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


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Speaking after yesterday's BMA Passive smoking seminar held in Belfast, Sinn Féin health spokesperson, John O Dowd MLA, has said that there is a growing body of public opinion within the North in favour of a ban on smoking in the workplace and public places.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"I would encourage the Licensed Vintners Association to back such legislation, this legislation at the end of the day is about protecting the health of their members their staff and their customers. The prediction of economic ruin, which proceeded similar legislation in the South, has proved fruitless. The LVA, have the opportunity to help their members through this change.

The Upper Bann MLA said, "Incapacity and long-term illnesses caused by tobacco related diseases are proving to be among the major crisis problems facing the health service. Tobacco smoking and the inhaling of environmental tobacco smoke (passive smoking) are widely acknowledged by public health professionals as major, prime contributory factors to many long-term illnesses. This fact was again evidenced in the shocking figures contained in the most recent All-Ireland Cancer Registry Report published just a few weeks ago.

"Angela Smith, as the direct rule minister with responsibility for health issues, has it within her power to take immediate action to ban smoking within the workplace and all other public places. This major anti-smoking seminar, organised by the BMA, will add to the growing impetus for the need for such action. Sinn Féin is on public record as supporting the introduction of such a ban, and I believe that Angela Smith should take her direction from public health and professional bodies within the health service, such as the BMA, and introduce such a ban now, rather than pander to the dictates of multi-national companies such as British American Tobacco who are concerned only with maintaining their own massive profits from this industry." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Donegal County Councillor, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn has described the news that the remaining 630 Fruit of the Loom jobs in Derry and Donegal are to go as a "crushing blow" to the economy of Inishowen and the NorthWest. The company today announced that the remaining jobs would be phased out over the next 4 to 5 years. They blamed the decision of the World Trade Organisation to remove quotas on imported products from the Far East from January 2005 for their announcement to relocate most of the Irish operation to Morocco.

The Donegal North East Sinn Féin representative said:

"This announcement is another kick in the teeth to the people of Inishowen and the North West region. Donegal has already lost 5,000 jobs over the last 8 years in the textile industry alone. We have unemployment levels four times the national average. How much more can we take?

"It is now six years since Mary Harney established the Donegal Employment Initiative or 'Task Force' following the initial job losses at Fruit of the Loom in 1998. The Task Force report set job creation targets of 815 net gains per year for the following seven years. Those targets are now a distant memory. Since then we have seen more and more job losses in every corner of Donegal. The Government has failed Donegal miserably. The powers that be in Dublin and Belfast have failed Donegal and Derry miserably. It is time for an all Ireland, cross border response to the jobs crisis in the NorthWest. It is time for a new vision."

PROTEST
"I would call on the people of Donegal to come out and protest at the failure of the Government to tackle the ongoing jobs crisis in the county. A rally will take place on Saturday September 25th in the Market Square, Letterkenny at 3pm with the theme of 'Jobs and Equality for Donegal'. That rally had already been organised following the 800 job losses at the UNIFI plant at Letterkenny. Following this announcement of another 630 job losses, it is even more important that a huge crowd comes out to protest and to ensure that the Government hears the true extent of the anger in Donegal and the NorthWest. " ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún (Six Counties) and Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin) have called on the EU to focus all of its energies on securing an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq and for the UN to oversee a speedy return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.'

Ms de Brún and Ms McDonald were speaking after a debate in the European Parliament on the situation in Iraq. In a joint statement from Strasbourg, both MEPs said:

„The bombing of Iraq was unjustified and the ongoing occupation of the country is wrong and must end. We believed then and we believe now that the way forward must be through dialogue. Tragically, thousands of civilians were killed during the war, and since the official ending of hostilities the civilian death toll continues to rise. We have also seen ongoing hostage taking and abuse of human rights, something which should end immediately.

"We are concerned that efforts to end this crisis are made all the more difficult with the EU busy pursuing and paying for its own security agenda. The true effect of the development of EU defence capacity, according to a report in 2000 of the panel on United Nations Peace Operations (Brahimi Report) has been the depletion, not enhancement, of UN peacekeeping capacity.

"We recognise the important contribution of EU humanitarian aid to Iraq, and call for an increase in aid to help provide the Iraqi population with food and medical aid. What is also required from the European Union is a commitment to do all in its power to ensure that the physical reconstruction and restoration of democracy in Iraq is handed over to the UN as a matter of urgency. This in turn must lead to a speedy hand over of power to Iraqis themselves so they can themselves determine how best to govern their country." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor David Cullinane has expressed deep disappointment that following a cross party delegation of Waterford City Council who met the Health Minister yesterday, that he refused to give any real time-framed commitment on Radiotherapy Services for the Southeast. Cllr Cullinane who formed part of the delegation said that the Ministers commitments where clearly "aspirational".

Cllr Cullinane said:

The meeting with the Minister yesterday allowed for a full and frank exchange of views. The delegation made key demands such as immediate development of a Satellite Radiotherapy Unit for the Southeast as part of the first phase of implementation of the Hollywood report. The delegation also demanded immediate designation of resources for patients travelling for Radiotherapy and for the implementation of a plan for a dedicated Haematology/Oncology Unit at Waterford Regional Hospital.

While the Minister stated that it was government policy to have a satellite unit in Waterford he would not be drawn on any real time-scale. In fact there is no evidence to suggest that at any level the Minister is planning to provide such a unit in Waterford to cater for the Southeast. It is no longer good enough for the Minister to simply say it is government policy that a satellite unit will be provided without providing any budgetary provision.

It is my view that the Ministers stated commitment on a Satellite Unit is Œaspirational‚. The 20,000 people who marched earlier this year in Waterford will not accept ambiguous commitments. It is important that the campaign intensifies and the government receives a very clear message that the people of Waterford and the Southeast will not accept fudge. What we want is delivery. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin speaking at a press conference in Belfast along with other members of the Sinn Féin talks team including Conor Murphy, Caitriona Ruane and Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew ahead of the departure of the talks team to Leeds Castle in Kent has said that 'as we prepare to fly to England, the work that needed to be done has not been done.'

Mr McLaughlin said:

"In June Gerry Adams set out the Sinn Féin objective for tomorrows talks at Leeds Castle; a comprehensive, holistic agreement which conclusively deals with all of the outstanding issues.

"Finding such an agreement has been our singular focus in weeks of intense discussion between Sinn Féin and the two governments.

"Sinn Fein has expressed privately and publicly our preparedness to face up to the challenges that this major undertaking presents. But the two governments and the DUP also need to face up to the challenges if we are to have a successful outcome.

"Sinn Féin has repeatedly said that if Leeds Castle is to have any hope of success that closure was needed, in our recent discussions with the governments, on many of the key outstanding issues. In our view, as we prepare to fly to England, the work that needed to be done has not been done.

"For example, the British government is still refusing to agree an independent, judicial inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, and the DUP have not even met with Sinn Fein - and are unlikely to do so in the next few days. We are concerned that the governments may be tempted to make significant concessions to the DUP's anti-Agreement agenda and, in particular, their attempts to undermine the core principle of power-sharing and the all-Ireland architecture of the Agreement. This is unacceptable.

"We are also working against a back-ground of persistent anti-peace process activities on the part of securocrats and the NIO.

"Despite these very deep worries Sinn Féin travels to Leeds Castle to do our best to find agreement. There are enormous gaps that have to be bridged by the two governments and the DUP, but in particular the British government. That is the challenge they must face up to over the coming days." ENDS

Note to Editors
Details of talks team drawn from across Ireland

President Gerry Adams MP
Vice President Pat Doherty MP
Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP
Co-ordinator Michelle Gildernew MP
National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin MLA
Leinster House group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD
Assembly group leader Conor Murphy MLA
Policing Gerry Kelly MLA
Human Rights & Equality Caitriona Ruane MLA
Alex Maskey MLA
Martin Ferris TD
Mary Lou McDonald MEP

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Sinn Féin Human Rights and Equality Spokesperson, South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane who has recently taken on the specific brief of Women's issues has said that the Walby Report into costs of Domestic violence that revealed that domestic violence costs an estimated £23 billion per year in the England and Wales has very serious implications for the Six Counties.

Ms Ruane said:

"Details of the Walby report published estimate that domestic violence is costing the UK in excess of £23 billion a year. This report focuses not just on the considerable income losses from lost employment, substantial civil legal costs and some costs associated with moving home and health care but also on the human and emotional.

"Injuries caused by domestic violence is costing employers and workers nearly £3 billion a year and the cost in terms of providing services such as health care and housing a further £3 billion - and a further £17 billion bill for the human costs.

"While there is no clear breakdown for the costs in this part in Ireland there is very clear evidence from those working in this field that the impact of domestic violence in the Six Counties is huge. We need to challenge domestic violence wherever it occurs. Domestic violence is not acceptable. It affects people of every class, age, race, disability, and sexuality.

"This is a massive social issue that we cannot ignore. It is not just the personal and service costs in terms of women, and it is by large women, turning up in casualty departments, it is the social costs and the impact on children.

"Sinn Fein believe that we need similar research here to both identify the scale of the problem here and to identify the resources available to tackle the problem and support people leaving relationships where domestic violence occurs. It is vital that people who are affected know where to turn to for support and advice. We have to acknowledge and accept that domestic violence is widespread and that possibly as much as half of all domestic violence goes unrecorded." ENDS

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Sinn Féin health spokesperson, John O'Dowd MLA, as said that the increase in figures of those accessing the needle and syringe exchange scheme reflect the growing drug culture within our society.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"Without a doubt, this scheme is having some positive impact in relation to preventing the misuse and sharing of needles and syringes by those dependent upon drugs. Indeed, I would like to see the scheme extended beyond the nine pharmacies, which presently participate in the scheme.

"However, it is clear that the availability of hard drugs is becoming increasingly widespread across the North and that proper and effective preventative and anti-drugs awareness policies need to be put in place, with a special focus directed towards the young male population. The latest figures show that four out of every five persons using the scheme are males, of whom over half are aged 30 and under.

"Right across the North, illicit drug use is recognised as one of the growing problems which we face. People cannot afford to be complacent about this increasing scourge within our midst." ENDS

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Sinn Féin representative for Dublin South East Councillor Daithí Doolan has been in touch with the management of Dublin City Council this morning following last night's decision of the Council to keep the Poolbeg Peninsula incinerator free.

Councillor Doolan said:

"Last night Dublin City Council voted by a substantial majority to keep the Poolbeg Peninsula incinerator free. This is an important step for the Council but it is just one step and it needs to be followed up by the development of a sustainable long-term strategy for dealing with waste management in Dublin City.

"We believe that consecutive government policies of increasing the use of incinerators as an alternative to diminishing landfills is a case of going from bad to worse. It is a short-sighted approach which will have a hugely detrimental impact on our environment and our economy.

"The emphasis of any waste management strategy must be on the promotion of strategies at the top of the waste hierarchy (reduction, reuse, recovery where it is without damaging consequences) instead of the status quo which focuses on strategies at the bottom (recovery and disposal).

"The fact that 80% of waste, since the adoption of the current waste management plan in December 1998, in the Dublin City Council area is still going to landfill shows that little progress has been made. Given that 136,000 householders in the Dublin City council area are now using green bin or bag service it raises questions regarding enforcement and compliance with the bye-laws regarding segregation.

"I will be discussing all of these matters with the City Manager in the coming days and seeking his support. It is important that last nights decision is upheld by the City Management but if they attempt to overturn the decision it will be met with firm opposition from Sinn Féin and all those who oppose incineration.

"Last night's decision also highlights the urgent need for the repeal of government legislation which handed power in relation waste management strategies away from local authorities to unelected officials." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún (six counties) and Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin) have this morning said that "the discovery of a listening device at the headquarters of Belfast Sinn Féin provided further proof that elements of the British system are undermining the peace process".

Both Sinn Féin MEPs last night briefed approximately 40 MEPs from their group, the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) on the continuing peace process and specifically the discovery of a sophisticated listening device at the Belfast office of Bairbre de Brun MEP yesterday afternoon.

Speaking this morning Mary Lou McDonald said:

"Last night we briefed approximately 40 MEPs from across Europe, on the current state of the peace process and the upcoming talks in Britain, and impressed upon the MEPs that Sinn Féin wants to make the process work and are going into the talks to do a deal.

"We also briefed the MEPs on the discovery of a sophisticated listening device at the Belfast offices of my party colleague Bairbre de Brun MEP. We expressed our outrage that this was the second such listening device to be discovered in relation to our party, in the space of two weeks. The question remains as to who sanctioned this assault on the peace process? Did the British Prime Minister Tony Blair sanction this? And if not who did? Our delegation to the talks will seek an explanation from Mr Blair.

Ms de Brun said:

"I am obviously outraged by the discovery of this listening device at my offices in Belfast. It provides further evidence, if any more were needed, that elements of the British system are intent on undermining the Irish peace process.

"At last night's meeting, there was a palpable sense of anger. The MEPs all agreed that the GUE/NGL leader Francis Wurtz would raise the matter directly with the European Parliament President Josep Borrell and also bring it to the attention of the Conference of Presidents on Thursday. Mr Wurtz will ask Mr Borrell what he can do to ensure respect for all parliamentarians and call upon him to press the British Government to create a climate of trust in the run up to negotiations this weekend'. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Ballymena representative Michael Agnew has said that he has been warned that his life is in danger from Loyalists. Speaking of the threat Mr Agnew said:

"Loyalists have targeted not just myself but nationalists living throughout the Ballymena and wider North Antrim area. Given the number of attacks in recent months I take this threat seriously. I would urge nationalist throughout the area to extremely vigilant.

"Nationalists are angry that unionist politicians do not seem to be taking these attacks seriously. Nationalists do not believe that unionists are doing enough to stop number of attacks directed at the nationalists coming from within the unionist community.

"It is time that unionists political leaders worked along with other civic, community and church leaders to address the very high levels of attacks, intimidation and threats coming from paramilitaries operating in communities that they represent. Enough is enough, these attacks and threats have to stop." ENDS

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Sinn Féin town councillor, Noel Campbell, has welcomed the passing of both his motions at last Thursday nights monthly meeting of Castlebar Town Council. Cllr. Campbell's first motion proposed that a councillor who attends an event on behalf of the authority must produce a report at the Council's next meeting detailing the events proceedings and stating how the event was of benefit to the Council.

The Sinn Féin representative in Castlebar said: "This motion was about prioritising the Council's money and making the Councillor who spends that money more accountable to the public. It was not always the practice of past Councils to seek such a report from councillors, now it will be.

"I proposed this motion on the same night the Council was to discuss the proposed introduction of pay and display parking in the town, my argument being that the council can not demand a second tax off the public and turn around and waste it on conferences and events that are not necessary. This motion is about prioritising the public's money. This Council has a five year plan to fund and if the public have to tighten their belts so too do their Councillors." ENDS

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Sinn Féin representative for Dublin South East Councillor Daithí Doolan described this evening's cross party support for Sinn Féin's motion to keep the Poolbeg Peninsula incinerator free as a great day for the local community and for all those campaigning for a long term waste management strategy for Dublin city.

Councillor Doolan said:

"This evening Sinn Féin's motion to Dublin City Council calling for a new sub zoning section whereby only industry which complies with a non thermal treatment policy would get planning permission was passed by a substantial majority. This now rules out any incinerator on the Poolbeg Peninsula.

"This is a great victory not just for this community but for all those campaigning for a proper long term strategy to deal with waste management in this city. This is not a case of not in my back yard it is a demand for solutions to our waste management crisis which are safe and sustainable.

"None of us doubt that we face a waste crisis, but to simply impose an incinerator on the people of this city will do nothing to address the problem. In fact incinerators are part of the problem not the solution. And our job as elected representatives for this city is to weave together, with our respective mandates and responsibilities, a City Development Plan that benefits the people and communities of this city. Part of our responsibility in doing this must be to develop a sustainable city. The only way we can do that is to ensure that the industries we plan for actually contribute to that sustainability, incineration is not one of those industries.

"I would call on Dublin City Manager to now respect the wishes of the Council and to rezone this land to ensure that no incinerator is built. However, I also want to make clear that any challenge from the City Manager will be met with serious opposition from this party and the wider community who have campaigned long and hard on the issue.

"Sinn Féin stood on a clearly anti incineration platform in the recent election and have now gone on to win the argument in City Hall . We will continue to promote a zero waste strategy for this city, this region and this island. This is the first step in that journey.

Motion calling for rezoning was passed 32 in favour, 5 against 3 abstained.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP has said that the discovery of a listening device at party offices in Connolly House is evidence of bad faith by the British government.

Mr Adams said:

"On Monday September 6th a sophisticated listening device was discovered in the home of a member of my staff.

"Following that incident I asked activists to check their homes, as best they can, and our party offices.

"Late last night, following several hours of intensive discussions with senior officials from the Irish and British governments, I received a phone call from a party colleague to go to Connolly House. A sophisticated listening device had been discovered.

"The device was constructed so that it could listen to conversations upstairs and in the conference room downstairs.

"While Republicans always work on the presumption that these devices exist, the use of this very sophisticated bug is a very serious act of bad faith by the British government.

"It highlights the continuing hypocrisy of a British system which uses its enormous resources to 'spy' on its political opponents.

"It is also evidence of the 'war mentality' among the securocrats who run the NIO and whose only engagement with the peace process is to subvert and undermine it.

"The question of course is who authorised this and how many more of these exist.

"Our delegation is bringing this device to Leeds Castle to Mr Blair and to seek an explanation from him.

Concluding Mr Adams said:

"I have spoken today to Downing Street and to the Taoiseach's department. I expect the Taoiseach to make strong representations to the British Prime minister." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson, Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland speaking after attending the official launch today of the first stage in the development of the Middletown Centre for Autism, has welcomed the progress towards having a fully operational centre to improve and enrich the educational opportunities of children with autistic spectrums disorders.

Mr Hyland said:

"This has been an eagerly awaited day, and with the purchase of the building now completed there should be no further delay getting the centre re modelled and equipped to begin the work of helping all children on the island of Ireland who live with an autistic spectrum disorder.

"This programme of work was put in place by Martin McGuinness is southern counterpart nearly three years ago. Both governments need to get on with the job and to live up to their commitments to deliver on the all Ireland programme of work. There can be no more excuses be made to cover up for lack of activity in this area. It is important that the educational provision, which the Middletown Centre will offer to autistic children, be made available as soon as possible. It is time for the work to begin and the stalling to stop." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil Group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has called on the Irish government to implement the recommendations of the all-party Committee on the Constitution and extend voting rights in the upcoming Presidential elections to all Irish citizens living on the island of Ireland. Deputy Ó Caoláin said that Sinn Féin will be raising the matter with the Irish government and at the talks in Leeds Castle later this week.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"For many years now Sinn Féin has been lobbying intensively for northern participation in the political life of the nation, through the all Ireland elements of the Good Friday Agreement and through our campaign for the 18 Westminster MPs elected in the Six Counties to have the right to attend the Dáil and the right of Irish citizens in the Six Counties to vote in Presidential elections.

"With the Presidential elections now less than two months away there is an ideal opportunity for the Irish government to implement the recommendations of the all party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution and extend voting rights in Presidential elections to all Irish citizens living on the island of Ireland.

"This is an important part of the peace process and a natural outworking of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin will be raising the matter with the government and at the talks in Leeds Castle later this week." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness has said that the inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane is a crucial issue which Sinn Fein will again be raising with the British government at Leeds Castle this week.

Mr McGuinness said:

"The guilty plea of Ken Barrett has removed the bogus argument that the British government have been using to prevent a full independent inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.

"Collusion, including the killing of Pat Finucane, are serious matters which the British government must deal with. Continuing denial and cover-up is unacceptable.

"Collusion and the Pat Finucane Inquiry will be a key issue for Sinn Fein in the Leeds Castle discussions this week." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has pledged today that 'Sinn Fein will pursue as a priority substantive consultation with Irish people on the draft EU Constitution'. Ms de Brún was speaking after a vote in the European Parliament to include both the EU Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions in a consultation process on the draft EU Constitution.

Speaking from the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Ms de Brún said:

"I welcome today's vote by the European Parliament to include the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions in a consultation process on the draft EU Constitution. It is crucial that as wide a range of bodies are consulted on such a crucial and far reaching document.

"However, the debate on the EU Constitution needs to be widened out to include the citizens of member states, to listen to their hopes and fears in a future Europe. The debate on the draft EU Constitution is too important to be left to a short period before any future referendum in Ireland, where discussion is often rushed and not at all inclusive.

"Irish people must have the opportunity to engage in substantive consultation on this issue which is so critical for their future. The European institutions and the British and Irish governments must use the opportunity to conduct a transparent consultation process and one which is properly resourced.

"Sinn Fein will pursue as a priority, substantive consultation with Irish people on this issue. Over the coming months, my party colleague Mary Lou McDonald MEP (Dublin) and I will play our part in ensuring that ordinary people are properly informed on the draft EU Constitution. The Sinn Fein MEPs call on others to do the same." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South-West and spokesperson on education Séan Crowe has challenged Education Minister Noel Dempsey to make absolutely clear the governments opposition to third-level fees. He was speaking following a report the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report which is calling for the reintroduction of third-level fees.

Deputy Crowe said:

"It's bad enough that the Minster has made a mockery of the "free fees" policy of this government with the recent increase in third level student registration fees. He must now remove the ongoing uncertainty regarding the reintroduction of third-level fees which is hanging over the head of students who are struggling to make ends meet as it is.

"Sinn Féin is completely opposed to the reintroduction of third-level fees.

"Unlike this government which believes inequality is good for society, Sinn Féin will stand shoulder to shoulder with students and parents in demanding that access to third-level education is a guaranteed right for all no matter their economic situation."ENDS

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Sinn Féin representative for Dublin South East, Councillor Daithí Doolan, speaking in advance of tonight's meeting of Dublin City Council which will discuss the City Development Plan said "Sinn Féin has tabled a motion at tonight's meeting calling for the site of the proposed incinerator on the Poolbeg Peninsula to be rezoned for industry which complies with a non thermal treatment policy. I have contacted every councillor on the Dublin City Council and am very confident that this anti incineration motion will be carried."

Speaking ahead of tonight‚s debate on the City Development plan Cllr Doolan said:

"Sinn Féin's motion calls for the site of the proposed incineration on Poolbeg Peninsula to be rezoned for industry which is in compliance with a non thermal treatment policy. If passed tonight, it will ensure that no incinerator can be built on this peninsula without the City Council‚s approval. It will also give City Councillors the opportunity to rezone other land in line with a non thermal treatment policy.

"This is an important motion if we are to deal with the current waste crisis. Nobody is under any doubt that we face a waste crisis, but simply building an incinerator in the Ringsend - Sandymount area will not provide us with the solution. Indeed international research has shown that incineration, far from being part of the solution, actually contributes to the problem. We need a waste management plan that goes to the root of the waste problem. This can only happen by implementing a Zero Waste Strategy for the Dublin region which reduces the waste we produce, by reusing and investing in our recycling industry.

"I have contacted every Councillor on Dublin City Council and am confident of their support tonight. This issue is too important to be reduced to party politics. Incineration is bad for Dublin and I believe all parties know that." ENDS

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This week the British and Irish governments and all the main parties in the north of Ireland will be in Leeds Castle in Kent. Sinn Féin will be trying to unblock the political impasse here. It will not be easy. There are major issues to be crunched: around the need for all parties to participate fully in the political institutions; policing and justice, and especially agreement by unionists on the transfer of power on policing to the executive and assembly within a specific timeframe; and the issue of armed groups and of arms, human rights, equality and sectarianism.

One of the great imponderables in all of this is the attitude of the Democratic Unionist Party. As the largest unionist party, its engagement is necessary for progress. However, this is a party whose leader has said in recent times that even if the IRA were to disappear at Leeds Castle his party will not talk to Sinn Féin until sometime next year. Moreover, its policy is the destruction of the Good Friday agreement. Hardly a stance to encourage hope in the talks ahead.

Last week Tony Blair spelt out his goals for the talks. But in doing so he placed responsibility for progress on the republicans and unionists. It is true that republicans and unionists have much to do. And Sinn Féin, for our part, wants a comprehensive, holistic agreement which brings closure to all the outstanding issues. We don't want a two-stage or intermediary deal or one that falls apart a few months later - we want a deal which brings an end to the cyclical crises which have bedevilled this process since the Good Friday agreement was reached in April 1998.

But Mr Blair cannot divorce his government from its responsibility for creating the years of political instability, nor from its crucial role in creating the political conditions in which an agreement can be reached in Kent. Matters such as policing, demilitarisation, human rights and equality and much more are not the property or responsibility of unionists or republicans. They are the exclusive remit of the British government and they are issues around which this government has made repeated promises which it has then failed to deliver on.

One of the issues which has been on the agenda of all our discussions with Mr Blair since first we met in 1997 is the issue of collusion. That is the administrative practice by which British government agencies recruited, trained, supplied information to, protected and armed unionist death squads to kill opponents and civilians. Successive British governments have gone to extraordinary lengths to cover up the involvement of their military, intelligence and police agencies in the murder of citizens. The most famous of these cases is that of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.

Since Pat's killing in February 1989 his family has campaigned for an independent, international judicial inquiry. The British government has resisted this. In July 2001 Downing Street and the Irish government asked a retired Canadian judge Peter Cory to decide whether public inquiries were justified in a number of cases, including Pat Finucane's. Mr Blair committed to act on whatever Cory recommended. Judge Cory recommended a public inquiry, but the British government said it could not proceed, citing the trial of Ken Barrett, who yesterday pleaded guilty to Pat's murder. There is now no reason to further delay a public inquiry.

There is a remarkable reluctance for the British government to get at the truth of these matters. Why is this? Having spoken to Tony Blair and his colleagues on this issue many times I know they are very conscious of the fact that Pat Finucane's killing is only the tip of the iceberg.

The use by British forces of "friendly forces" to kill the enemy or "terrorise the terrorists" has its roots in modern times in Kenya, Aden, Cyprus and in almost 50 counter- insurgency wars fought by British governments in the 1950s and 60s. Many of those involved in Ireland are still in the British system. They still run agents here. Others are probably now in Iraq.

Collusion and, specifically, the killing of Pat Finucane are serious matters which the British government cannot continue dodging, especially in the context of acts of completion as defined by Mr Blair for these negotiations.

Leeds Castle will see a serious effort being made by Sinn Féin to end the crisis in the peace process. But the British government and the DUP must play their full part, too. Our efforts have not been made easier by the discovery last week that the home of a member of my staff had been bugged. Not a good signal to send to republicans on the eve of crucial talks. I have raised this with Mr. Blair but that's for another day. It would be much better 15 years after Pat Finucane's murder if Mr Blair established a fully independent international judicial inquiry as requested by the Finucane family.

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