort of acceptable policing service demanded by the Good Friday Agreement. We have had some success in this effort over the past number of years but more progress is still required on a number of outstanding issues and our negotiation team continues to work with the British government on this issue.

"The fact that the SDLP now admit to having raised at Leeds Castle with the British government policing issues such as collusion, the Special Branch, the Full Time Reserve and the continuing use of plastic bullets is in effect an admission that their approach over the past three years in attempting to achieve change through membership of the Policing Board has failed.

"No doubt at today's meeting of the Policing Board the SDLP members will once again play to the camera and tell us that they are delivering change through the Board. They will seek to gloss over or ignore the now very obvious contradiction in their position.

"The fact remains that key to achieving a truly accountable and acceptable policing service lies not with the Policing Board but with the British government. The change in the SDLP approach over recent weeks is evidence that even they now accept this reality." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Newry Armagh MLA Pat O Rawe has said that the news of a further racist attack in the Alexander Park area of Armagh was very disturbing and called for a united stand against racism and racist attacks.

The former Mayor of Armagh, Ms O'Rawe said:

"This racist attack in the Alexander Park area of Armagh is very disturbing.

"It is time that the community and their elected representatives in one cohesive and united voice stood together against the scourge of racism.

"These incidents require outright condemnation. Throughout the Six Counties there is an upsurge in racial, sectarian and homophobic attacks. There can be no diluted or mixed messages, we must all work together to tackle racism, sectarianism and homophobic violence and prejudice." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Equality Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called on transparency from the Taoiseach as to the credentials of his newly-appointed Minister of State for Equality, Frank Fahey TD. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"The last Ministerial appointments in relation to the equality brief were nothing short of disastrous. Neither Minister McDowell nor the former Minister of State O'Dea believe in equality in fact both have been quite open in their contempt for equality. The Taoiseach has effectively endorsed Minister McDowell's approach to the brief in his reappointment last week.

"If the Taoiseach does intend to use the Fahey appointment to restore public confidence, let him in a transparent and publicly accountable way tell us why this particular man is qualified for the job, and more importantly, whether he will promote equality in this state as his brief requires or whether he can be expected to take the same negative approach as O'Dea and McDowell.

"This is not a throwaway brief. It involves acts of completion on Irish Government commitments under Strand 3 of the Good Friday Agreement with respect to equality including the outstanding issue of non-equivalence with the minimal equality provisions enacted in the Six Counties. Will this Minister deliver on the Good Friday Agreement commitments or will he, like his predecessor, do nothing? This is the basis on which his performance will be judged." ENDS

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Taoiseach fails to reassure airline workers on pensions

Speaking during Leaders Questions in the Dáil today Sinn Féin leader, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin raised the issue of the privatisation of Aer Lingus and the role of the former Minister for Transport, Seamus Brennan in it. He said it would be "an act of piracy if a handful of individuals were allowed to asset strip the company". The TD for Cavan/Monaghan later expressed his alarm at the failure of the Taoiseach in his response to reassure Aer Lingus workers and former workers that their pension entitlements are secure.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "It is nothing short of a national scandal as one of the prime national assets of this country is being prepared for destruction. I call on the Taoiseach to definitively, on behalf of the Government, rule out the completely unacceptable and outrageous proposal for a management buy-out of Aer Lingus."

He went on to ask the Taoiseach if agreed "that it would be an act of piracy against this country, and against the workers of Aer Lingus if a handful of individuals who currently happen to be the top management, are allowed to asset strip the company and sell it off at massive profit to themselves?"

Deputy Ó Caoláin said: "Workers at Aer Lingus have ensured the survival of the company. 3,000 have been made redundant. The threat of redundancy now hangs over a further 1,300 as part of the creeping privatisation. This is despite the fact that the company has made a profit of nearly €100 million in the past year."

"These redundancies are by no means voluntary as they are so often misnamed. Workers have only a vague promise that some post will be found for them within the company. During the last big redundancy the medical staff in the axed medical centre were offered jobs as baggage handlers."

Deputy Ó Caoláin also expressed to the Taoiseach the "huge concern" that exists among staff and retired staff at attempts by Aer Lingus management to undermine their pensions.

He said, "In a cynical exercise last year they tried to change the nature of that pension, something that the Pensions Board has ruled on and found to be unacceptable. Will the Taoiseach guarantee that the pensions of all current and retired Aer Lingus workers are fully honoured and protected?"

Speaking afterwards Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "It is a serious cause for concern that the Taoiseach pointedly failed to address the issue of Aer Lingus workers pensions. He failed to offer any reassurance to current or former workers that their pension entitlements would be protected. That is an absolutely unacceptable situation which will cause enormous anxiety for a great number of people." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún (6 Counties) and Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin) have today said that "an All Ireland ban on smoking in the workplace would be a major step towards a truly health conscious society".

Both MEPs made their statement after it emerged that an all-party parliamentary group of British MPs are due to travel to Dublin today, to investigate the success of the smoking ban.

Speaking today Ms de Brún and Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin is calling upon the NIO direct rule Minster Angela Smith to begin a process of dialogue with the relevant bodies including health agencies and local politicians to discuss the implementation of a smoking ban in the workplace.

"The success of the smoking ban in the 26 counties, has led to the growing realisation that such legislation in the 6 counties would be practical and extremely beneficial to the health of all workers. An all Ireland ban on smoking in the workplace would be a major step towards a truly health conscious society.

"A recent study found that 7000 people in the South have given up smoking or attempted too since the introduction of the smoking ban. This provides us with yet more evidence of the benefits of such legislation.

"Sinn Féin has consistently called for an All Ireland approach to the smoking ban. The success of the smoking ban in the 26 counties should provide the catalyst for such an approach in the 6 counties, for the sake of the health and well being of all our citizens." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has rejected the call by incoming European External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner for a permanent EU seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Speaking today, Ms de Brún said:

"Ms Ferrero-Waldner's proposal is not about democratic reform of the UN Security Council, nor is it about strengthening the workings of the UN and its capacity to deliver on the UN Charter. It is about positioning the EU as a superpower. A seat for the EU on the UN Security Council will not deliver the needed fundamental democratic reform of that body nor contribute in any way to the revitalisation of the UN as a whole.

"This is an urgent issue and it is not acceptable that it keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the international and EU agenda. Instead of looking to consolidate power, the EU Commission and member states should instead focus on how the EU can best make a contribution to the UN reform process, and to the strengthening of that organisation.

"Unfortunately, since the EU has shifted its focus towards its own security agenda and building its own army, this has led to the depletion - not enhancement of the UN and UN peacekeeping in particular. The effect of this latest proposal will be no different." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson, Upper BAnn MLA John O Dowd has said the revelation that MRSA has played a part in 116 deaths over this last seven years is all the more depressing because such deaths can be avoided.

"Last week I welcomed the announcement by Direct Rule health Minister, Angela Smith, of an Infection Control Strategy, and steering group.

"I however cautioned that such strategies to tackle MRSA need resources and the Minister must commit to funding the strategy, the fulfilment of such obligations is now all the more urgent.

"We need to adopt and adapt best practice from elsewhere. Evidence has shown that hospitals can and have eradicated MRSA by introducing stringent practices in and outside the Hospital.

"The level of demand on our hospitals requires very high occupancy rates yet high levels of occupancy push up the risk of infection from MRSA. Increasing capacity is one way to start meeting the high levels of demand while keeping occupancy rates at sensible levels.

"The measures cost money but savings can be made from the fact patients are not being kept in hospital due to infection and more importantly people are not losing their lives due to avoidable hospital based infections. ENDS

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Sinn Féin South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey has expressed concern at the agenda of those behind the leaking of information about the review of public administration and said that it will undermine confidence in the review group.

Mr Maskey said:

"From day one the review of public administration has been presented as a review about the number of councils and councillors. However, the most important job of the review should be to cut through the culture of unaccountability and quangoism.

"The reality is that the most important element of any shake up of councils, their powers and numbers, must be the ability to deliver genuine accountability, real democratic participation in decision making and effectiveness and efficiency.

"Many councils throughout the Six Counties continue to represent everything that is wrong with unionism. They are continue to exclude and discriminate.

"The Review of public administration must ensure that services are provided at the right time and in the right place and are accessible and that service provision goes hand in hand with real democratic accountability.

"The success of the review will be in its' ability to deliver 'power to the people' by scrapping the huge layers of bureaucracy and unaccountable quangoism that have flourished here. It is about creating new democratic relationships between decision-making, control and accountability in our society.

"The Assembly and the institutions are only part of the wider process of democratisation that are crucially important if we are to reject the failed old ways of doing things that was about maintaining prestige and power in the hands of a small elite who were not accountable. These are the very people who created and maintained the patterns of discrimination and disadvantage that are still prevalent today." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy who heads up the party's opposition to water taxes has described the bizarre claim from SDLP MP Eddie McGrady that British NIO Ministers are forging ahead with the imposition of water taxes as part of a conspiracy to secure the re-establishment of the institutions as a 'sad joke'.

Mr Molloy said:

"The bizarre claim that the British government announced the introduction of water taxes as part of a 'conspiracy theory' to re-establish the political institutions is a sad joke. The reality is that the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative negotiated by Eddie McGrady's party Leader Mark Durkan paved the way for the introduction of water taxes.

"While I don't want to labour the point that the water tax is in reality an SDLP tax, I think it is important that across the broad political spectrum that we work together to stop the introduction of this form of unfair taxation dead in its tracks.

"The reason that people here are being targeted by the NIO from every direction is that SDLP finance ministers argued that we needed to raise more money from local sources and opposed to the Sinn Fein argument that we require a genuine peace dividend.

"However, I agree with Mr McGrady that we need to see a deal reached as soon as possible. Sinn Féin stand ready to do a deal that does not undermine the core principles of the agreement - power sharing, equality and the all Ireland architecture. It is the DUP that appear keen to long finger any progress. Mr McGrady would better serve all of the people if he stopped trying to score cheap political points and began to work with others such as Sinn Féin to oppose water charges and to continue to put pressure on both governments and the DUP to ensure that we get the real deal.

"Any such deal must include a greater understanding of the need to radically look at both the block grant allocation and the issue of rates and water taxes tied up with the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin today said that fundamental to the Good Friday Agreement were the checks and balances designed to prevent the sort of abuses we had previously under unionist governments and that these fundamentals were not up for negotiation.

Mr McLaughlin said:

" Sinn Féin have said consistently that we are up for a deal. We want to see the sort of package which will see the institutions restored and the outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement implemented.

" But it is obvious to all that such a deal can only happen within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The obstacle to this happening at this time is the stance adopted by the DUP.

" On one hand we hear from the two governments that the DUP are not seeking changes to the fundamentals of the Agreement. Peter Robinson appeared to acknowledge this in an interview this morning. However this position is at odds with all of the available evidence. The DUP continue to put unrealistic demands aimed at diminishing the power sharing core of the Assembly and other fundamentals of the Agreement and delivering a return to unionist rule.

" The fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement include the broad principles of power sharing, equality, all-Ireland institutions and the checks and balances, the protections, which are central to this. They were designed to prevent the sort of abuses we had previously under unionist governments and which continue to exist in local councils under unionist control These fundamentals are not up for negotiation." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has urged the new Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern to "use his influence to assist in the search for peace in the Middle East".

Mr Adams was speaking after a week of violence in which 65 Palestinians were killed. The latest raids into Gaza are the largest in four years of fighting.

Speaking today, Mr Adams said:

"The tragic events of the last week once again highlight the need for the international community to do all in its power to help bring about a peaceful solution to the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. The latest incursions into Palestinian territory by Israeli forces are to be condemned.

"Sinn Féin is unequivocal. The suicide attacks, the killing of civilians, the invasion by Israel of Palestinian territory and the deliberate targeting for assassination of Palestinian leaders must end.

"I am calling upon the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern to use his influence, and that of the government to assist in the search for peace in the Middle East. Minister Ahern should make the resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict a foreign policy priority during his term in office.

"I am also calling upon the EU to support the suspension of preferential trade with Israel until the occupation of Palestinian territory ceases.

"It is imperative that Israel engages in genuine negotiation and dialogue with the Palestinian people and there is a clear role for the international community to help in such a process. Sinn Féin calls upon the international community under the direction of the United Nations, to begin an initiative to end this latest outbreak of fighting." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has this morning accused the company carrying weapons grade plutonium to France of attempting to "suppress legitimate and peaceful protest against their deadly nuclear cargo". Ms McDonald also said that Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited wanted to 'deflect attention away from the severity and secrecy of their actions and onto peaceful protesters'.

Ms McDonald made her comments after it emerged that Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited (PNTL) and French nuclear energy firm Areva plan to seek an injunction, prohibiting people from protesting against the ships when they dock in Cherbourg, France. It is currently unclear when the ships will dock.

Speaking today, Ms McDonald said: "The decision by Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited to seek an injunction to stop people protesting against the two ships carrying weapons grade plutonium represents another slap in the face to all of those who oppose their deadly voyage.

"These ships have passed within miles of the southern Irish coastline carrying weapons grade plutonium on their way to France. Not only have the lives of millions of people been put at risk, now this company is seeking an injunction to suppress legitimate and peaceful protest when they dock at Cherbourg in France.

"The intention of PNTL is quite obviously to deflect attention away from the severity and secrecy of their actions and onto peaceful protesters. The people who have gathered in Cherbourg are not irresponsible people intent on disrupting this voyage, but people who want to make a legitimate stand for the environment and against the transportation of this dangerous nuclear cargo.

"The role of the Irish government in all of this needs to be examined. Sinn Féin is demanding that Minister Roche explain why he did not seek the coordinates of the ships, given their potentially deadly cargo. We also like to know how close the ships came to the Irish coastline and what efforts the Government made to prevent them entering Irish waters.

"Sinn Féin is also anxious to know whether this was a one-off exercise, or whether we can expect to be subjected to future voyages. I am calling upon the International Maritime Organisation to investigate this incident on behalf of the Irish people, who deserve nothing less." ENDS

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Wexford Borough Council has called on the Taoiseach to insist that the British Government conducts a full and proper independent public inquiry into the killing of Belfast Solicitor Pat Finucane.

Speaking after his motion received the unanimous backing of all parties at Monday nights meeting of the Borough Council, Sinn Féin Councillor Anthony Kelly said:

"It is outrageous that 15 years after the murder of Pat Finucane and despite promises made to Judge Cory, that the British Government can now state that they will only hold an inquiry after changing legislation in order to protect their own national security interests.

"Michael Finucane was correct when he said that the truth about his fathers murder would rock the foundations of the British state. Of course a proper public inquiry will affect British national security interests, and of course they will try to stymie this if they are allowed. But the Taoiseach must not allow them to block the truth once again. The Irish Government stood meekly by while the British blatantly refused to co-operate with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. They cannot continue to stand idly by while the truth is being continually blocked for the sake of 'British national security'." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's spokesman for education, Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland, has applauded the launch of the General Teaching Council's new Code of Values and Professional Practice.

Welcoming the new code of practice, Mr Hyland, a former teacher stated that this would help enhance the status of teaching at a time when teachers feel undervalued and under the strain of huge changes in the field of education.

Speaking from the launch, Mr Hyland said:

"It is important that teachers are supported by all in society. They play a pivotal role in educating our children and should be given the support and respect they deserve. Teachers are under immense pressure due the ever changing nature of educational practice and I hope that this code of values will prove useful and beneficial to all teachers throughout the six counties." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has said that Peter Mandelson "must act to promote a socially conscious EU which protects the people against business excesses".

Ms de Brún made her comments as the new EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson faces a hearing of MEPs on his portfolio and future plans, in the European Parliament today.

Speaking today Ms de Brún said:

"Today's Commissioner hearing will see Mr Mandelson questioned by MEPs on the Trade Portfolio and his intentions over the next number of years. The Trade portfolio is one of the most important and powerful of all the Commission posts. Therefore it is important that MEPs have been given the opportunity to question Mr Mandelson on his future intentions.

"Sinn Féin calls upon Mr Mandelson to act to promote a socially conscious EU which seeks to protect the people against the excesses of big business. In saying this, we are not entirely convinced that Mr Mandelson can live up to the role.

"The portfolio of trade requires a commitment to help reduce levels of poverty throughout the world, particularly within developing countries by promoting fair trade. Current trade policies are biased against the poor.

"Sinn Féin is calling upon Mr Mandelson to work towards democratising the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and to support trade policies which respect human rights and the environment and hold both individual states and businesses accountable for their actions.

"Sinn Féin MEPs will be watching Mr Mandelson with great interest to see if he can promote a socially inclusive EU. However, it is difficult to get excited about the appointment of Mr Mandelson given his record as the British Secretary of State in Ireland. He collapsed the political institutions, introduced suspension legislation and emascalated the Patten proposals all at the behest of negative political unionism. Political parties in Ireland along with the two governments are still trying to undue much of the damage done by Mr Mandelson during his time in the north of Ireland." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson, Upper Bann Assembly member John O Dowd, speaking after the launch of an Action Mental Health and Diabetes UK joint report in the Assembly, welcomed the initiative as being 'timely' and 'extremely informative'.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"This report highlights the fact that a significant percentage of people with mental health illnesses, one of the most excluded groups in our society, also suffer from diabetes. Any initiative, such as today's extremely informative event, which seeks to address the specific problems of those people with a dual diagnosis is to be welcomed and supported."

"In relation to the report's four main recommendations, their publication is quite timely and appropriate, as most political parties and NGO's will be putting the final touches to their various responses to the primary care consultation paper 'Caring For People Beyond Tomorrow'." ENDS

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