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Sinn Féin Martina Anderson MEP today endorsed a resolution in the EU Parliament calling for higher health and safety standards and more protection for workers in the textile industry.

 Speaking in support of the resolution Martina Anderson said:

"In recent months we have witnessed a series of fires in textile factories, notably in Bangladesh but it is, sadly, something which occurs throughout South Asia. In the most recent of these tragedies almost 300 people perished. This is an intolerable situation and we cannot allow the perception of tolerance through inaction to prevail.

"There has been an almost complete lack of corporate social responsibility and accountability in these cases. This is completely unacceptable and the EU needs to start putting pressure on countries, whether in South Asia or anywhere else in the world so ensure that conditions which make these tragedies inevitable are eradicated.

"The EU is the biggest market for many of these factories and therefore bears a heavy responsibility to ensure that production and delivery of all products is achieved in the highest of health and safety conditions. It is imperative that politicians, other stakeholders and those responsible for every stage in the supply chain act,and insist that local authorities in the countries of origin establish best practice in protecting the health and safety of workers.

"I encourage European suppliers, wholesalers and major chain stores that benefit financially from South Asian and other textile producing countries to join in offering compensation for the victims and their families and to help provide a better life for those working in the textile industry.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on environment, community & local government, Brian Stanley TD, met with the party's National Councillors’ Forum today in Leinster House.
Speaking after the meeting Stanley said: “Local government is in need of radical reform. Sinn Féin councillors have been to the fore in demanding that reform. Minister Hogan’s proposals are a wasted opportunity.
“Sinn Féin support strong city, county and local district councils with devolved powers that are democratic, accountable and deliver local services in an efficient cost effective way. We support a single mandate for councillors. We fully acknowledge the important role town and borough councils continue to play in local government. Current local government structures should be maintained until the government commit to reform, based on strong local government, with real decision making powers devolved from central government and adequately funded through progressive taxation and rates.
Unfortunately too much power has been centralised in Customs House or in the hands of management. Maintaining structures that have no real power is counterproductive to our strategy of devolving power to our communities. We believe power must be devolved from central government to local authorities and the balance of power shifted from city and county managers to elected councillors.
The government's local authority reforms are a smoke screen for collapsing local authorities, cutting number and funding. We propose that the ratio should be one councillor for every 3936 of the population. This is in line with the on-going reform in the North of Ireland. This would give the state a total number of 1165 councillors, a reduction of 462, but an increase of 215 councillors on Hogan’s proposals.
Sinn Féin is confident that we can deliver proper reform of local government North and South of the border.”
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Speaking in the Dáil this morning Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD criticised Labour and Fine Gael for their inaction on mortgage distress since entering government and called on both parties to repeal the family home tax.

The Dublin Central TD said:

“The latest survey from the Irish league of Credit Unions reveals that 1.6 million people are left with €50 or less to spend at the end of each month after they pay their bills. Since October a further 230,000 people have fallen into that bracket as a direct result of the government’s austerity policies. What impact will the dreaded family home tax have on these people?

“The family home tax, a brainchild of Fianna Fáil, will have serious implications for households who are already teetering on the brink. It will especially punish those on low and middle incomes, social welfare recipients and the disabled.

“This punishing tax does not take into account ability to pay, the amount home owners paid in stamp duty or negative equity.

“After nearly two years in office Fine Gael and Labour have done nothing for those in mortgage distress, instead government has chosen to increase mortgage related costs by imposing the family home tax. This is simply a tax too far.

“Where does the government propose struggling home owners will get the money to pay this tax. There are families dependent on social welfare payment, the working poor, even families with two incomes who simply cannot afford to pay. How many more citizens will be pushed over the precipice into unsustainable debt?

“The reality is the family home tax will not be used to pay for services, it will in fact be used to pay interest on bank-related debts. The government intends to extract this money by hook or by crook from families existing on €50 a month or less.

“Do Labour and Fine Gael have any understanding of what people are going through out there in the real world?” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP for West Belfast Paul Maskey said the family of the Irishman being held hostage in Algeria has asked for privacy.

Paul Maskey MP said:

“The family of the Irishman being held hostage in Algeria have asked for privacy on this matter.

“They are all very concerned about his welfare and want to see him released to his family as a matter of urgency, free from harm.

“Their thoughts are with him and all the other captives.”

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Sinn Féin MLA and Junior Minister Jennifer McCann has raised the issue of the recent violent protests when she met with UN Special Rapporteur Mr Maina Kiai earlier today at Parliament Buildings.


The West Belfast MLA said:

“During the meeting I explained to UN Special Rapporteur Mr Maina Kiai that while people have the right to peaceful protest the current situation had descended to mob rule.

“People are being denied the right to go about their lawful business and homes are being attacked, all linked to these protests.

“The issue of contentious Loyal Order parades was also raised and as with the current situation I emphasised to Mr Maina Kiai that people had the right to live free from intimidation.

“Respect is a two-way street and that means that people’s Irishness and Britishness needs both represented respected. I told the Rapporteur that change is happening and that equality on symbols and identity threatens no one.”

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A Sinn Féin councillor who is deputy chair of Belfast Council's Development Committee is using a three-day visit to New York this week to urge senior political and business figures to step up their efforts to build cultural, commercial and community links between Belfast and New York in the time ahead.

Councillor Máirtíin Ó Muilleoir speaking from the USA said:

"This is a time to send out positive messages to our many friends in the US that the vast majority of our citizens are determined to see the peace blossom and will not be cowed by the anti-peace process elements trying to damage our city.

"I addressed 300 top police officers on Wednesday at the Irish Law & Order Awards to stress that Belfast is ready to roll out the red carpet for the large NYPD delegation due in Belfast for the World Police and Fire Games in August. 

"I will also be visiting New York City Hall to brief Speaker Christine Quinn on the most recent developments and will meet with the NYC Small Business Commissioner Rob Walsh who has been a strong advocate for Belfast over recent years.

"It's crucial that we don't leave the field to those who want to damage our investment and tourism prospects but instead send out a strong message that Belfast is very much open for business and that there can be no going back." 

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD has called on those who have kidnapped a West Belfast man in Algeria to release him.

The Sinn Féin leader said:

“The abduction of a West Belfast man at the Amenas gas field in eastern Algeria has caused great distress to his family and community.

"I have been in touch with the family to express my solidarity at this difficult time and I have spoken with the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs who are doing all they can to help the family and secure the release of the kidnapped Irish citizen.

"I would appeal to the kidnappers to release their victim and all of his colleagues.”

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Speaking in the Dáil tonight on the rise in the pupil-teacher ratio in Colleges of Further Education, Sinn Féin’s education spokesperson, Jonathan O’Brien TD said he believed that the government had not “thought through” the consequences.
He said: “Given the nature of teaching today this will mean the loss of approx 500 jobs on the ground.” He asked how the government would react if a private company announced the loss of so many jobs.
Pointing to the changes in Further Education, he said: “It can no longer be seen as just for young learners who recently completed post primary education.
“The reality is that the profile of students at Further Education colleges is now very diverse, they include mature adults and those recently completing post primary education.
“Anyone who suggests that a simple two point increase is only bringing the FE sector into line with what already exists in the post primary sector and can be absorbed is just not living in the real world.
“What is being proposed contradicts this government’s own policy. How can the government say on one hand that it is their stated policy to prioritise the role of further education in economic recovery and then with the other hand pillage the very resources FE needs to meet this stated aim?
“I would ask the Minister to revisit this proposal, reflect on its impact and not to proceed with it.”
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In the Dáil today, Dublin South West TD, Seán Crowe, highlighted the need for an all-party and cross community response to the recent flags protests in the North and the violence which has accompanied them.
Crowe, who is also a member of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, raised the subject by entering it under topical issues.

Deputy Crowe said:
“Belfast is a changing and shared city, and it is no longer dominated by unionism. The issue of flags and symbols at Belfast City Hall is a sensitive one, but this doesn’t mean it can or should be ignored.

“Belfast City Hall is a shared workplace and under equality legislation it must provide a good and harmonious working environment. Employees and those who use the City Hall, must have their cultural and political identities respected, and not be made feel isolated or marginalised due to their identities.

“The vast majority of the loyalist protests taking place are illegal and they are being orchestrated by the UVF and BNP figures. In the last week these protests have attacked interface areas. Once again we have seen the Short Strand community targeted by fascists and bigots, with sectarian attacks led by the UVF and BNP.

“Unionists talking amongst themselves will not solve this issue and create mutual respect for people’s national identity and culture. That can only come when inclusive talks, with representatives from the whole community, take place. There needs to be an open discussion on how people’s national identity can be respected and valued.

“Equality and mutual respect needs to be at the core of any move forward on identity and symbols. There can be no return to one party and unequal rule.

“The loyalist rioting needs to stop and there needs to be collective action from across society to push ahead with peace and reconciliation work throughout the North”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty TD, has said comments today from Central Bank governor, Patrick Honohan are disappointing for those who hoped for a genuine improvement in people’s lives from a deal on the promissory notes.
Deputy Doherty was speaking after quizzing Governor Honohan in the Dáil Finance Committee. Patrick Honohan hinted that the “design” of a deal was already known.
“Today I put three key questions to Governor Honohan on the impact any deal would have. I asked would it reduce our debt to GDP ratio, would it lift the €28 billion burden from taxpayers and would it mean we would pay less interest on the notes. The answer to the three questions was “No”.
This means citizens will not benefit from any deal on this basis and it suggests
that the government is negotiating a slight of hand.
Any positive benefits emerging from a deal will be welcomed by Sinn Féin but leaving the €28 billion bill with the taxpayer in whatever form is unacceptable.
It is not too late for this government to negotiate seriously and forcefully assert that the unjust burden on Irish citizens must be lifted- not shifted to another form or simply paid over a longer period. A genuine write-down on the promissory notes is a fair demand and anything short of that will benefit working citizens very little if at all.”
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Commenting on the Food Safety Authority of Ireland findings of horse DNA which been found in a range of meat products, Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said:

“I support the efforts of the FSAI and the FSA to identify how equine DNA product has been incorporated in these products. However, I have no reason to believe that this is other than an isolated instance or that there are issues with beef processing in the north. I understand associated product has been withdrawn from supermarket shelves in the north.”

The Minister added: “We have an excellent beef processing industry, which meets the highest standards of hygiene, traceability and quality. It is founded on the long tradition in the north of grass fed beef from identified family owned farms.

“Our beef is second to none and consumers should have every confidence in the supply chain here. Much of our beef carried the Farm Quality Assured label giving further confidence. I would encourage local consumers to continue to support our industry and continue to buy and consume local produce.”

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty has said the government’s job creation strategy is nothing but a PR exercise.

Deputy Doherty was speaking ahead of a meeting of the cabinet tomorrow which is due to discuss the jobs strategy.

Despite the spin from government that this Dáil term will be dominated by job creation legislation the fact is that the legislation underpinning the government’s strategic investment fund, launched on 29 September 2011, is still not scheduled.

Challenging Tánaiste Eamonn Gilmore in the Dáil this morning Deputy Doherty said;

“On 29 September the Government announced the strategic investment fund. As part of that announcement it indicated that legislative change would be needed to allow for resources to be channelled from the National Pensions Reserve Fund into the productive economy.

“It is now 2013 and the legislative programme was published yesterday. This legislation is not due for publication this term and the heads of the Bill have not even been agreed. The strategic investment fund was supposed to be a major plank in the government's strategy to get people back to work.

“Given that it has been announced nearly one and a half years ago but legislation has not even come before this House, when will the amendment to the National Pensions Reserve Fund legislation be brought to the House to allow for the channelling of funds sitting in the NPRF into the domestic economy to help get people back to work?”

Speaking after the exchange in the Dáil Deputy Doherty said;

“The delay in publication of this legislation and the Tánaiste’s clear refusal to answer my question this morning shows that the government’s jobs strategy is nothing more than a PR exercise with no real substance to it. Unfortunately tomorrow’s cabinet meeting is likely to result in more spin with little substance.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Agriculture, Martin Ferris has said that the contamination of beef burgers sold in supermarkets here highlights the need for a greater level of food traceability. He also said that the source of food products should be identified on packaging and that food retailers needed to be encouraged to sell food produced in Ireland. Deputy Ferris was speaking during a special debate which he succeeded in having on the issue this afternoon in the Dáil.

Deputy Ferris said: “I and others have long called for a more comprehensive system of food traceability and labelling in this country. While the fact that the contamination was detected by the FSAI and that an enquiry has been established is to be welcomed, there needs to be positive steps taken on foot of this.

“Chief among them needs to be the tracing of all food products and the labelling by source of origin on all packaging. This country has a high standard of food production and needs to be protected from potential damage of this nature given the uncertainty among consumers regarding the source of food.

“The Minister needs also to make known the names of the companies in Spain and the Netherlands which he claims supplied the contaminated product and whether either of those companies are owned in part or in whole by any of the Irish companies which processed the burgers.

“Retailers need to be encouraged to buy Irish produced food. As indeed do public agencies, in the light of a recent claim by the HSE that they were under no obligation to access food from Irish producers.

“I would hope that the report on the burger contamination will be completed shortly and that the Minister will move to implement procedures regarding traceability and labelling.”

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Speaking in the Dáil this morning the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD welcomed the visit tomorrow by the Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore to the north to meet with the First and Deputy First Ministers on the violence and illegal protests and the Tánaiste’s acknowledgement that the attacks on the Short Strand were “premeditated.”

The Sinn Féin leader said that these events underpin the “need for constant and consistent support for the peace and political processes.”

Teachta Adams said the protests do not represent the vast majority of citizens in Belfast who want a shared city and he identified some of those behind the protests; including the British National Party and the UVF who are “engaged in whipping up these tensions and fears.”

He pressed the Tánaiste to take the opportunity presented by his visit to East Belfast tomorrow and “meet with residents there, including the Short Strand and the loyalist areas adjacent to it.”

The Sinn Féin leader said:

“The Good Friday Agreement states that symbols and emblems should be used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division.

“This recognises the reality that there are two flags which the vast majority of people in the six counties give their allegiance to: the Union flag and the Irish tricolour.

“For this reason there are some councils which fly no flag, while at Stormont and in other Councils the Union flag flies on designated days only.

“Belfast City Council took legal advice on this issue. It also received advice from the Equality Commission and there was an equality impact assessment.

“The decision in December was in keeping with these and ironically in keeping with protocols in Britain. It was a democratic decision and was entirely proper and appropriate. Democratic and peaceful opposition to it would also be proper.

“The violent sectarian reaction is entirely wrong and the illegal protests need to be brought to an end before someone is killed.

“The attacks on the Short Strand Community are disgraceful and should stop. I visited that nationalist enclave on Sunday. It is an area under siege. It has endured 16 illegal loyalist marches in recent weeks and countless sectarian interface protests.

“Since the recent violence began the Deputy First Minister has been endeavouring to bring about all party opposition to violence and the protests. He continues to do so.

“When the two British soldiers were killed in 2009 and the two PSNI officers were killed, Martin McGuinness stood shoulder to shoulder with Peter Robinson and led a robust all-party and cross community response.

“There was no equivocation. The same all party approach is required today. We need all party dialogue and cross party response to bring the violence to an end.”

ENDS

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Addressing an Taoiseach, Enda Kenny during his visit to the EU Parliament as the Irish Presidency of the EU begins, Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson challenged him on a number of issues affecting the people of Ireland.

Speaking directly to an Taoiseach Martina Anderson said:

“Taoiseach, the Irish Presidency Programme contains nothing socially progressive, no investment package, no concrete actions to address record unemployment figures, nothing to give hope to those thousands of young people and whole families, participating in one of the biggest forced migrations in more than a century.

“We were led to believe that there would be an all-Ireland dimension to this Presidency. But there is little evidence of it. Where is it, Taoiseach?

“Transforming the conflict in the north of Ireland is as important today as it ever was, as recent events in parts of Belfast have borne out. Your government has a key role to play. The EU still has a role to play.

 “I urge you to take your responsibilities under the Good Friday Agreement seriously, particularly with regard to rights that are supplementary to the European Convention on Human Rights. One of those responsibilities is the implementation of a Bill of Rights.

“Another is to ensure that symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect, not as a weapon of domination over one section of society.

“Finally I call on you to support the holding of a Border Poll as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement.”

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Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson was in Strasbourg this week to question Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science on the benefits available to Small to Medium Enterprises (SME’s) through the new Horizon 2020 assistance programme.

Martina Anderson said:

“I had a very useful exchange-of-views with Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn this week to discuss the Horizon 2020 programme which is the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation and which will operate from 2014 until 2020.

“Horizon 2020 with an anticipated €80 billion budget is the EU’s new programme for research and innovation aimed at creating new growth and jobs across Europe.

“I believe that there is great potential on an all-Ireland basis for SME’s to develop Research and Development activities. Sinn Féin has been arguing for a more joined up approach in this area by Dublin and Belfast.

“Just 424 companies out of a business base of 70,000 companies in the North of Ireland draw down R&D funding from Europe. Many SME’s have no awareness of their eligibility or of how to avail of opportunities. Invest NI could learn much through cooperation with Enterprise Ireland about accessing EU funding.  But it is not only SME’s that are missing out on available funding streams.

“In recent years for example while the North as a whole drew down approximately £36 million for R&D out of the billions available 75% of this went to the two Universities with Queens accessing 75% of the university draw down, demonstrating the lost EU funding by the University of Ulster – including Magee Campus. There is obvious potential to draw down much more than the North has done to date, by both SME’s and the Educational sector.

 “We have partner universities and SME organisations in the South and it is essential that we collaborate with them to ensure maximum benefits across the island from Horizon 2020. We need a comprehensive and co-ordinated all -Ireland approach to promote R&D if we are to realise our potential to draw down funds and promote economic development across the island.

“Sinn Féin has long highlighted the need to cut red tape for SME’s and to simplify rules and procedures. Horizon 2020 does just that, providing major simplification through a single set of rules and combining all research and innovation funding currently provided through present Framework Programmes for R&D

“Given the reduced funding for business support by both Coalition governments in London and Dublin it is essential that we maximise the support from this EU programme.  There are tremendous opportunities for improvement through fully developing an all-Ireland approach to these funding proposals. I will host an information Seminar in Derry on January 25th with a number of speakers with expertise in accessing EU programmes. Full details will be available in the next week”

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Sinn Féin MLA and Junior Minister and Jennifer McCann has welcomed the launch today of the report by Colin Early Intervention Committee at Parliament Buildings.

The West Belfast MLA said:

“The positive impact early intervention programmes have in the lives of residents is well documented.

“In areas like the Colin, which suffers from a legacy of under-investment and resultant shortage of social and leisure facilities, it is essential these programmes are supported and resourced by government departments. 

“Colin is within the top 3% of the most deprived areas in the North and has high levels of unemployment, more than twice the North’s average, and social need. 

“It also has the highest percentage of under-16s across all the Neighbourhood Renewal Areas, and 42% of its 16-19 year olds have no educational qualifications.

Compared with other similar sized communities in the North, Colin is severely lacking in leisure, recreational, health, sports and community facilities that would normally be found in an area with this population and demographic profile.

“It is essential that there is investment in areas like Colin and I would urge the Executive to ensure that all government departments are fulfilling the Programme for Government priorities of tackling disadvantage and need by investing in areas of deprivation and need.

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Martin Ferris TD has expressed his concern at the revelation that traces of horse and pig DNA were found in some supermarket beef burgers.
The Sinn Féin agriculture spokesperson said:
"This is gravely concerning news. While there is no apparent public health issue people will be undoubtedly disturbed to learn that the products they are purchasing may not be what they are labelled as on the shelves.
"I welcome the Minister for Agriculture’s commitment to launch an immediate investigation. We need to ensure that no long term harm is done to Ireland's reputation for producing high quality food and that consumers are reassured about what they are purchasing in our supermarkets." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Hogan has welcomed the decision by the Board of Directors of Athlone Art and Heritage Ltd. to retain Shane Cullen’s art exhibit at the Luan Gallery. He described the decision as ‘common sense’ and hoped the decision would send out a strong message to artists who may want to exhibit their work at the Luan Gallery.

Cllr. Hogan said:

“Councillor Cooney’s motion should never have been tabled. By doing so, he was making an unprecedented attack on the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the management of the Luan Gallery.

“Shane Cullen’s exhibit is in the ownership of the state and has been recognised internationally. Shane Cullen, as an artist and individual, has the constitutional right of freedom of expression.

“I very much welcome the decision of the Board of Directors of Athlone Art and Heritage for agreeing to proceed with the annual programme of exhibits as planned. The Board of Directors has also expressed full confidence in the current management and curatorial arrangements for the Luan Gallery.

“The original motion was a censorship motion designed to restrict and limit people’s choice and freedom to establish their own opinions on the piece. The motion was also designed to tie the hands of the Manager of the Luan Gallery, which would have sent out a very negative signal to artists.

“I am delighted that common sense has prevailed in this instance. However, it is now time for those Councillors who sat on the fence at the last monthly meeting of Athlone Town Council to vote against censorship in public. I will be raising this matter at the next meeting of Athlone Town Council.

“Today is a positive day for arts in the Midlands. I welcome the decision by the Board of Directors to proceed with the annual programme as planned”.

 

ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD and Housing Spokesperson Dessie Ellis has called on the government to introduce legislation which would make the installation of carbon monoxide detectors mandatory.

Deputy Ellis continued;

“The installation of these detectors is a vital step in ensuring against carbon monoxide poisoning. Most homes in the state have smoke detectors but systems for detecting carbon monoxide are not nearly as common. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer and precautions must be taken.

“There is a precedent for such legislation. Colorado in the United States has the installation of such detectors as mandatory for the sale or lease of any residential property. California and New York have similar laws.

“These detectors would be a small price to pay if they were to save a life. I will be raising this with the Minister for Environment in the Dáil in the coming weeks.”

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